No, not a smart car. A tale of driving a manual car.

One of the goals I went to India this summer with was to learn how to drive a manual stick-shift car. It was hard to get any one take me seriously in India since there is no need to ever learn: every family has two or three drivers to take them everywhere. And most of the cars are automatic. After my constant nagging though, my cousin said that if I answered a single question correctly, he’d teach me. He asked how many pedals a stick-shift car had. Without a hesitation, I answered two. Man, was I wrong.

Okay, so I kinda knew that we had to change gears and stuff, but I had no idea how we had to or that there were three pedals to be mindful of in a manual car. After seven long days of convincing the people around me to teach me how to drive a manual shift car, I had lost all patience. I had wasted a perfect opportunity, but not again.

Toyota Innova

The next day I planned to take control of the Toyota Innova and lock myself in the driver’s seat (which is on the right side in India). I didn’t move for a total of 30 minutes including the time it took one of the drivers to unlock the car and carry me to the passenger seat. Two days later, I devised a plan: I’d kiss-up to the drivers for a few days and then one day ask the nicest one to let me drive just to get a feel of the car.  I was debating between Sita Ram and another driver. It was full proof, and by sunrise the next day I was strapped in learning how to use the clutch and change gear with Sita Ram Bhaiya. I already knew how to drive an automatic car, so driving a manual car wasn’t too much harder. The traffic in India, on the other hand, was another story entirely. Drivers come at you from all directions, and you never know what to expect!

I remember while on our way to Ludhiana from Delhi, a rickshaw (taxi) driver was coming at us from the opposite direction on a one-way street. I wish I had it on camera, but I was honestly much too shocked to think right at that time. The drivers are accustomed to this type of driving and helped me maneuver the car on time, but after that incident, I thought it was better that I refrain from driving on the main road.


I did, however, continue to practice learning in our neighborhood streets in Ludhiana. It was a gated community so it was a little less cramped than most neighborhood streets in India, but the roads were more similar to dirt roads for bike racing than roads to drive on so it was a bit strenuous to get the car moving smoothly over the rocky surfaces of the road.

And I had to keep remembering to press the clutch whenever I braked or changed the gear.  Once I forgot and the car just stopped in the middle of the road. Luckily there were no cars coming at me from the other side, but it was still frightening to go through. And I had to keep checking the speedometer to know when to change my gear. If I forgot, then the car would keep going at the previous pace it was set to. The cars are not that smart. They left the thinking to me, and it was a lot to handle.

My favorite driver, Sita Ram, helped teach me most of the tricks to driving a stick-shift car, and learning under his guidance was quite an experience. He didn’t trust my driving skills though. Any time there was a car within a mile of my reach, he’d pull the emergency brakes on me. I thought I was a pretty good driver: the car only stopped once, and only on the very first day I started learning to drive a manual shift. Yes, I find that to be quite an accomplishment.

So, I drove for a few more days before I retired to let the drivers take over and do their thing. Driving in India is definitely not an easy task, but I am definitely glad to have experienced it!

Find my ultra packet bucket list to see more crazy posts!


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