Singapore is a small city. No, not small. TINY. It’s only about 50km from east to west, and half of that from north to south. That makes getting from one place to another fairly easy – it often doesn’t take more than an hour to get anywhere. Singapore also really tries to control traffic on the road with exorbitant car prices, so for mere mortals like me, public transport is the way to go. Luckily, the public transport system is clean, efficient and comfortable, so travelling is never really an issue here.
India, on the other hand, is a whole other story. I learnt to drive on my first break back from university, and it was a wholly terrifying experience. The process of learning itself was quite easy, and there was almost literally nothing to do in terms of passing the test and getting a license, but actually driving on the road was a nightmare. They say if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere in the world. I’m sure that’s true, because India prepares you for road and traffic issues you wouldn’t face in most other places of the world.
Because I only went back to India during my university breaks and barely stayed there for a month each time, I never really got a chance to practise my driving skills. My mom was always too scared to let me drive on my own, and forbade me from going outside our housing complex and driving on a main road. My dad, though a lot less worried about me, was definitely worried about the safety of his car, so he didn’t really oppose the restriction. So it came to be, that despite having a functional license, I was nowhere near being a good or even capable driver.
When I went back to India for five months last year, I had a chance to actually do more than just drive in circles around my house. I helped my dad out with his afternoon chores by driving him to the bank or the post office. I drove to the cinema, to the temple, and to grocery shops. With practice, I gradually progressed from inner roads to main roads and then even to national highways during a few long distance trips across cities. Just as I was settling into the groove of things, though, I came back to Singapore and have not been behind a wheel since.
I know some people feel helpless without a car, but I’m slowly coming to realise that I’m not really that big a fan of driving. Yes, when I think about road trips in far away countries, and driving along the coast with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, I wish my skills were better, but for the most part, I’m fine with being a passenger and letting someone else take the wheel. In fact, I don’t even feel very strongly about cars. I know a lot of that is because I’ve spent most of my adult life in Singapore, where it’s easy to get by without one and to rely on public transport, and that things would be different if I were in India or even the US, but as it is, I feel like I could go my whole life without ever owning a car. Even if it does greatly reduce time travel, it just feels like so much extra effort to own, maintain and drive one that it seems like an easy choice to forgo it.
Time will tell if that will change, and if driving will become as indispensable a part of my life as it seems for many people I know. Until then, however, I’ll gladly spend the extra travel time staring out my bus window and exercising my people-watching skills.