I have three driver’s licenses from three different countries and in all the passport photos I look surprised like the pictures of crooks that police photographers usually take.
As soon as I passed my driving test, I was told to stand in front of a counter and look at the camera, which I couldn’t see. And then, click, next!
No one says “Smile”, or gives me the chance to do my hair (when I had hair), or waits for me to catch my breath after a grueling 20 minute ride with an unsmiling lady with a block- notes, which chuckles and keeps ticking boxes every time I nearly hit a pedestrian or a bus.
Also, when renewing my passport, the consulate officer told me that I had to get passport size photos, in color, and that I should not smile in the photo. I thought he was joking, but that’s what the bureaucracy wanted; no happy faces.
Maybe that’s why every time I go back to India, the immigration officer clicks and keeps clicking on the keyboard, trying to match my photo with someone or something, and it takes usually about 20 minutes, while my wife fumes in the background to the officer.
When I went to get my Aadhar card (resident card) in India, the lady at the counter was definitely not a photographer. Looking at my photo, the government finally decided to allow people to change their photo on the card, online.
More driving lessons
Decades have passed and it feels like a nightmare or like in the movie, Groundhog Day, where every day feels the same as I am now taking driving lessons again in Toronto, Canada.
I never got my final G license in the graduated licensing system and had left the country, so I have to start all over again.
Last time, a kind-looking Sardarji gave me driving lessons, but he suddenly slapped my hand that was holding the steering wheel in great style, like Bollywood heartthrob Rajesh Khanna, who was driving and was about to break into a song.
Flash forward to the year 2022, and the driving instructor is a Sardarji again, but this time he’s young and he respects my age, like a good Asian: “Uncle, be careful. If you keep doing these rolling stops (at the All Way stop sign), when will we transition to parallel parking.
I’ve never driven in Toronto and it’s not scary at all, despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was like driving back to Bangalore, the only thing missing was that no one honked their horn constantly, and everyone stayed in their lane and didn’t zigzag madly like a drunken bear that had escaped from the zoo .
But workers were still digging on Bathurst Street and it looked like nothing had moved since we last came to this street before Covid, and an Uber driver said wryly that two things remained constant in Toronto, bad weather in winter and construction works.
When we first arrived in Bengaluru almost five years ago there was an ambitious announcement that a new flyover would be built. When we last went to Yellahanka New Town, several moons later, the flyover was still under construction.
“What do you see ahead?” asked the instructor, and I thought it was a trick question. “The traffic lights. A teenager on a skateboard on the sidewalk….
“There’s construction coming up and you’ll have to start moving to the right now, not changing lanes at the last minute,” he said.
Later, the instructor booked me for a road test in a small town, far from Toronto, which probably has no vehicles on the street and no road construction going on.
When I told him after class that the Airbnb we were staying in Toronto was expensive, the instructor pulled out a card and said he was also a real estate agent and that I should call him if I wanted to buy a house .
Interest rates are high, but he would get me a good deal, he said.
I looked at his card again and it had his photo printed on it, and he was smiling.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi