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Driver's License

Khadija Zaidi

My friend Tara drives her dad’s old BMW, gifted to her on her 17th birthday. Tara’s father retired a Brigadier in the army, with more plots than children. So when Tara started driving almost six years ago, her driver’s license was delivered to her f--- doorstep. No test, no nothing. And in the last six years, Tara had been driving herself everywhere. She even drove to Islamabad once with her boyfriend—though I’m not supposed to know that.

And I mean, sure, we had relatives amongst the higher-ups too, but Papa had retired an honest banker. My parents had raised us to not ask for favours. Especially ones that involved calling up uncles and aunts to put in a good word for a driver’s license. We should just take the test, like regular middle-class people.

The last time it was on someone else’s car—some boy who came to take the test at the same centre—I had said I could only drive an automatic.

“We don’t have that here—only manual, ma’am.”

“Then can I drive someone else’s?”

“Ok, yes, we can ask that boy.”

So they asked that boy. And I sat in his small, round, white Suzuki Alto, which smelt like bananas and warm metal. It was parked at the start of the test track—a little L-shaped road marked with orange cones. Go straight, then turn left, then reverse back the same way. The man in the grey uniform was angry and smelly from taking so many tests in the heat. I released the clutch and the car began moving with a small jerk—Altos probably do that— wouldn’t know. Most DHA residents wouldn’t know. I drove forward on minimum speed but one wheel grazed the cone while reversing.

“FAIL!” He barked, as if he knew I would and was happy he was right. I wasn’t too ashamed then.

This time it was at the Ladies Driving Test centre in Liberty Market. And my father was with me because I had said this time I wanted to drive his car, a car I was used to: A Honda City which papa had got from the company he worked at many years ago—now battered and barely functional. Daniyal would joke: “Papa, one day this car will fall apart and you will be left holding the steering wheel.”

Papa liked this joke.

The men’s and women’s sections were visibly different. One, an old abandoned white office building with two rooms and four fat pillars, a shoddy white paint job from years ago and the smell of sweat and rubber. The other, two small, tent-like structures in bright pink, each displaying two signs: ‘Womans Empowermant Driving School’ with a cartoon of a small girl in a uniform driving a car. Children don’t drive cars, I thought.

My husband had given me a file with all documents I could have possibly needed for the process. An old, crumbly grey file that used to be white when it was at his office. It contained two copies of my ID, a copy of my Learner’s Permit with a black and white egg-like image that was my face, a fee challan, and a license form, which he had helped me fill out the night before with a blue ball-point pen.

“Cut out Father Name, na, just circle Husband Name.”

I told papa to stay in the waiting area. I walked into one of the tent-like things: an air-conditioned room with walls lined with printed, gold and pink glossy paper, two small sofas and a tidy desk and chair for the lady officer.

Haan jee, kya kaam hai? What’s your work?”

I sat in his small, round, white Suzuki Alto, which smelt like bananas and warm metal. It was parked at the start of the test track—a little L-shaped road marked with orange cones. Go straight, then turn left, then reverse back the same way. The man in the grey uniform was angry and smelly from taking so many tests in the heat

I showed her my file. She opened it and showed immediate disapproval, as if I had handed her the wrong file. Clicked her tongue:

“No ma’am. This permit is a photocopy—we need original pliz.”

But my husband had given me everything, he had said it was all they would ask for. I was not prepared for this.

I said: “This is what the previous centre gave me—they printed this for me!”

OK, but ma’am where is the original?? Where, ji?

Lady Officer Iqra quickly lost interest and I exited the room. I called my husband and he said:

“Just ask them to print you a new one, bhai, what’s the issue?

I went back in and said: “Please, this is all I have—can you please accept this?”

She lectured me about how she’d been in the service for eleven years and how this had never been done before. Then she asked her assistant to print me my permit. This task took two minutes.

Thank God. I took my file to her again.

She clicked her tongue again. “No, ma’am. This fee challan cannot be accepted ma’am.”

“But its proof of payment! My husband made the payment!”

“We do not accept online payment ma’am. There is an HBL Bank just a walk from here, go and make payment again, get blue slip, we need blue slip.

I called my husband again: “They are not accepting the proof of payment! Didn’t you check this stuff?”

Oho, it’s fine, just tell your dad to go make the payment.”

Detail from work by Sanam Seema Mangi

Papa said “no problem” and jogged to the bank to make the payment. I watched him go—tall, slender, full head of thick, silver hair. Papa always jogged when on the road. Mama never liked it: “it’s not manly, this jogging.”

I waited and watched other women take the driving test. Some in small Altos, others in small Wagon Rs. Small cars to maximise chances of not hitting any cones, I suppose. Or maybe that’s what they actually owned. The first two girls took the turn too early and hit a cone. One just kept driving. She thought she had to finish the test, not pass it.

“STOAAPP MAAM PLZ STOAPP!” A lady officer called out to her and demanded she stop before she destroyed both her husband’s Wagon R and the office building.

Papa jogged back with the slip and I placed it into my file and secured it with a silver paperclip. This time Ms. Iqra looked happy. She said: “Shabash, now you go forWhere are your pictures? Did I put them somewhere?” She rummaged through the files and papers on her desk.

I said: “Wait no, I don’t have photos, I already submitted them when I went to renew my Learner’s Permit.”

“OOFFF!!” She closed her eyes and pretended to hit her forehead on her desk, up and down, up and down, then stopped: “Beta, why are you here?”

“But I already gave them! I didn’t know I had to…”

She clicked her tongue again: “OK, go. There’s a photographer’s shop in the basement of Saleem Fabrics. Go there, he will take your picture and give it quickly, we need four passport size pix GOGOGO SHABASHHH.” And she resumed scrolling on her phone.

I came outside again and papa smiled warmly at me: “haan jee betay, ghar chalein? Should we go home?”

“They are saying I need pictures also, some guy in Saleem Fabrics basement.”

“Ok, so let’s go?”

We sat back in papa’s car and drove around the corner to Saleem Fabrics. In the basement, all shops were closed because it was too early in the day. Shops don’t open till eleven in Liberty. A man with thick glasses sat on a chair outside one shop, reading the newspaper and sipping his morning chai.

Bhai, can we get photos taken here?”

“Yes, yes sir, ayiyeh.”

I walked into his little shop: a stationary shop with two desktop computers, two big printers and a shelf of books with Barbie pencil cases. He asked me to stand before a wood-panelled wall. He reached into his pocket and took out his Samsung.

“Ok, beta, look into camera, readyyyy, oneee, twooo!” He clicked my picture before three. I wasn’t ready but he was. I didn’t care. I stared into his phone’s back cover—golden, with an apple sticker on the bottom right. He sent my picture to the WhatsApp web and opened them on his desktop, then sent for printing. The printer quickly produced six pictures.

“Rupees 120 for sixpix.”

We only needed four.

Back at the centre, Iqra was happy to see me. She felt bad for me, for having to run around Liberty market with my silver-haired father.

Finally, it was time for the test. The night before, I had studied for the sign test: a bump on the road means slow your speed, an inverted bump means there’s a pothole ahead, a cross means don’t go ahead, a U-shaped arrow means U-turn, etc. etc.

Everyone knows it, I probably knew it better.

In the room there was another woman who had just taken the test. Fair, round, demure and freshly-failed.

“You didn’t prepare for the test, madam? Who has brought you here, even?

“Oh, please, don’t call my husband, please, please!”

“Ok, ok madam, leave, you are fail.”

She left the room, sad that she failed the sign test, but relieved that they didn’t call her husband and complain to him about her failure.

Iqra asked me to sit behind the computer—there were two in the second room—for the sign test.

“MCQ test hai, you have two minutes, you can select your language.”

I chose English and started the test.

If you’re driving at 60km/h, at what distance should the car ahead of you be?

Option B?

From what side can you overtake another car?

Option C—Right side.

What is the two-second rule?

What the f--- is a two-second rule?

I passed with guesses because the test was definitely out of syllabus. Iqra wasn’t impressed.

“Ok, please go outside and ma’am Anila will take your driving test.”

Ma’am Anila, a six-feet something lady in a uniform and grey scarf, makeup mixed with sweat, waited for me in the test area.

“Jee, Go and sit in that car.”

“No, I will drive my own car.”

Which car?”

“Honda City.”

Leh! You will drive a City? You see these girls? They can’t even pass on a small Alto on Wagon R. Khair, Go bring it, quickly pliz.”

I told Papa to bring the car. Papa jogged to his car and then drove it to the start of the test area. I sat inside and Papa whispered to me: “All the other girls are making the turn too quickly, so don’t make that mistake—turn a bit later.”

Papa then sat in the waiting area, probably watching me and praying I make it. Papa never really prayed.

I sat in Papa’s torn driving seat. You could see patches of yellow foam underneath the seat cover. We think a cat scratched it from the nights when the windows were left open because they were stuck. This part was easy. I had practiced reverse gear many times, both with my husband and with Papa. And last time, Papa had even given me a nine out of ten.

“Ok, pliz look here in camera”. Anila raised her phone and began recording my test on video- this was standard procedure.

“Please say your name, your full name.” I did. And then I slowly released the clutch to drive. I glanced at Papa who was squinting his eyes to see me clearly. I did what he told me to do. I turned later than all the girls. But I hit the cone before me, like a complete fool. They didn’t even tell me I had failed. It was just understood. Anila stopped recording and asked me to reverse back to the starting point so I could exit. I did a perfect reverse, and hit zero cones.

Iqra told my dad to bring me after 42 days for a re-test.

On our way back, I called Uncle Hashmi to put in a good word for me at the centre.


Khadija Zaidi lives in Lahore and works in communications, alongside co-running her clothing label, Zehra & Khadija Couture. She has previously been featured in The Aleph Review, Vol. 3 (2019). Her satire explores middle-class, family and identity and can be found on her Substack under @somiddleclass.

Sanam Seema Mangi was born in Larkana, Sindh. She received her BFA in miniature painting from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and now lives and works in Karachi. Seema has held several exhibitions of her works at major galleries in Pakistan, including Ejaz Art Gallery and the Shakir Ali Museum. The featured piece was originally published in our fifth volume.


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