The alarm clock going off at 5 am on a Sunday morning was not a mistake. It was all for a cause. It was Sunday, March 29th 2009, the day slated for the The Lavasa Women’s Car Drive, as it was titled, a car rally, exclusively for women, to raise awareness for Breast Cancer.
They came in droves. (Okay, bad pun, but it was irresistible!) 250 cars. More than 500 women. 2, 3, 4 per car. All shapes, sizes and ages, in white T shirts and caps. All sizes of cars! From Innovas to Wagon Rs. Some decorated (with even coordinated outfits!). Nothing was stopping these women from getting behind the wheel on a Sunday.
We were part of it. I was a designated co-passenger – happy to be that since this was the first time I was participating in a rally like this. With an efficient driver and an experienced navigator, we were confident, excited and …set!
The organising committee had done, to my mind, a fairly well-thought out job. While a Tetley promotion offered hot tea in the early morning to women who had just flung together their things and come in at 6:30 am (like us), what was the logical next step was also provided for! Portable loos! I am sure some women were part of this kind of thinking.
Ajay Devgan and other celebs waved off some cars. Missed ours by 2. Their loss, we believe.
Each car was well numbered and stickered and waved off pretty much on time. We were flagged off, armed with what was called a Tulip chart. Honestly, I believe the organisers were very brave. Alternatively, they were very smart. But I’ll come to that later. Let me talk about bravery first.
Imagine unleashing 250 women drivers into the so-called wilderness of Mumbai and Pune without a map – only a chart with navigation symbols and speed limits! Requires an act of courage. Then again, they were smart. Look at it this way, no woman is afraid of getting lost, and having got lost, stopping and asking for directions. If they had given us a map, it would have probably not been even the slight challenge it was!
The drive was largely a test of navigational skills and disciplined driving. At some points, impatient as we are, going at 60 kmph was really really slow. Climbing at 20 was even more frustrating. And going on an open road at 40 must have caused quite some hair pulling with other women, besides us. But the beauty of it was, that it was an unhurried drive and I think that accounted for the lack of mishaps on the way up.
The entire route was well manned by Safety Marshalls. We stopped at each of these and got clocked in from point to point. For the steep climb nearing Lavasa, there were even more yellow flagbearers egging us on and watching out for us.
We reached Lavasa in about 5 and a half hours with a timed 20 minute break in between. While Lavasa is beautiful, it was way too hot and someone thoughtful had organised a ‘golawala’! Crushed ice with kala khatta… that was a brilliant way to cool off in the 2 pm sun! Lunch was well organised too and with adequate facilities to accommodate the numbers.
A quick lunch, a quick look around without suffering the heat, and we decided we would wend our way back to Mumbai in good time. I took the wheel this time (there were no speed limits now!) and drove all the way back to Mumbai in about four and a half hours (accounting for Mumbai traffic on a Sunday evening).
On the way down, we were still meeting cars going up, the drivers cheerfully waving to us. We, on our part, waved back, wished them luck and prayed for their safety.
What was beautiful in all this was the spirit in which the whole event was conducted and the way in which it was taken. There was general goodwill around from the start to well after the finish. The spirit was one of camaraderie rather than competitiveness, which was so nice. Our number was 39. As we slid into a parking slot when we reached Lavasa, Car No. 12 (which technically should have been way before us) cheerfully welcomes us and says “Thank you for keeping us company throughout the way!”
This was an event for a cause. And the best part is all the participants got it. The winners are still to be announced. But for those who were there that day, participation and the spirit in which it took place was a victory in itself.