It is a well-documented fact that guys will not ask for directions. This is a biological thing. This is why it takes several million sperm cells… to locate a female egg, despite the fact that the egg is, relative to them, the size of Wisconsin.
The man has no sense of direction. He rather compensates by being a good driver, so he is forgiven the total lack of navigational skills. He also compensates by his stamina to drive, which allows him to do a single driver Mumbai to Bangalore in a single day. And be up at the crack of dawn the next morning to do Bangalore to Chennai. Of course, these were days when we were young and reckless and didnt have the child to pack for or cart along, when all we had to do was to chuck a duffel bag of a week’s clothes into the boot, and trust our stomachs to handle highway dhaba food without going projectile in protest.
I’ve normally overlooked the evident unease the man has about asking for directions. As long as we get from Point A to Point B, I dont kick up a fuss. Unless, of course, we happen to go so far off course, that we land up in a wildlife sanctuary, instead of hitting the beaches of Goa. As is evident from the metaphorical sneer in the tone that this last sentence was written with, this is a true incident. Involving a missed turn off from the expressway, the reluctance to stop and ask for directions, and driving through mountain and jungle and the Ponda forest sanctuary, in a car with petrol on blink blink empty, one very car sick person, two boys under five going ape shit with boredom and hunger, and a steaming at the ears mad as hell yours truly. The joy with which we greeted the pump attendant at the first petrol pump we encountered when we emerged from the untarred winding forest roads would have convinced anyone we had been lost for days in the wilderness and had survived on tree roots and bugs. It was a scary prospect. Darkness falling. Petrol on zilch. No mobile network signal. And two small children and one sick adult with us. And around 165kms off route. I was already trying to think up what of our luggage we could use to burn up to send smoke signals up into the air for help.
Considering we have done a lot of cross country drives (and India is a big country), I have enough anecdotes about going off track on deserted highways to fill a book. Whenever I get down to writing it. And it always, always boils down to me saying, “Are we on the right route? Should we stop and ask?” and the man grunting something unintelligible which translates into “Stopping and asking for directions is for wusses. I am a macho man. I have Google earth scanned into my brain. I do not ask for directions.” This coinciding with the road in front of us morphing into a dirt track like a Stephen King horror movie. And some minutes later, the trees getting alive and slowly crawling onto the dirt track and eating us up with the car. Arrrggggh. Anyway. You get my point. This would inevitably be the point where the man will look slightly puzzled and say in great surprise, “Look how bad the highway is on this stretch.” At which point I will be frothing at the mouth and unable to give a coherent answer except for occasional shrieks as tree branches slapped at the windshield. A second later, he would look at me with wisdom having dawned, “Do you think we left the highway somewhere behind?” “Turn, turn quick,” I would yell, before the trees morph into the Tree from The Evil Dead and attack us with vile intentions. And so we turn around and flee, with the forest laughing eeriely behind us, and with me mouthing the Hanuman Chalisa, the little I remember of it. This one took us 180 kms off course. This happened on NH4 once. During the days when Veerapan roamed at large, smuggling wood and killing random folk and had three states set their police forces behind him. My eyes shut on their own and I took a little nap. We were on our way from Mumbai to Bangalore. We had crossed Hubli and were still with plenty of time to make it to Bangalore before nightfall. I woke from the nap to find us off the highway, in dense forest land, with the sun setting with unseemly haste somewhere beyond the canopy of trees, with evil noises emerging from the forest cover designed precisely to cause involuntary bowel movements. Lets just say, we got the hell out there by just driving on and on and on, and not knowing if we were ever going to see our loved ones again, and wondering when they would discover our bodies, and whether it would be a good idea to write a good bye note the mother could hang onto for solace while there was still some light. And no, the thought of falling into the hands of Sandalwood smugglers was not helping the rumbling in the intestines at all. The husband is cool and soigne through it all, almost as though he designed this diversion into the jungles to point out wildlife to me. “The road will be somewhere ahead,” he says calmly, while I’m hopping around in my seat as much as a seat belt will allow me to, while my head rotates on a 360 degree axis in a frantic bid to notice road signs and milestones in the fading light. When we finally hit the highway, after going some 180 kms off route, I stepped out and kissed the asphalt.
On most long drives, I am now the officially designated navigator. I take my job very very seriously. I google maps and routes and take printouts before we leave. I then pack them maps and routes and directions in some bag so I can never remember which one has them and rely on what every navigator down from the time early man wandered around checking out the scenery from the caves has used to mark directions, namely the position of the sun and the moon. Are we supposed to be going north or south, I ask myself. And start the route from that very valid benchmark. We’ve normally reached in one piece when I’ve done my job as a navigator, aka yell at the man to stop and ask for directions. Even then, the man will squirm in his driving seat, put the window on my side of the car down, and ask me to do the asking. Its a man thing. I ask with the complete lack of shame and embarassment that comes from being a non driver. And insist on stopping every five minutes once I have the initial directions to ensure we are on the right track. Which also involves a bit of a debate, with much macho hotheadedness happening, because, stopping and checking is for wusses.
On long drives now, the grandmother insists I sit up front with the man, because I know routes in a subliminal way and I never forget a road. I call it reading up on the route before hand (thank you Google baba) and memorising the names of places enroute, and keeping a sharp eye out for landmarks. Its saves us time and petrol. Not to mention stress. I’m so getting the man one of those navigational GPS devices the next time we decide to go on our long cross country drives. I’d so like to take the occasional nap.