Saturday, 4 March 2017

The 'Not Bad' Tale Of My Driving Instructor


If I were to promise you a world hitherto unseen, unheard and unfelt by a mere shift in seating position, kind of like the blog version of a red and blue pill, would you believe? Surely, the sights and sounds of this mundane reality are unfazed by angles - my pet monkey (if I had one) would look equally happy devouring a banana (if he had one) if I viewed him from the balcony of my villa (if I had one) or the passenger seat of my car (as you must've guessed, also if I had one).

Yet we wage a constant battle between presumption and reality. I woke up to the vicissitudes of the road in November by changing my regular position in motor vehicles by just one seat. Strapped into the driver seat of a fuming, faltering and clearly-agonised-by-every-movement Nissan Sunny, I was abruptly shunned into a novel perspective. It was a world I was ignorant to, an unspoken dialect that was previously illegible - the gush of gratitude when that toothless truck driver gave me way and the rush of rage when that spineless bus driver flashed his headlights at me. 

A ravenous student was reborn. Taking his place in the passenger seat was an instructor who was perpetually unsatisfied. I was young again - a little child tottering and slipping on his odyssey towards learning to walk. He took my hand and led me on an asphalt path of discovery. The road is a great leveller of fate, I would posit ruefully, as I made a gleaming, whizzing Range Rover Evoque swerve out of the way of my wailing, whining and clearly-in-astronomical-distress Nissan Sunny. 

"So bad." 

My instructor would sigh. He would lean back, close his eyes and soundlessly mutter incantations, leaving me in the driver seat of a faltering, flailing Nissan Sunny under the inarguable impression that he solely relied on higher powers (over my nascent driving skills) to get us out of the cacophony of Oud Metha road. 

I knew - I just knew. My suspicions were confirmed when he added a beaded necklace to the mix, constantly running a finger down the beads, murmuring to himself while I changed lanes. 

"So bad."

These words were all that drowned the radio - the theme song of my tutelage. So bad. I foresaw a 'so bad' before I made the turn. I foresaw another weighted 'so bad' much before I entered the freeway. I would randomly hear those words in the middle of Eminem's greatest tracks. I would hear them before I crossed the road, on foot. I would nonchalantly dismiss the theatrical jitters of horror movies, yet if I were to hear the words 'so' and 'bad' randomly strung together in everyday conversation, I would start to sweat. Trepidation would bend me over, convulsing like a fish out of water (to the horror of the aunty I was just discussing my marriage eligibility with), drowning me in the engulfing terrors of driving ineptitude. 

With time it took the role of an unrelenting impetus. Emboldened by the hunger to seek approval, I would constantly learn, unlearn and practice - until there came a glorious, fateful day when I (in my objectively humble opinion) executed a perfect manoeuvre and glanced hopefully at his placid visage.

"Yallah, so bad."

Preposterous! How could anyone criticise the elegance of that action? I would sputter indignantly; I would bombard him with questions, daring him to 'so bad' my determined efforts once again.

But he did. I spent weeks perfecting my near perfect movements, but 101.6 So Bad FM was all that resonated within my pleading, beseeching Nissan Sunny. There were times when I made a blatant gaffe and abashedly avoided his probing gaze - him soundlessly taunting me to question once again and me trying to reduce the tally of 'so bad's that was a perpetually accumulating glistening heap.


We had our moments in the sun. There was a time when a Chevrolet Corvette tried to bully its way into my lane, and me being the descendent of the regal blood of Mankhool, heir of the nobility of Bur Dubai, would stubbornly assert my priority over my lane with my frantic, frenetic Nissan Sunny. My instructor stepped in, admonishing me to go out of my way to give the Corvette some leeway because in his opinion we were meant to respect a 'good car'.

"Tayeb, but what if it's a Nissan Tiida?"

He made a violent spitting motion and chuckled merrily.

Needless to say, at the next given opportunity, I made no qualms about not giving way to a Tiida, viciously spitting at the startled driver.

Also needless to say, my instructor wasn't pleased.

It took a few weeks (read: months) (truthfully read: years) but there came a day when (once again in my humble opinion) I moved seamlessly through the fumes spittin' bedlam of horns, sirens and thundering engines. My hands blended in with the steering wheel and my foot forged its sweet analogous relationship with the pedals. I twirled my moustache, puffed up my chest and looked at him with burgeoning pride, internally pleading for my first word of praise.

He avoided my gaze and casually ruffled through his papers, determined not to give me the satisfaction of having attained his stamp of approval.

"Not bad."

Not bad? Not bad?! In a frustrating tangle of 'so bad's and 'not bad's, I became a citizen of the road. For one of the last times in my life, I was in the hands of a teacher and I was out to serenade to the swan song of my student life. Yet, I never got my 'good'. 

He would never dote, praise or look mildly happy with my improvement. His temporary lapses in demeanour would occur only when I failed, for it seemed that he restrained a modicum of confidence in his student that would emerge when questioned by an external authority. He would take extra hours and work through a diseased liver to give me classes. Yet, I never got my 'good'. 

Once, to deliberately mess me up into countless sleepless nights (I know, I just know), he uttered 'not bad but not good'.

Alas! Unable to get the didactic nod from my teacher, I passed all tests immune to the vagaries of external examiners. Their certified and publicly valued stamp of approval was nothing compared to the informal and unacknowledged stamp I never got. After years of car lifts, public transport sagas and guilty car rides, I was liberated to be confined in the white lines of the road. Yet, I still never get my 'good'.

I went back to him, one last time, equipped with the plastic card that was the certified fruit of my labour and desire. I asked him one last question, completely unrelated to my tenure as his pupil, expecting another traditional 'not bad' that would set me on my way, away from the last dregs of my student life. Just one more 'not bad' to latch this box of memories, and I would merge silently into the tumultuous tangle of daily traffic.

"Do you like the Mitsubishi Lancer?"

I knew what was coming; I was prepared for it.

"I like you, habibi."

I looked into those eyes to see pure, genuine pride and I knew.

I just knew.

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All characters in this anecdote are purely fictional and any semblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. 

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