Tryst With Omani Driving License
Petrol... petrol... give (pronounced G-EVE) more petrol...
Do not hold the steering so hard... If you required so much of strength then no women would be driving a car...
Give indicator....... stop the indicator baba!
Do not look behind while taking a left or right turn... even if Sultan Qaboos is behind you, he will stop!
These are some of the dialogues that one has to get used to hearing if he has to take classes to get a Driving license in Oman.
Muscat is a friendly place and for me it was all the more friendly as it was full of old friends. The piece of inside news that I received after landing at Seeb International Airport was that having a driver’s license was like having another degree. I was quite excited at the idea of giving a test without having to study for long. I smiled to myself and said it must be as easy as a blood test! But the reality struck me quite soon.
Our family never owned a car but my father had a Government car at his disposal which it used to be parked at our house. I never saw him driving but mother told me that she has seen him on a rare occasion. When I was in junior school it was a Wyllys Jeep with a soft roof and I used to seat in the driver seat and play with the steering wheel which unlike present car would freely turn even if the engine was not running. Later on Wyllys made way for a brand new Red color Maruti Gypsy. Whenever he was going for a trip I used to see him off at the airport and it was much later he realized that it was me who was driving the car on the way back.
Unlike Dubai, the driving license industry in Muscat in those days was not an institution but was operated by licensed individual Omani instructors. One had to get into a contract with one instructor and get going with lessons and once the instructor was confident enough, he would let his student drive for the test. Now there were two type of agreement that was possible with the teacher. A lump sum amount for all classes till you obtain the license or on an hourly rate and you stop once you get that piece of plastic. The most respected and hence sought after instructor in our circle was a gentleman of Balouchi origin and his name was Ali. Once there was a slot vacant and I had the required money at my disposal, I had the opportunity to meet Ali. I expressed my interest to be his student if he was willing to take me in. He agreed but declined to quote a fee before he checked me out and as I could move the car he decided to charge me approximately 1000US$. Deal done and got started immediately.
In those days giving driving license test had a uncanny similarity with have whisky… after 3 you do not count! Its always the 4th. I have heard people giving as many as 17 tests before being successful. Now I could move the car but I could only do it in my way and that did not necessarily meet my teacher's expectations nor would have made the examiner happy. But I have a reason too. Firstly we drive on the other side of the road, right or wrong don’t count but it is different. The joystick in the middle that we call “a hand brake” was not available in our cars and if there was one visible it was never used. The two mirrors at either side of the front doors are thought to be part of the car decoration and only occasionally used by the local Romeo to fix hair and have a final glance at his sunglasses while he was trying to impress a girl. The owners of the car usually keep those mirrors folded. And who has used a indicator in the eighties and nineties in India?
But passing the test is never easy ... particularly when everyone around (who already have the license) advises you.... When you go for the test follow the following sequence... fasten your seat belt and then check the side mirrors and then the rearview mirror inside the car.
Someone warned me...
"Be vigilant. When the police man sits inside the car he might touch the mirror. You are supposed to set it right."
Another one of my friends warned....
Make sure the police man had fastened his seat belt before you move the car..."
Advises kept pouring in as the day of the exam drew closer. It happened so that my test was on a Wednesday and we had planned to go for a overnight camping at the Turtle beach on the next day. While there was a big meeting in our house planning minute details of the trip over glasses of scotches, I was nervous wreck thinking about the test the next morning. Finally I decided to say good night to all and hit the bed, hoping to wake up fresh in the morning. One of them taunted...
"You are off so early to bed tonight. Oh... You have a test tomorrow. Don't worry it a bit worrisome at the first time and you will get used to it!!"
That was some encouragement!
But it happened so that I passed the test at the very first attempt to the astonishment of the most and the many. And there I was behind the wheels of a land cruiser cruising towards Ras Al Hadd on the way to the Turtle beach. I did not get the plastic till next Saturday but that paper with the examiners signature was enough to negotiate with my other friends to get my share of time behind the wheels! A journey that I will not forget for a long time to come………..