The Man from Madras Musings has now reached that age when renewals of driving licences are more frequently required. And he does not look forward to it. By that he means he does not look forward to the renewal process as much as he does not to the ageing. Years earlier MMM had to apply for a learner’s licence and then a regular licence and he has since renewed the same at least twice and he cannot say he has enjoyed any of those experiences. But yes, he does have to admit that the process has become easier though it is still far from perfect.
One of the key reasons why MMM preferred to settle in this, our land, and not abroad unlike several of his kinsmen and women, is the joy of having ‘a man’ to take care of all matters such as driving licences. This is a crucial incentive, one which MMM would urge every visa applicant to ponder over before filling in the form. As you grow older, such men, to be used for all such processes as renewals, become invaluable. MMM asked his man to do the needful as regards licence renewal and was duly informed that it is all online now and the only time MMM would need to put in a personal appearance was for the taking of a photograph and the affixing of a signature in a register. The online activity said MMM’s man, was best left to a driving school to take care off, these having more or less a monopoly over fixing appointments for the photography and renewal process. This these driving schools do for a small fee said MMM’s man. MMM was more than happy to pay the amount – his prior experiences with driving renewals were such that he would have even flung a purse of gold at these frontline workers who risked life and limb.
A few days later there was a missed call on MMM’s cell phone and which when returned proved impossible to get through. MMM’s man informed MMM that this was from the driving school that had called to fix the appointment. Missing a call from them was tantamount to one of those biblical sins apparently and like those Kremlin phones you could never call them. There was nothing to be done but to wait for opportunity to knock a second time. This it duly did after a couple of days of nerve-wracking suspense during which MMM clung to his phone like glue, taking it everywhere that he went, rather in the manner of Mary and her lamb. All went well the second time. A breathless voice informed MMM that he would get a One Time Password which he was to pass on to the voice and then all would be taken care of. The OTP came but by then the voice had rung off, no doubt using the time for making other calls of a similar nature. This voice was like one of those worker bees, never an idle moment. The minutes ticked away, and the OTP’s brief life was almost over when the voice called again, noted the number and said MMM would get a message informing him of the date and time of appointment. It then rung off, it clearly having no time to exchange pleasantries with MMM.
But the message did arrive and MMM could have wept with joy.
The day duly dawned and MMM presented himself at the RTO office, which rather ironically, or most appropriately, was in a cul-de-sac that had a no-entry sign. That did not deter two wheelers from careening in and out of it. There were motorcycles and scooters parked all over the place as well. The street was at a bend off a busy thoroughfare and every few minutes traffic was brought to a halt as several licence applicants came by car, slowed down at this spot and began hunting for parking space. Those behind hooted and yelled abuse. In short it was a microcosm of all that is wrong with the city’s traffic.
MMM’s man advised MMM to first pay his respects at the office of the driving school which was in a neighbouring cul-de-sac. MMM had despite having resided in that city for years never so much as had a glimpse of the Black Hole of Calcutta. Bengalis usually deny its very existence. Little did MMM realise that it had shifted base to Madras. In a space of around three feet by three feet sat a woman who was clearly the queen bee around whom milled several lesser beings. MMM’s papers were duly passed on to her and she having inspected the same and looked MMM up and down, reluctantly accepted that all was in order. A sheaf of papers was given to MMM and armed with these he proceeded to the sanctum, namely the RTO office.
This was one of those dark, dank and smelly places where in good old pre-Corona days around 500 people would have been packed in. MMM for once thanked the virus for it had ensured that some discipline had been brought about – only applicants were allowed in, and touts had to stay out. That of course did not prevent many touts from muscling in and these were periodically ejected by what looked like a couple of bouncers, aided and abetted by a woman whose vocabulary was, to put it mildly, rich. An oath from her was the periodic sign that got the bouncers to act and evict the touts who after a brief while outside, came back in once again.
The legal applicants were expected to while away their time playing musical chairs, sans music. You were to take your seat but not remain seated for long. Each time someone was called in to some inner sanctum not visible to the naked eye, an official asked everyone to move and so they obediently did, by moving one seat, getting closer to the hall of private audience so to speak. Of course, this being Chennai, a city in India, there were several attempts by applicants to form queues in parallel. Rather mysteriously there was a staircase down which people came and tried to forge a separate queue. MMM wondered if they were airdropped into the building. But by then MMM, and a feisty lady just ahead of him in the queue had constituted themselves into a volunteer force to ensure queue discipline. Between them they ensured that the queue jumpers were quelled, cowed, and forced to move back in the line.
To add to the chaos, the power failed just as MMM’s turn came. In the darkness that ensued, MMM heard the voice in the inner chamber bellow “Next!” and so MMM felt his way in. He was asked to sit and so he did, in what he assumes was a chair. He was then informed that his photograph had been taken. He was asked to sign in a register, which by the feel of it seemed to have the grime of ages on it. Just as MMM managed to detach the register from his hands and leave, the voice asked MMM if he would like two originals and if so the second original would cost Rs 100 which may please be paid in cash right there. MMM did so obediently, for after all you do offer something when you are at sanctums.
When The Man from Madras Musings emerged and informed his man about how smart he, MMM was, in asking for a duplicate original, the man shook his head at MMM’s naivete. Sure enough when the licence came, and it did without follow up, there was only one. MMM realised that there can be only one original.