Sometimes a car is not just a car…

This photograph is taken in Bruges, Belgium. The lady who is driving the car is our Airbnb host, and my husband is seated at the front with her, with her dog on his lap. My friend and I are at the back; our host was driving us to her pharmacy because my husband needed something for his cold and the all the pharmacies around the Airbnb were closed. I love this photograph for the moment it captures – the dog sitting so contently, all of us in conversation, on the road in a new country…

As the car wound up the hills, one loop by another, lined by tall trees on either side, my husband suddenly turned to me and asked, “You don’t have motion sickness, do you?”

I looked at him and laughed, “No, I don’t. But a bit late to ask me that, isn’t it?”

Yes, he laughed back and flashed me a quick smile.

How handsome he looked then with a head full of salt and pepper hair and almost a boyish shyness about him. Even though the road through the hills was captivating, I couldn’t help but steal my gaze away from the landscape and onto this man at the steering wheel. I was in the throes of the kind of love that exhibits itself in all its glory during the first year of marriage.

It was 2012. We were married but living in different cities. I was in Baroda, Gujarat and my husband lived in Bangalore, Karnataka. I had taken a couple of days off from work and flown to his city to spend a few days with him.

And here we were. Driving down to Conoor, a hill station in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. It was a seven hour journey, and he said to me again, “I never bothered to ask you whether you hate being in a car on long journeys but I am glad you are up for it because I love to drive.”

That he loved to drive was an understatement. He had driven from Bangalore to Baroda on the trip on which we had met for the first time. It was over a 1000 km journey and not the one that people usually made by car.

When we moved to the UK, he drove everywhere. Even if there was a flight to be availed of, he would drive from Reading to Scotland (it was about 715 km one way) for work. He drove me to most of our days out and holidays – day trips to the Seven Sisters (a series of chalk cliffs on the east coast of Sussex) and Eastbourne, to Cotswold to take in summer days, the beaches at Bournemouth and Brighton, to visit friends at Cambridge, Christmas markets at Bath in December, Lavender fields at Hitchin and to catch the first snowdrops of the season at Welford Park.

There would be impromptu trips to Swindon for the designer outlets and the butterfly park, and longer trips to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, to Balfron and Loch Lomond in Scotland again but this time by the scenic route, twice to Cornwall (Padstow and Land’s End ), the Lake District, Birmingham, Swanage, Exeter, Yorkshire Dales, and so many other places. Between the two cars that we had (the second car replaced the first car from the company’s car pool/inventory so that we only had one car at a time, and not two simultaneously), he had clocked up 1,07000 km in four and a half years.

Once he even made the trip from Reading to London and then back again to Reading and then back again to London in just one half of the day. We were going to be in London for the weekend for a wedding and when we reached there, I realised that I had forgotten my contact lens kit at home. He dropped me at my cousin’s place, had a cup of tea and drove back to Reading to pick the kit up for me.

Often he would say that he would love to switch jobs – be a cross country truck driver or work as a cab driver. I would laugh. But I knew that he enjoyed his driving, it was a form of mediation for him.

Hardly a talker, he would sometimes ask me to talk on these drives – especially so if he was feeling a bit sleepy. On the drive to Coonoor, he asked me to talk and so I started talking. After about two hours, I was running out of things to say, so I started telling him little stories from my extended family.

After about an hour or so he said, “Now I know all about your cousins and their wives. and your colleagues and their families.”

I laughed. He did talk on these drives too. He has always found it difficult to make conversations; a combination of being an introvert, and inept at small talk. Perhaps a certain sort of shyness and reticence as well. But driving would bring out conversations, he would dive into his childhood and come up with stories from school, growing up, and his father.

He would tell me about his father and how he learnt to drive. His father, a happy-go-lucky man, wasn’t fussy or fast on the road. My husband recalls that his father would even let a cyclist overtake him, in sharp contrast to his mother who drove at a speed and had once got out of her car in impatience and hustled a cyclist out of her way. In his driving, he is both – he has the speed, a certain impatience, and love for driving long distances that comes from his mother, and also, the happy-go- lucky and joyful humour of his father.

My husband lost his father when he was still in university. On what would have been his father’s 71st birthday, he booked our first car in Dublin, Ireland.

It is a five year old Hyundai i20. We managed without a car for about two years here in Ireland and during this time, my husband would often complain that he missed being behind the steering wheel and I often thought I missed the man he becomes when he is behind the steering wheel. As the husband gets behind the wheel, I am looking forward to some conversations. The kind of ones we only have when we are on the road and he’s driving, almost in a happy, meditative, reflective kind of space.

In those hours, when he is driving, he seems to come out of a shell, talking and reminiscing. Something akin to the time when he’s at the kitchen, cooking.

And that is why sometimes a car is much more than a car. Of course, it makes life easy with not having to walk or take a bus for grocery shopping, and visiting friends and being able to go on impromptu drives, but it also does much more. Makes a talker of out of my husband and that is something that I cannot be more grateful about. Our car is not just a car, it is a carrier for conversations, and a sort of a tool for meditation, especially for the husband. It is also the time when the husband introduces me to new music, like The Salmon Dance from The Chemical Brothers. Even after listening to the track twice, I missed out on all the swear words in the song and was bobbing my head lost in the music, until the husband laughed out so loud that I was a little startled.

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