Monday, July 25

Who is in the driver's seat?

Courtesy The Hindu

Is driving a guy thing or a girl thing? Two couples, who are rallyists, share their experiences with GEETA PADMANABHAN

Photo: Shaju John

SPEED BRINGS SMILES Harsha Koda and Prabha with Archana and Sanjeev
Car rallyists all. Harsha Koda and Prabha of Adcom bought a car five years ago and have not used another form of transport since. They have been on Himalayan rallies, which are probably easier than driving in Chennai. "Harsha and I were in high school together," says Prabha, the navigator half of the couple. "We were friends before we got married." Harsha qualifies it. "That doesn't mean we are not friends anymore."

Archana (nee Chandok) is sister of racer Vicky, and as a Chandok, was expected to be on racing wheels. A regular at city picnic rallies for almost 20 years, she is also an insurance advisor and a freelance travel agent. Sanjeev has an auto shop, which services his appetite for racing.

Women cannot use a map without turning it to the direction that they are heading. Women know nothing about cars. "Oil stick? Oil doesn't stick." Men think women are bad drivers, even though they have been presented with evidence to the contrary. Even when completely lost, men will not stop for directions. True? False?

Gender, one gene

The couples rev animatedly about TSD (time/speed/distance), TULIP (info card) and their driving experiences before Harsha asks, "Gender is sexist. Gender is just one gene (out of 23). How can you attribute everything to 5 per cent of your genetic structure?" In Harsha's world, descendants of Mars and Venus are only that much different. But the quadrilogue auto pilots itself to exactly those distinctions a few sentences later.

Sanjeev takes the everyone-can-do-it route. "Rally driving is a little bit of skill, a route map and some organisation." But Archana admits, "Sanjeev drives better. Guys are more into the mechanics. They don't push or cut roughly (that's news!), know what's good for the car." For Sanjeev, it's individual style. "For instance, each one turns the corner in their own way — some are spectacular, some do it safely and others do a simple curve." He insists 70-80 per cent of driving is skill. Develop and improve with practice. Then who is a bad driver? Ninety-nine per cent of Chennai drivers, they chorus. Most people don't get the feel of the car, says Archana. Driving schools exist to help get a licence, mourns Harsha. "Car dealers cannot tell you about clearance or wheel size, but will tell you about EMIs." That's because no buyer asks such questions, says Prabha.

How come women navigate and men drive in rallies? Archana steers to her theme. "I do the calculations. I'm not the better driver." Harsha drives because he gets carsick looking down at the book. Sanjeev has no such problem. He just prefers to drive. "The easiest thing to do," chips in Harsha. "We split duties, I can do both," claims Sanjeev. It's difficult to control his driving, complains Archana. Sanjeev protests, "She says `GO SLOW' when I can't!" Aaha, but that's not the way it's said, laughs Harsha. It's all four-letter words, says Prabha. The men admit that calculating TSD is not easy. A change in schedule, all the back-bending work is trashed. (Better leave it to the patient one!)

Technical know-how

Sanjeev comes clean. "If I am not driving, I have to manage the kids." Archana laughs. "He likes to drive and I'm the one to keep peace. That reminds me. Continuous driving is a guy thing. Women drivers want to stop from time to time, enjoy the food." Yeah, says Sanjeev. "She wants a three course meal on the way." Prabha rallies round Archana. "Harsha will just zip through non-stop. Another guy thing is the `thayir sadam' they want."

For all her driving and navigating skills, Prabha has no clue to how the car works. Archana doesn't either. "No need," says Harsha. "Today's car is so advanced that the tool-kit has only a screw driver. Break down? Just call." Ha, says Archana, "I called Sanjeev from Kodi and he screamed, `Why did you venture out on those roads?'" Sanjeev is smiling. "The words were nothing so mild. I called a mechanic." That's the point, says Prabha. "I'll never know if the guy takes me for a ride." Agrees Harsha. "With know-how you can tell the mechanic what to bring."

In his years in the rallying circuit, Sanjeev has seen just one top female speed-rallyist. Harsha counted just five women among the 250 participants in a recent long-distance rally. About 1 per cent may have taken to this sport, thinks Prabha. More like 0.1 per cent, says Archana. "Women don't lack courage. I've seen a woman with a bashed door continue and win the race." Prabha is thinking out of the gearbox. "It has to do with our culture. A boy in high school is allowed to take the two-wheeler out. A girl gets the vehicle keys in college, but by that time, the boy has put in hours of practice." Sanjeev shifts gear. "Have you noticed the way women sit behind the wheel? They hold on to the steering wheel for life!" Harsha thinks it is a hangover from the Ambassador days. Prabha admits that her mom after 40 years of driving clings to the steering wheel. "That's because she is short," says Harsha.

Sanjeev and Archana aren't sure of the culture theory. "We give our kids the same opportunities. But whether it is the mini two wheeler or the go-cart, the son is a natural and the girl is stiff." Harsha has an explanation. "Women are emotional. If a car could talk, women would do excellent driving." "The 5 per cent is dominant in men," insists Archana. "The first word my son said was "vroom"! He could identify formula cars as a kid, something I still can't do." Dead end.


Archana moves into the prejudices highway. "Here was this woman with a U.K. licence. At the end of the rally, the guys said, `Hey, man, a woman beat us!' I've heard comments like, `What did you drive yaar, even Archana overtook you!' Harsha, however, finds himself in a "no-entry".

"They look at the driving and guess it's a woman, or see my hair and think the driving is bad." Prabha's solution. "When I feel low I take the car out and torture everyone on the road." (Hope Harsha keeps her happy.)

They are back at the starting line. "Rallyists are safe drivers. They watch the road. So can everyone else." Harsha has avoided accidents simply by processing the info around. "You aren't on a horse with blinkers on. It's a 40 horse-power machine," he says. Sanjeev hasn't had an accident in 20 years of driving. Probably because Archana is an excellent navigator.


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