17 December, 2013

Who's really driving?

I decided at the ripe old age of 26 to finally learn how to drive. The plan was initially met with some resistance by my well-meaning husband who is all too familiar with my total lack of any sense of direction and my pathetic visual motor skills - yes, I'm 'differently abled' that way. But "women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” (Robert A. Heinlein)

And so I signed up for a two week course with the best driving school in the neighbourhood. On day one, with a really good teacher on my left and a nervous husband sitting at the back, I learnt the "ABC" of driving a car - about the accelerator, the brake and the clutch. I learnt how to get the car moving and how to keep it going. When we reached a bend, all I had to do was steer the wheel accordingly and the car would turn and change its course - pretty simple! Except that it was not. It was on the third day, while I smoothly turned the car around a bend and smiled gleefully at my instructor, when he told me that now I would also need to press down the clutch slightly whenever the car needs to take a turn.

“But I haven’t been pushing the clutch while I took all those turns the last two days – the car turned just fine.” I can never really accept change without figuring out all the whys and hows. 

“That’s because I have been pressing the clutch while you were making those turns. I didn’t want to flood you with too much information at once,” explained my instructor. He had been using his extra set of foot controls that are usually present in all driving school cars. And I realised that I had not been really driving all this while. My instructor could hit the brake or speed up or steer the wheel whenever he felt I could not manage on my own.

That day as my husband and I drove to work and as I mulled over the morning driving lesson, I realised that our life on earth too, is not fully in our control. We might gloat at our achievements and strut around with pride, not knowing that God is the real driver, who has been keeping us safe when we were almost going to ram into a streetlight or run off a cliff plunging into a valley of darkness. 

Those among us old enough to have experienced life’s highs and lows would be familiar with instances where we’ve often been on the brink of falling into the depths of despair, but have been miraculously pulled back to safety. It would be foolish to think that we recovered only because “we’ve always had our life in control – we know when to stop.” What many of us don’t realise is that God has an extra set of foot controls to guide the car and a ready, steady hand that reaches out to steer the wheel to safety.

My driving lessons continued quite successfully (I thought!) and after two weeks of patient teaching by my instructor, I was confident that I’d be driving to work in a few weeks. My husband, who is practical and blessed with common sense, gently reminded me that I should be practising on our own car for a while before I decide to cut my life short.

Early morning, next day, I started our car, easing slowly down the road beaming confidently at the husband who had turned green around the gills out of nervousness. My confidence, however, vanished when I reached the busiest crossroads of our neighbourhood and saw a tractor gunning down towards me from my right and a rickshaw approaching us from the left. I turned frantically towards the husband, expecting him to use his set of clutch-brake-accelerator and to get us out of there and realised with mounting panic that our car didn’t come with an extra set of controls! The husband was already gesticulating wildly asking me to hit the brakes. I did what I could do best. I froze. After somehow bringing the car to a halt, we duly exchanged seats and he drove me to an isolated stretch of road where I’m polishing my driving skills these days.

Nobody, not even my husband could replace the assurance and confidence I got from the presence of my instructor and that extra set of controls he had. We often end up placing our confidence on people around us, not realising that they are sometimes as helpless as we are in difficult situations. 

Nobody, however close and beloved they are, can replace the comforting presence of Jesus. He knows what He is doing. He’s always got things in control and He will help us steer our life in the right direction. Leading a messianic life, a life in Christ, is as simple as this – realising who’s really driving and letting Him guide us – when we’re at crossroads, stuck in a jam or even cruising smoothly down the road. 

P.S: I have not even managed to drive down to church, forget driving to work. Pray for me!

17 July, 2013

How to pick a book for a vacation read?

While reading is how I often take off mentally for a vacation (“In books I have traveled, not only to
other worlds, but into my own.” ― Anna Quindlen), picking books to pack for a real vacation is an elaborate ritual that I undertake with a very scientific approach and with the Survivor - Eye of the Tiger playing in the background.  (And yes, books, not book, because I go into panic mode imagining a situation where I'm on a break and have run out of reading material - in such situations I grab the hotel's menu card - anything and start reading that. Do not laugh for this is a serious medical condition. There is even a term for it - abibliophobia!)

So as the day when we set off for a much awaited vacay started drawing near, I started fantasizing. Conjuring up images of a quaint little inn in the middle of nowhere - surrounded by beauty that cannot even be taken in at once - breathing in the sweet air typical of the mountains - the husband quiet - and I, reading. Reading without worrying about the dinner that I have not yet started making - reading without worrying about an early morning the next day.

So how do I make the all-important decision of which book to take for the upcoming holiday in the hills (okay I may be playing down our destination a bit here, but I don't want to talk about it till we get there; I'm afraid i'll jinx it.) I've been agonizing over what books (book, maintains the husband) to take with me, more than over clothes - and these are my criteria:

1. Delayed gratification factor - Don't ask me how I do it, but the only way I sometimes manage to get through the drudgery of everyday monotony, is by stashing away a book that I would love to devour immediately, but don't. The thought of carrying around an unread book and delaying the gratification I can get out of it, literally turns me on! So if i want to start my holiday on the right note, I'll pick up this temptation of a book that I've been resisting for some time. The husband often ends up mistaking the reason for the anticipation on my face, the glint in my eyes and that starts his vacation on a good note too. It's a win-win situation.

2. Plot factor - There are books that race on without brakes, hard-core page-turners that don't let me come up for air and there are books that meander along gently, evocatively, letting me savour them as their plot unfold along with the sinous curves of the mountains we'll be climbing. I prefer the former lot to jump-start my monotonous schedule, finishing them overnight.
But for a vacation, I prefer to carry books that don't make me miss the beauty around because I'm reading frantically to reach the plot's climax. The book's plot should not overshadow the purpose of the vacation. I would not want to go visit monasteries meeting gentle monks while inwardly crying for the characters in my book.

3. Beauty factor - The stories have got to be beautiful. While they should not overshadow the memories of our holiday, they should definitely work towards accentuating them. Vacation memories tinted with a beautiful story or character I stumble upon are always a bonanza. I always associate each vacations or any time occasion with the book(s) I would have been reading at the time. Memories of the last Kerala visit before I got married are peppered with fond recollections of my relatives' pampering with intermittent flashbacks from Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series and Lisbeth Salander's photographic memory. I can't think of Naukuchiatal without remembering Lenny's poignant story from Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice Candy Man. The stories should be beautiful, yes.

4. Format factor - Unless they start manufacturing Kindles that smell like books, I would prefer reading from the real thing made of papyrus. The sound of a book's spine cracking when I open it, sends a shiver of excitement coupled with pure anticipation down my spine. Now which e-book can give me that? Also, I'm a messy reader who loves to read on the pot, while eating, during my cooking sprees - who can risk carrying a fancy schmancy e-thingie to all these places?

Keeping all these factors in mind and quite unmindful of them, here's how I finally shortlisted a couple of books - it was too late to order them on Flipkart to get them delivered before we left and my tight work-home schedule left me with no time to visit a bookshop. So I made the husband visit his office library and made him read out book titles randomly, while I reviewed them online. Funny eh? No sir! I've shortlisted two books - Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People and David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes.

The husband is happy to see me so kicked about the trip. Don't go telling him the real reason, you!