I’ve loved driving ever since I learnt it. It is a ‘me time’ which I love. It has its own rules of safety and fun attached to it. In the last three decades I’ve driven in almost all kinds of circumstances. I can safely write this post on safe driving. Always starting with the ‘safar ki dua!’ I’m sure all of you do it too. Driving is an experience of skills, matched by knowledge and thrill.
There might be words you won’t like here, but I don’t mince words, when it comes to safety.
When my youngest of three children, Waliya arrived, I was already a confident driver, and traveled far and wide throughout the country. My husband trained me well, and kept me well ingrained in safety matters.
My friend, Romana has often gone alone between Lahore and Islamabad many times. She makes sure she leaves for the journey very early in the morning.
Recently, a terrible tragedy took place; Everyone knows what I am talking about! A woman got raped in the presence of her children, as her car stopped in the middle of nowhere, in the later hours of the night. I don’t think there is a fear greater than this. It is actually worse than death itself. I just pray for the family to find peace and solace somehow, and to find ways to deal with the PTSD which they must be facing now.
A few positive things happened as a result of this incident:
The Prime Minister finally got a bill passed for castration of all rapists. (Now, I’m waiting for the day it is done! They can start by all those rapistas already waiting in prisons now.)
For once, everyone was with the victim, instead of blaming her which is normally the case.
Demonstrations throughout the country took place, calling for ‘hang the rapist’. Which can be considered, but best would be for life imprisonment, as such a man doesn’t deserve to be on the streets, castrated or not.
Thanks to the DNA test, and his phone, he was traced, the man has been identified, yet, as I write, he is still at large. The mystery has led to many more questions and surprises.
Another ugly fact:
Immediately after the prime minister Imran Khan announced the bill of castration of rapist; two more rapes took place, (these were the reported ones, I’m sure there were many more. ) This time, at home. So, the fact remains that homes aren’t any safer either.
Blaming the girl for being out on the roads at 2.00 am is not right. I’ve been out many times. Just as many of you all must have been too. ( I’ve driven all over Karachi in the worst of times, with all three daughters.) My point is you have to take care of own safety yourself. Simple. Rule or no rule, these things happen all over the world. So, take care my girl. When one is careful, you are just reducing the possibilities.
My ‘drive safely’ rules:
When I started driving, naturally there was no mobile phone. So I was very particular about not venturing out after dark. I’ve driven all over Pakistan with my children, at different stages of their lives, for at least three decades.
Baby, you are on your own!
Nothing succeeds like success. But it needs lots of homework too. I’m sure it will be of help if you read carefully, because I’ve driven in almost all circumstances; including floods, storms, early hours of morning, and late nights. Not to say of the countless drives in daylight hours.
My rules about safety:
Listen to your gut feeling:
To this day my children cannot understand why I decided not to go for swimming that one night, in Sargodha PAF Base; about forty minutes later, there was a huge storm, with trees falling and power outage. (Can you imagine being in the pool in pitch darkness in a storm, and trees falling around?) I don’t know, but I felt that ‘today we mustn’t go, and we didn’t go, though at that time there was no logical reason. Later, we found out how right I was. Only because I always listen to my gut feeling.
One thing is courage – other is stupidity:
These were my father’s words. He firmly told me not to be stupid, when trying to be brave. (As a child also, I was fearless, always saying, ‘Allah Mian will save me.’ So, then he would say this to me. There is a time for bravery and there is a time to be wise, and step back. So, one was mindful, to realize the difference between the two.
Confidence comes from being well prepared:
Wali-ur-Rehman, a driver of my husband’s who taught me to drive in the mountains, said: ‘your car’s petrol must be full, when you are parking at night.’ So, in case of an emergency, you don’t have to wait to fill the car. While driving in mountains, keep to your own side, no matter what!
Keep a watch on your car:
During travel, try to park your car for the midway restaurant stop, where you can keep an eye on it, while being inside. I know you can’t do it always, but if you can, then do it. Sit inside the restaurant, so you can see your car parked outside. If not, do go out in between and check from the entrance of the restaurant. (I believe, some guys took out her petrol.)
Do car maintenance yourself:
Be responsible for oil checks, battery, tyre condition, maintenance and specially gear oil, and brakes yourself. Do not blame husband or brother. Just do it. (My rule was to ask nicely three times, after that do it yourself.) Get to know a mechanic who will take care of your car.
Even when my husband was alive, I’d feel proud maintaining my car myself, though of course, my husband helped. He also encouraged my independence.
I just knew he was too busy, so couldn’t afford to let my car’s maintenance get delayed. It was not that big a deal. If I had an accident, I’d go to nearby place and get it done up, and inform my husband about it. In this process I got to know some good mechanics, in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. There was Rashid near Chaklala, and then Mohammad in F-10, Islamabad. Now, Daniyal of DW Garage next to E-11 Islamabad, is awesome. He is on Instagram too. You can ask your friend’s driver for help too, or go to the Toyota Motors or which ever car you have, go to the best place for it.
Normally I dress very casually, but when I was in Frontier, or in Sargodha, I’d make sure to wear a big doputta and be fully draped in it. You don’t want to look like a beacon light in such areas. Just merge with the crowd. It is also respect for local dress code, with hardly any make up too. It is the rule of: ‘do in Rome as Romans do.’ Makes sense, my sweety pies. We also learnt to keep an abaya or doputta in the car, in case one had to stop in such an area.
Be home before dark:
Avoid the hours after dark if you can help it. Having the habit of sleeping all day, makes you get behind the wheel at night. So, be careful. Get up early in the morning, and do the same journey in day light hours. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t as careful during daylight hours either! Be vigilant always. If possible plan with friends, or have a man with you. If not, be more careful and vigilant.
Do not be predictable:
Change your routines, so you don’t get out and return home at same time daily. That makes you a sitting duck. It is good to change routines and routes often. I know it is hard with regular timings, but you know what I mean. As freelancers, you can easily do it.
Use seatbelts for yourself and children:
Be diligent in following all safety rules for ‘child on board’. Using car seats and so on. (I did it, when there were no such rules in Pakistan.) Make your child know that you are going to follow the rules no matter what! They will stop bellowing, because the question doesn’t arise. Just be firm and kind to the kids, keep them involved in fun activities during the drive, (changing the activities often, as they have a short attention span.)
Make short crisp stops:
Preferably avoid stops. If you have to, then make sure it is in a bright, crowded area, and keep it short. Get through with your journey as quickly as possible. If a situation gets scary, pretend to be confident. Very confident, as if your husband/brother/father is coming in the car just behind you!
When you stop, you and each child needs to be clear what he or she is to do, during stops. So your getting into the car and driving out is smooth and crisp. We have lived through times of terrorism. ‘Don’t park next to a garbage can, or a dilapidated car!’ My husband would warn me. Yes, blasts. ‘Do not put the windows down,’ yes, fear of acid being thrown in. By the same token, when getting out of the car, get out crisply and move away from your car. When getting in, do it quickly and drive off, keeping windows closed and locks on.
I guess, being an army officer’s daughter and then an air force officer’s wife, I was used to keeping quiet about my next move. You can do it too:
- Never give away your plan of what you are going to do next.
- Do not mention exact time of arrival or departure on phone if you can help it. These days, you can easily be stalked. I know things can get bad anyway. But you don’t have to give your plans away on a plate – on Facebook or Instagram!
- Particularly, in front of servants, never tell them your plan. Never. When you are talking to your friend, and your servant walks into your room, he is listening.
- While sharing videos on the way, make sure to keep landmarks away.
- Do not give away your personal details. (Yes, says me!!!)
- Be mindful.
- I’ve lived through death threats, and all kinds of horrors. Allah is very kind. But we have to be very careful.
- Keeping a ferocious dog is a big plus. Do not let the dog out at night, or he can get poisoned.
Have an excellent security system in car and house. Install cameras in house. Keep them in good working condition.
Get informed about local security issues:
Mind you, that incident happened in an area which was known to be among the most criminal of areas in whole of Pakistan. At that time the car was near a village which was known for harboring paid murderers. So, before venturing out, do your homework about the place. Talk to trusted people in the area.
When I was in Karachi in 2007, I’d drive to my evening classes 5.30 pm to 8.30 pm. My class fellows warned me about getting into any random side-street if needed, as some of these could be dangerous. They told me to listen to the local news before leaving house. Also to note the areas in trouble. Once during a bad storm, I gave lift to several class-fellows of mine including a young man (God bless him,) he helped us get through, (and even treated us to a delicious dinner on the way!) It was one of the scariest drives I’ve made to date. He did backseat driving, guiding me on how to manage it through the two feet of water, driving my automatic Vitz, without letting the engine stall.
As far as I know, there are poles at small distances, which have numbers on them. So, as you drive, notice these, and you can involve the children in it too. If God forbid your car has a problem and you call the Motorway police, you can refer to the nearest pole, so they will know that you have just crossed such-and-such pole, so you can be easily located by the police. Otherwise, it is hard for them to locate you.
Be well informed:
I know, sometimes our emotions get the better of us. But sabar is the toughest and most revered quality. So, always be inquisitive and find out before venturing out into unknown areas. Otherwise, refuse to go. Believe me, nothing is more important than yours and your children’s safety.
Reciting Allah’s names and sadqa:
Once, after that scary stormy drive, Nadiya and I were walking, outside our home in Malir Cantt, Karachi. It was a lovely evening, though it was late night, many families were also taking walks. Suddenly, as we walked under a street light, this stranger walking with his wife looks at me, and says, ‘Your life is in danger!’ This was 2007, and I had just had that drive, so we were shocked. ‘You are in danger, and those with you get into danger also,’ he continued. Oooops! So, naturally we went to his home, (his wife was with him.) He told me to read ‘ya hafeezo’ in fact that I should read, ‘Ya hafeezo, arhamna.’ Which is a plea to Allah to protect you and those with you too. Also, he asked me to give sadqa the moment I leave house, or give on weekly basis, (even if it is Rs.10.00 daily.) How did he know, that my life would be in even more danger within a few years!
Somehow, I’ve practiced this small act of daily sadqa and reciting ya hafeezo arhamna while driving, ever since. You can do it too.
Be well equipped:
If you keep arms, only do it if you are an expert with it. Otherwise the other person can snatch it from you, and use it on you. But frankly I believe in keeping arms, and do not shoot to kill, but let the crappy one know, you won’t miss him next time! Oh btw, you can keep that pepper spray. In Pakistan a nice handful of chat masala or National or Shan red chilli packet may do the trick too. Just cover everyone up with it!😊 Leave handi defense items hidden inside your car in different places.
Stay safe, blessed and protected. 😊
Note: Photographs provided by my eldest daughter Nataliya Khan of @nataliyanajibkhan who is presently a professional family photographer in Seattle.