I learnt to sit behind the wheel at a very young age. My driving lessons were conducted on a Morris Oxford (a car to beat all cars) within the privacy of our compound, safe from the indomitable Anglo-Indian traffic sergeants, who stalked the roads in Lahore, during the nineteen fifties. My instructor was good old Ghulam Dastgir, who was more family than a member of the domestic staff and without who, we felt distressfully stranded. This unique individual hailed from a respectable Kashmiri family, which had lost everything in the great transmigration of 1947. He was therefore much respected by my grandparents and parents, who ensured that we imbibed the same attitude. Ghulam Dastgir’s driving was based on some immutable principles – keep your eyes on the road; maintain a speed that is comfortable to all passengers; do not talk unless spoken to and do not take impromptu stops unless absolutely necessary. It was therefore natural that on reaching the legal age to drive, I began to unconsciously manifest my ‘interpretation’ of ‘on the road’ behavior as I had seen it. While this kept me safe from mishaps (barring a few near misses), I became the target of scathing criticism from none other than my own family. The situation worsened, when my mother in law and my sister added their weight to the ‘battle’ against me.

Take for example our annual trip to the hills from one of Pakistan’s hottest cities, where I was carrying out my professional duties. There was no motorway then and GT road was not in the shape it is today. Cruising merrily along at a leisurely pace, eyes on the road, refusing to be distracted by passing scenery, my composure would be shattered by the frantic cry of “Bhuttay wala! Bhuttay wala! Roko!” By the time I came to terms with the command to take an immediate and impromptu halt, the ‘corn on the cob’ vendor was left far behind, to the great displeasure of my better half and offspring. It was after a series of incriminating episodes, I discovered that the backseat reaction could be diluted by pretending not to have heard anything, while within stopping range and then pulling over at an ‘out of range’ spot, feigning much regret and surprise. One of my daughters, who is now a mother in addition to being an accomplished driver, remembers my act, saying that I had become so good at it that I should have been nominated for an Oscar. The inventory of commands to make unscheduled halts, issued at the exact moment, when stuck in a grid lock (with no chance of pulling over) has grown over decades of marital bliss. It now includes the “Tarbooz Wala, Aam Wala, Katchay Amrood Wala and Machli Wala”. With the children now raising their own families and with my acting abilities diluted by age, do not be surprised if you see a senior citizen, suddenly pull over, turn on the hazard lights and walk willy-nilly to a ‘cartful of guavas’ located a fairly long way from a rickety old rattletrap.

I have to-date maintained that driving warrants undivided focus. I therefore have no issues with individuals, who ‘ride the wheel’, gripping it tightly with both hands as if holding on for dear life and looking fixedly ahead with wide staring eyes. I applaud them, when I spot beads of perspiration on their foreheads as proof that they have dedicated themselves to the ‘principle of concentration’. It is for this reason that I get irritated with ‘back seat drivers’ or ‘side seat’ ones since. I have no doubts that instructions on how to negotiate traffic and other road hazards are enough to distract any driver, much to the detriment of road safety.

My children often drive their Mum and Dad to places, which are common destinations. These trips are ‘dreaded’ by me, since my offspring believe that playing loud music helps in staying alert. Contrary to this notion, I think that it is light conversation that prevents one from falling asleep, while driving and one cannot converse, when Boney M remixes are blaring out their stuff inside the car.

I have now come to the conclusion that it is perhaps time that I abdicate my self-appointed title ‘King of the Road’ in favor of the younger generation. I will then be able to take up a new evocation – back seat driving.