Parents in Cars Getting Cocky: When Will Indian Parents Stop Backseat Driving?

Modern Family

Parents in Cars Getting Cocky: When Will Indian Parents Stop Backseat Driving?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“If you learn to drive in Mumbai then you’ll be prepared to drive anywhere in the world,” said my mum, as she left me with Mukesh, the driving instructor.

This might have seemed like gentle encouragement at the time, but I didn’t realise that this was actually a threat. It was my 18th birthday, and I wanted to celebrate my newly acquired adulthood by learning to drive. I was enrolled into a driving school and left in the dubious hands of the worst driving instructor in the city — maybe the whole world. This Mukesh might have borne some resemblance to the Mukesh who runs this country, but he had zero control over anything, including the car and the way he taught me. Thanks to Mukesh, the first car I drove was a godawful rust bucket Maruti 800 with no side-view mirrors, seat belts, or functioning brakes. He charged 250 bucks an hour so you could listen to him whine about how miserably single he was at 40 — and sometimes, between his ramblings, you’d even learn to drive.

Alas, it was him and me every morning from eight to nine for the next month, bickering like an old married couple driving around in his shitmobile. It was only after I received my driver’s licence that I realised this ordeal was the price of freedom.

There I was, dreaming of driving along Marine Drive wearing sunglasses, the sea breeze ruffling my hair, when my mum suggested that we visit my grandparents. “Who needs Uber when our son can drive!” she exclaimed, as my father exited the toilet, and the sound of my hopes and dreams being flushed down the crapper echoed through the living room. I spent the next three hours sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Western Express Highway, listening to my parents play antakshari in the backseat.

I have come to the conclusion that driving with parents is the absolute worst thing that can happen to children. It is worse than report card day rolled into PTA meeting day blended with a spot of prize distribution day.

And the unkindest cut of all? They never, ever let me have the aux cable.

Ever since antakshari day, my parents have turned me into the family’s unpaid driver. How am I supposed to pay for gas if I have no money? They don’t care, they just want to reach their “destinations” in time.

What kind of person makes their child drive through the narrowest lanes in the city, doesn’t pay for gas, and then complains about their driving? My parents, that’s who. Usually they complain about me driving too fast. Then, when I slow down, they tell me to speed up. If I dare retort with, “Fine, then you drive,” they threaten to give me a bad rating. And the unkindest cut of all? They never, ever let me have the aux cable.

My mother is forever in panic mode when she is riding shotgun. She is terrible at giving directions, so when she says right it usually means left. And this she realises only when I’ve almost made the turn. When I steer the wheel in the correct direction, she begins to tug at my had and screams, “Accident! Accident!” right into my ear. If truth be told, it really makes me want to ram into other vehicles but I resist.

My father is relatively calm, but an expert backseat driver. He is persistently giving me instructions – when to hit the accelerator, when to slow down, when to stick to the left lane. Heck, he’ll even tell me there’s a red signal ahead and I need to stop.    

But wait, it doesn’t end here. My parents believe they’re far more resourceful than the rear-view and side-view mirrors of my car? In their infinite wisdom, my parents think it is absolutely necessary to announce every vehicle that crosses my path. “The BEST driver is honking, make way.” “The man in the car behind is old, let him pass.” “Don’t go too close to the garbage truck.” You get the drift.

Google Maps has only added to my misery. To use the guide or not is an argument that breaks out every time we sit inside the car. Dad is a believer in technology and for some reason my mom thinks Google Maps is a conspiracy.  

We usually spend more time arguing about which route to take, and whether the AC temperature should be lowered or not than we do getting to our destination.

That’s how I spend most of my weekends, driving my parents to weddings of relatives I have never met, ferrying them to restaurants, malls, and of late temples. Probably, the next time, I’ll step inside the mandir and say a small prayer: Make mum and dad better co-passengers.

Could things get any worse? Certainly. Is there a chance for improvement? Probably not. But, I’ve accepted my fate. Just last week, we had a family meeting to discuss if my services should include our extended family. This time, I put up a spirited fight. That’s why tomorrow, I’m driving my moushi to Lokhandwala so she can play cards with her kitty friends.

So, how does it feel to be a family Uber driver? The hours are long, the work conditions subpar, and the pay is non-existent. But hey, at least I’m not forced to drive a rust bucket Maruti 800, amirite?