I’ve been Sunday driving without a license for a few weeks now. I’ve decided to change my ways, come clean and not be a scofflaw anymore… in contrast to at least some Indian parliamentarians. So yesterday, I went over to a driving school off of Old Madras Road to see what the process for getting a license would be like. I took my passport, FRO permit and all of my passport photos because I was certain that any driving school would want to make sure I was a legal resident here and Indians seem to want copious numbers of “snaps” for everything.
My driver made a phone call to a friend of his who lived near the driving school and had contacts there. This would make things go smoother and knowing somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody’s cousin-uncle always does here. So Wrenzo’s friend, another SAP driver himself, took me upstairs to the lady who ran the driving school. They spoke a lot in Kannada, she looked over my passport, FRO docs and examined my driver’s licenses (American and German). Once she ascertained that I would not need driving lessons, she told me that it would cost 1200 rupees instead of 3000. I had expected problems there and I had not expected that half a million miles of driving experience would make a difference. I was pleasantly proved wrong. Oh and the driving inspector was on duty, so I can go over and take care of handling that “test” paperwork.
So we went over to where they were doing the tests. This was surreal in its own right. There was a hundred people milling about, along with several cars with driving school logos. It turned out that Wrenzo’s friend knew the inspector, as we walked straight through the crowd to the inspector, who stopped to look at my documents, told us exactly what we needed to get photocopied… oh and he would meet us over at the parking lot for the regional transport officer (RTO) in ten minutes.
It pays to know someone who knows someone it seems.
There were six shops ear the RTO office advertising Xerox – always color Xerox. Five naturally had broken machines and there was a crushing crowd at the sixth. We wanted to make three copies of everything as you never really know how many copies you’ll need. The power failed while making the third copy. I’m starting to accept power failures as an unremarkable part of life here; along with unruly traffic, cows in the street and tea that has the maximum possible concentration of sugar dissolved into it.
Then we met the inspector again. I sat in the back of his car as he filled out the portions of the application that the inspector should fill out. Then I filled out the parts that I was supposed to fill out. There was some consternation over my American (New Jersey) license as it does not explicitly say “auto” or “class B” anywhere on the back. It only says “Auto Driver’s License” on the front. Sorry guys, but the US is not party to the 1968 Vienna Road Rules Convention and the licenses there don’t have to follow that format. Eventually my German license satisfied them as it has a “class B” entry. The inspector then handed me a sheet with the Indian road signs (which are pretty much the same as the ones in Europe with a couple of differences; how no overtaking (passing) and one-way are designated) and said “study this”. I quickly memorized the two signs that were new to me.
I must say that sitting in the back of the inspector’s car doing this gave everything the feel of a mafia meeting and I expected suitcases of cash to start changing hands. It was kind of fun.
(to be continued in part II)