The Medical Test
A medical test for a driving licence. A quirky way to pass the test.
The parking is not too full. Thank God! It meant lesser people in the queue. It is still early, half an hour earlier than the office timings. She walks fast, trying to look as if she wasn’t rushed at all. But, getting closer, she could already spot a couple of women... three...actually, five women in the chairs nearby and a queue of files in front of the door where they should have been. Hmmm...! Proxy attendance! The women in chairs meanwhile watch her, their hands stuffed in jacket pockets and heads wrapped in mufflers. They seem to be ready to spring to action in case their file faced a coup at the hands of the new comer. But she deferentially takes her place—sixth—in the ladies queue, behind the files. The men stand in the next one, which is longer with about twenty people already, openly watching her, gauging her. She exudes an occupied look, resolutely staring ahead, preferring to look at their glass reflections in the door instead. The door is locked from outside.
Both lines grow steadily longer, though the female version remains shorter in almost the same proportion. ‘More men than women apply for driving licences, car registrations etc’: a dull, boring premise for research, just stating the obvious, even in this day and age. Still, it killed some time listening to the men tutoring their wife/sister/employee what to say to the guard for gaining entry to the office. Okay, she gets it. Not all five were the original applicants, just a means to get inside quicker.
‘What’s the use of coming early? The doors wouldn’t open before 9.30’: this from a Mr Know-all. Isn’t he a little young to be wearing that martyr’s smile and going about dispensing wisdom? ‘What would you do getting inside at 9 if the officials arrive at 10’: another pearl of wisdom? Huh! Naysayers! She is determined not to let the negativity get to her. She’s just finished reading a self help book yesterday. Some movement is eventually discernible on the other side of the door. Lights are switched on. Blinds are turned up. It is barely nine. Wow! She is in luck today. Power of positive thinking! A guard is at the door, unlocking it from inside. ‘It is locked from outside,’ a general commotion. Doesn’t he know? People jostle a little. The guard pushes the door, opens a chink and throws the keys to the general public. They catch the keys but not the import. It is an unlikely situation, this holding of a key to guarded doors in their own hands, and they are zapped for some seconds. The guard wears the expression of a benevolent democratic ruler holding out a favourite election sop: ‘Power is alwaaays in the hands of common people’. Meanwhile, impatience flutters amongst the more intelligent ones at the back of the queue. They know exactly what should be done in every situation but somehow they are always at the back.
Finally, the lock clicks open.The files are given numbers by the benevolent public servant, taking one each from both the lines, issuing gentle warnings all the while. ‘Only the applicants should be in the queues. No hanky-panky.’ But he doesn’t check the files to ensure there is no hanky-panky. People eagerly settle in the waiting chairs inside, an air of mini triumph about them. The die is cast, they have all been numbered, order established. Nothing can go wrong now, no hanky-panky. So, the doors are left wide open and the husbands/brothers/employers trickle in, a studied ease in their body language. An imperceptible transfer of power happens and it is they who take the lead now, with the file in their hands and a busy look on their faces as they go to the enquiry or some other counter, wives/ sisters/ employees in tow.
One elderly gentleman gets up and walks around a little, probably exercising his stiff joints. The guard is inimical to this: ‘All should remain seated or I will put your file at the bottom of the pile.’ He says it with a smile but it is not very pleasant or benevolent this time. The gentleman sits down, his harrowed eyes going a shade deeper. The guard seems genuinely happy at the impact he has made, his lips in a smug curve.It turns out she first needs to get a medical done. This unsettles her a little. What if she loses her vantage position in the waiting lines? But she knows better than complain. The medical room is somewhere at the back of the present building, she is told. She finds it after a couple of wrong turns.
The doctor hasn’t come in yet. His bigger chair is vacant. The person in a smaller chair tells her to get ‘form 1’ from a stationery shop somewhere at the back of the medical room. She rushes around. It is comforting that there is no one else for the medical yet. It may not take too long once the papers are in order. All that she was applying for was renewal of driving licence. At least there won’t be a driving test.
By the time she gets in with the form, two more applicants have arrived. So has the doctor. He looks well past his retirement age by almost a decade... probably he is re-employed. He looks up at her greeting and his face lights up with a good natured smile. His eyes, though old, reflect a happy soul. She is immediately at ease. The first applicant is done with his examination in a jiffy, or so it seems to her. She has been busy pasting her photograph in a rectangle on the form. The second man settles in the chair. He seems to be in his fifties, like her. The examination begins. The doctor reads up the form. ‘You haven’t listed any identification marks on your body...’ ‘I don’t have any, doctor.’
The doctor looks at him dubiously. ‘But there must be something...some injury in your childhood, at least a mole somewhere...’ ‘That is the problem I face every time I fill up a form, doctor. There isn’t any.’ He offers a sheepish smile along with the information to the occupants of the room. She gawks. There are two she has listed on her form and could easily have put at least two more, easily verifiable ones, there. A childhood of pranks, rash jumps from courtyard walls, grazes from guava trees, falls from cycle and scooty flash across. Those days were quite an adventure, more so because nobody told her to be like a girl. Did this man not have any of that! An odd mixture of envy at his peerless skin and disappointment at his obvious lack of fun crosses her face. But the doctor is clearly amused. ‘Why don’t you get one made then? A tattoo or something...it is so in fashion...you can have God’s name, or your father’s inked somewhere. Or maybe an Aum.’ ‘He! He!’ responds he of the dewy skin. It is a joke, isn’t it? ‘Or you can have the name of Modi etched on your wrist,’ the doctor is clearly in his element and enjoying himself giving unsolicited advice. The examinee rises up to the humour. ‘But the validity of that tattoo might be over in five years.’ They laugh together. Both look at her. She keeps her face amiably straight. The man in the smaller chair doesn’t look up from the file in front of him. The examination continues. ‘Okay, shut your left eye and read the last two lines.’ The man obeys and rattles off the letters. ‘I asked you to read two, my dear fellow, but you have read just one. One needs an alert mind to drive, no?’ Pursed lips is the only response he gets this time. Not in front of the lady! The man belies his concern in the quick glance he darts in her direction. ‘Okay, now read the last two lines again after shutting your right eye.’ The reading is quite a cakewalk, but the medico still finds a canker in the fruit: ‘You know, application of brakes is very essential for safe driving. But you just rushed on and on, without any brakes on the way.’Glum silence. The good spirits of the doctor are not dampened. Probably this is what keeps the dancing lights in his eyes switched on, this light hearted banter at the expense of befuddled applicants. He puts a stamp on the form with great gusto, signs it with a flourish and hands it over. The man walks out without a thank you. Clearly this official-medical-examination-and-unofficial-driving-test-rolled-into-one has not found much favour with him.
She prepares herself for sudden bends on the road to a signed and stamped form number 1. In any case, she is ready to take the jovial, even if slightly devilish, patronizing old man in good humour. She quite likes his mirthful countenance. He flutters the pages of colour vision test randomly. She has dreaded the moment, but keeps up appearances. She has taken pains and styled her hair well. People have told her she looks younger that way. Maybe that is why the doctor is not particular about her answers, though she knows the pages that opened by default were the easier ones. To give him his due, women are rarely colour-blind because they have two X chromosomes. In a blink it is over. The rest is easy. Close left eye, read the last two lines. Then the trick instruction: close right eye, read the last line right to left. She passes with flying...er... colours. ‘Do you work?’ She gives him the details. ‘Good, women must work,’ he approves. That is what can keep them active and mentally alert; she knows what he has left unsaid. She couldn’t have told him that a cynical doctor had almost rejected her for that job during the medical because of a slight red/green colour vision deficiency. It was only upon procuring a certificate citing the non technical nature of her post, (which was anyway more than obvious) that the requisite clearance was given. This one signs without a murmur. She asks his name. He beams an answer. ‘Nice meeting you. Have a good day,’ she says and breezes out.