Left vs right syndrome

Sheela Ramakrishnan

This is the story of a four-day relationship between Ahmed and me. Ahmed is a driving school teacher in Oman.

My first day was a breeze. I was high on confidence. After all in streets with around half a dozen cars running, and no pedestrians, or 2 wheelers, or 4 legged creatures or 3 legged autos… what could be tough? I will sail through, I told myself…. and true enough, Ahmed was only checking to see my steering control. So he took me on a long drive on a straight road. It all went well, and I returned home feeling like the cat who had not only eaten her share of the cream but also everybody else’s!

The second day dawned bright and clear. I was excited and rang Ahmed in advance to reconfirm that he was coming. But now began my woes. The indicator controls were on my left … but my right hand unconsciously flipped the one on the right… (subconscious Indian response) and whoosh, the windshield wipers came on ferociously. By this time the car had already reached the turn and so there was no time to rectify the error and flick the right one! And so we turned, without signalling. That done, I had to program my mind… left hand – indicator, right hand – windshield… left leg – no need to use, as there was no clutch….. my left leg would rise up and down as if it had a will of its own!!

To add to the stress of my already muddled mind was the fact that I had to flick the control down to show left and up to show right. No prizes for guessing what made Ahmed’s nostrils flair up, next. I flicked it down while it was supposed to go up! Which meant that I was to turn right… but my indicator was showing left!!

After sufficient admonishment from Ahmed in his broken English we proceeded…. and I had to tell myself… for left, go down, for right, go up, again and again. I could feel the slow 360° turn of my brain, as I drilled this in. On that day, Ahmed looked at my learner’s license to check why I was being so fuddy duddy. I saw him turn the page to the age column and then I discerned a hint of sympathy,… relearning at 50 deserves more than two days that too when I didn’t even know the city! So we managed to finish the day on a slightly kinder note.

Third day dawned, this time I was more apprehensive than excited… I didn’t want Ahmed screaming at me again. So I had read the signs the previous night and visualised myself flicking the controls for left and right turn in my mind. But he had other plans. It was “roundabout day”! These were the strangest instructions that I had ever received. If one wants to turn left, one needs to give the left indicator and then turn right, go all around the roundabout and then turn left. So imagine my confusion, when Ahmed says, “give left indicator, turn right, go round, and now give right indicator and go straight!” To say my brain revolted is an understatement! I could not get it correct. Ahmed was livid… I would use the break, as the speed of the oncoming vehicles would make me nervous… and he would yell, “Me teacher? You teacher? I say press accelerator, you press brake? Make accident? Behind car coming, you not see?”

Oh, so one needs to use all the three mirrors (quite the opposite in India). My self-esteem was certainly taking a dive. Ahmed’s opinion was so important!! I had to grapple with not using my left leg at all, get the indicators right, use all three mirrors, and above all stick to my lane, The roundabout day was a disaster. Ahmed was furious…. no allowances for age here! That night I pored over my books again,…. put my visualisation techniques into operation, as my mind went up and down the controls and rules….. I was determined to win Ahmed’s approval and put my battered self-esteem back on track.

And yes, perseverance and determination does pay. Ahmed was very happy on the 4th day. I did most of the things right. I lapped up the, “very good, very good” and could feel my self-esteem inch its way up.

At 50, after being a teacher for so many years, for those four days I was at the receiving end. But it’s going to be all right from now… and I will be ready to drive you guys around when you come here. The Left vs Right syndrome would have ensured that I toe all the lines, literally and figuratively!

The author is a partner in Edcraft, Hyderabad, a firm engaged in making teaching-learning materials and is currently in Oman. She can be reached at [email protected].

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