Always wanted to drive a bus: Story of getting my HMV license in Kerala

Before turning 18, I neither had any experience nor ever tried driving a motor vehicle and it was a conscious decision.

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I had planned to write a topic about “how to obtain a heavy vehicle driving license” soon after obtaining the license last year but later decided against it. I thought not many would be interested in knowing about it as there’s nothing much new about it. It’s almost similar to the process of obtaining an LMV license which almost everyone goes through.

Recently I was going through my phone’s gallery, I saw the photos that I had taken to write the thread that I had initially planned to. I recollected all those episodes during that period, I felt nostalgic. Man! As I rewind, I feel amused that I have a good memory power and it’s ironic because I felt I had low memory power. I should put it to use while studying from now on. Even though I don’t have the literary prowess to spread the same happiness that I felt recollecting it, I think I will try to make this writing an engaging read. I remember most of the events during that period and would try to share it with you as a story.

So, last year during this part of the year I planned to apply for the heavy license. It had been more than three years since I got hold of my light motor vehicle license. I had been driving our WagonR for household needs and had been the sole driver of the house even though everyone at home holds a driver’s license. Lucky me, I enjoyed this benefit and have loved driving all these years. At this stage, I think I should take you through the major events of the whole journey of how I started my driving.

Before turning 18, I neither had any experience nor ever tried driving a motor vehicle and it was a conscious decision. During my childhood, I used to frequently fall, and Dad wasn’t with us as he had been posted elsewhere due to his transferable job. Among those incidents, a major one was the fall from my new Hercules Turbo-drive MTB back when I was in my fourth standard. My clavicle bone fractured, and I had to go through an operation to fix it. So along with that, my childhood was filled with frequent hospital visits for similar events. At a later stage after going through my Jaathakam, Malayalam for Birth Chart, an astrologer suggested that I shouldn’t be handed vehicles till I reach a certain age. Frustrated with all those events, I had decided to adhere to his words and had to control the urge a normal guy would have to learn to drive. So, till I turned 18, I had never tried my hand at even riding a scooter.

Now let’s go to 2017, when I was in the first year of my college. Three of my hostel mates were planning to apply for a driving license. Coming to know about this, I too decided to apply for it since I had their company. Two of them had cars at home and had a basic experience of how to drive and at least knew how to ride a scooter. We applied for the license and passed our learner’s test together. Like most Indians, we learnt how to drive a car in a Maruti 800. We used to drive through the roads near our college. Our usual route was the one from our college to the junction near Aakkulam Bridge and back, while returning we had a chance to drive through a very steep incline on first gear at the entrance of the road towards our college from the Aakkulam road. For the two-wheeler license, our instructor had taken for granted that we would know how to ride a scooter and he didn’t arrange us lessons for the 8-test for bikes. Even though with the fact that I had never ridden a scooter before, I wasn’t afraid of it and was only concerned about whether I would fail the H-test for cars. For the H-test we had practiced for it for three days before the license exam.

Cometh the D-day, the day of the driving license examination. We reached the spot of the test early morning. The ground was filled with hundreds of those who had come for the same mission. A person our instructor knew from another institute was there to prepare us for the 8-test for bikes. This guy had 2 Bajaj M80s and there were many in the queue to get their hands on it. We were going to try it for the first time. Man! The events which were about to follow are the ones I dread to recollect. I am 6’2” tall and found it difficult to steer the handlebar between my knees. The handlebar constantly brushed my knees, and I was holding the handlebar stiffly which made it difficult to manoeuvre. Because of this issue and the fact that I was riding a scooter for the first time, I became afraid. The instructor wasn’t in a good mood, he was handling a lot of people and saw me struggling. In fact, I was only able to make a big circle outside the required path of 8 through which I should have gone. He expressed his frustration by instructing me loudly not to hold my handlebar tight, but I was helpless. I felt belittled in front of everyone. Of the people present, half of them were women of my age and also, they were able to complete the task easily. I couldn’t control my emotions and was experiencing failure for the first time in front of many. Having decided that I couldn’t stand it further I left the ground crying without trying to attempt for the real exam. This story was amusing to many at my hostel when they later came to know about it. Even now they taunt me, recollecting the event.

After that incident, I had given up my aspirations to get a driving license. For nearly two years, I never thought of it and in 2018-end my sister along with her cousins applied for it. The fact that my younger sister would get her license before me might have fueled me up to give it another try, and I applied for the license again, this time it was from my hometown. Gave my learner’s test again. Because of the inherent thought I might fail again, I didn’t tell my friends at my hostel about it. Having known what my weakness was, I arranged for the 8-test practice for three days before the exam. I had figured out by now how to steer the handlebar and had managed the limitations of my height by sitting a few inches back from the usual seating position. And because of being prepared well, this time I was able to clear the exam. Finally! I was happy at least got my license the same day my sister got it. Friends at the hostel were amused when I showed them my license and this time their surprise was because of me passing the test without their knowledge.

Even though I got the license, the real learning I got was only because of the many kilometers of driving which I later did. Many instructors in the form of my cousins, and uncles had to be with me in the front passenger seat to accompany me in my learning journey. Thanks to all of them I learnt something which I love to do. Also, the fact that I could drive had been of good help to our family for the past three years. I even became an instructor to a relative who was brushing up on his driving after he bought a car during the COVID-19 pandemic time. I enjoyed driving all these years and have been lucky to share the driving seat during leisure trips with my friends. I fondly recollect I was the driver when we drove through the 36 hairpins of the Masanagudi-Ooty road and the hairpins of Thamaraserry Churam with the same friends of my hostel after completion of their graduation. Between these, I have had my share of minor accidents too which I am lucky enough hadn’t been anything serious. Thus, I have learnt never to be overconfident and that in driving one never becomes an expert, and one never stops learning.

Heavy Vehicle License Application Process:

So, after being a regular driver of our car at home for the past three years, I became interested in obtaining a heavy vehicle license. Generally, people admire those who drive those big machines on the road. One who knows how to drive a car would know how attentive one should be and knows the responsibilities he possesses. The respect for heavy vehicle drivers grows when we get to understand that they do their duties along with being responsible for the lives of people on board and many others on the road. If you have ever travelled in the front passenger seat of the bus on the side opposite the driver, you can understand how he feels. The visibility from the front seat makes the driver feel he’s above all and all other vehicles appear tiny from above. Though there’s a general dislike of KSRTC drivers among car owners, there’s a section in the crowd who are passionate about them and love KSRTC, fondly called Aanavandi.

The eligibility to obtain this license is reaching the age of 21 along with completion of three years after getting an LMV license. I had been at home during the past two years completing my mechanical engineering arrears and had some free time and hence decided to apply for the license. Getting a Heavy license is a plus for those who are from the mechanical engineering background since they can apply for the Assistant Motor Vehicles Inspector’s exam. I wasn’t much interested in that but had applied for it just to get to know the experience. I could also put it to use if I get an opportunity to drive those vehicles.

I used to go for morning walks and once during those walks, I saw a driving school’s bus filled with students. Upon going closer, I saw an instructor giving them a lecture. From outside I enquired about the admission process to a person on the window side. Later, after getting a green light from home, I went to the institution, Neo Driving School Karunagappally, paid the advance and took the required forms. Went to a studio took a recent photo, filled up the forms and got it attested by a doctor of a government clinic. I got the learner’s license test date after the institution had submitted my forms online. For the learner’s test, the institution sent me a PDF that had a set of questions related to heavy vehicles. The questions were basically about the duties of a heavy vehicle driver, the speed limits at various types of roads, questions about permit, badge and types of heavy vehicles etc.

On the day of the learner’s exam, I reached Karungappally SRTO two hours before the exam. I sat outside revising the set of questions. The exam was an online multiple-choice type of exam. To pass one has to answer a particular number of questions out of total questions correctly. I submitted my application and when my name was called, I appeared for the exam. If I’m right, I answered every question except one correctly and passed the exam. The MVI present there was quite strict and had scolded me when I sneezed, asking me whether I had appeared for the exam with flu. After passing the learner’s test one can schedule the date for the road test on a date after a month of passing the learner’s/badge exam.

The payment receipt:

After the badge exam, my driving institute recommended I attend a road safety class organized by a group in association with the RTO. The class was to be conducted at a hall which was 6 km from my place, I reached the spot half an hour before the scheduled time. There was no one present there and after some time I met Anandhu who too like me had come for the same class. Anandhu is a cheerful chap and is of the same age as me. We were the only ones present initially and slowly the crowd started to grow, the organizers had brought most of the auto drivers from nearby. Finally, the MVI arrived, he then spoke about various rules and regulations and general safety measures a driver must ensure. He also cleared various doubts people had, I too had a few doubts regarding license renewal and got it cleared. After his talk, Dr. Das arrived, he was going to take a class on first aid. I was listening to a first aid class for the first time and could get to know many things that were new to me. He spoke on various topics including the contents of the first aid kit, choking and measures to take when one is experiencing choking, then about how to handle accident victims, how to remove a helmet etc. Along with the presentation he demonstrated the circumstances using a dummy and also with volunteers present. Overall, the class was worth its time, and we got a certificate of participation. Once the class was over, Anandhu was in a hurry to leave as he had taken his time from work to attend the class. He was an ‘all in all’ employee of a known bakery near our place and was constantly managing calls between customers and other employees. He dropped me home on his way to his work.

Talk by the MVI:

Dr. Das’ demonstration:

Our road test was scheduled a month later, we were informed that we had to attend two days of training for the test. There were two tests in the heavy license test, one was driving the bus through the T section marked by bars and other was driving the bus on the road for a km or two by shifting up to the third gear. I had been in touch with Anandhu, he would pick me up from home on our way to the training ground. We reached the spot near our driving school bus. I took the photo of the bus and kept my contacts updated about my proceedings. There were nearly fifty of us who had gathered for the training. People of different backgrounds were present, i.e. ones who had been drivers, others were diploma passed out students, government employees, ones who wished to become drivers and so on. I was fortunate enough to interact with most of them. Everyone had their own motives, some were here for the license so as to apply for various examinations, some had been driving heavy vehicles till now without a license and decided to take one finally, and some had been LMV drivers and wanted the HGV license to get a promotion and so on. I thought I might be the only one who might not be putting this license to much use in the future.

Training for Heavy Vehicles Test:

I along with Anandhu:

Our instructor Naushad arrived after some time and asked everyone to get on the bus. After getting seated, we filled up our names and details on a paper which was passed on. Sir enquired whether everyone present was confident in driving a car. Then Naushad Sir started briefing us about the exam, he explained about the two tests and said that the T-test is tougher compared to the road test. Then he explained various rules and things a driver must be aware of, various speed regulations, how one should proceed when one reaches a traffic signal/ junction etc. Before starting the bus, he explained to us what all a driver must check before getting into the bus, things one should make sure of before starting the bus etc. There was a list of instructions to be followed and this list was being passed on and we took photos of the same, these instructions had to be memorized and would be asked by the RTO before our test. He then started the engine and left it idle for some time. In the meantime, he explained the gear positions and the difference in the gear positions compared to cars. The reverse gear position is on the top left corner in this bus while usually it’s in the bottom right corner in case of a car.

Set of instructions for the driver

What a driver should do before getting seated:

  • Check whether the Tyres are sufficiently inflated, whether there is any chance of puncture, whether they have required amount of tread and whether the wheel nuts are sufficiently tightened.
  • Check the radiator coolant level and whether the fan belt is intact.
  • Check the engine oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid and make sure these are up to the required level.
  • Check whether the suspension has required stiffness and whether leaf springs have any damage.
  • Check whether all emergency equipment like fire extinguishers, screw jack, first aid box, warning reflecting triangle etc. are present.
  • Check the battery acid level and battery terminals.

What a driver should do first after taking the driver’s seat:

  • Check whether the clutch and hand brake function properly.
  • Check whether the park light, headlight, the interior lights, horn and wiper are all functioning well.

What a driver should do before starting the engine

  • Check whether the gear position is in neutral, and the vehicle is parked on hand brake.
  • Fasten the seatbelts and adjust the rear-view mirror.
  • Check the panel board lights.

Instructions in Malayalam:

After briefing us what all needed to be taken care of, we one by one were called to take up the driver’s seat and drive for a km or two by changing the gear from one to four. The fear inside me was kicking in and I happily allowed each one behind me to take their turns before me. After about half of them had driven, I gathered up my courage and decided to take the next turn. After the next guy completed his turn, I took the driver’s seat, Sir guided me on how to rightly position the gear lever to the first and off we went. Since I was new to this vehicle, I couldn’t change the gear without looking at the lever and fumbled in the process. This made me lose my confidence and it became evident in the way I drove. Sir asked me whether I hadn’t been driving a car after procuring the LMV license, to which I answered I had been driving our WagonR at home. He said that he felt that I lacked experience driving a car, this made me feel let down as I considered myself a good driver. Eventually, I drove more than a kilometer and had shifted four gears by now. I showed the hand sign and brought the bus to a halt. Anandhu followed me and took the driver’s seat while I shifted to another seat and sat dejected because of being called an inexperienced driver.After everyone had their turn driving through the road, we proceeded towards the ground where the T-test was to be conducted. Upon reaching the ground our instructor got down along with taking the 10 long metal bars he had brought with him. He measured the footsteps and planted the rods in the required spots to form a T-section, and it was through which we had to drive the bus without hitting the bars. The bus would be parked in between the bottom part of the T-section initially and we have to drive straight, then take a right to form the top half of “T” and return to the initial position. Similarly, we have to finish the other half of the “T” and return to the initial location by passing through the path without hitting any bars. Sir had instructed us which points to landmark for the turn and other tips required to finish the task without any errors. This time too I took my chance and waited for a few to initially do their trials and in the meantime, I stood outside observing them. Most of them were able to complete it without hitting the bar and I later decided to go for my turn. In my first trial, I too could do it properly with the guidance of sir sitting beside me and instructing at every point where we needed to steer. Everyone finally finished doing their trials twice and some were unlucky to hit the bars. There’s a usual spot where we would go on and hit, it was the spot where we would reverse the bus and return after completing the top half. I too hit that bar in the middle while reversing once while I was doing my trials on my own. It had become evening by now and we had called it a day. The next day proceeded similarly with everyone getting two to three trials for the T-test, I again hit one of the bars during one of the trials. Hope I won’t hit the bars on the exam day.

I had been in touch with BHPians justin.das and Dicky. I was sharing my trial video clips as status and would interact with my contacts about the progress. Justin is a classic machines fanboy and loves maintaining and restoring the old classics. He loves old gauges and I had sent him pictures of the gauges of the bus. He was sad when he learnt that the gauges weren’t in working condition and that vehicle maintenance wasn’t up to the mark. He believes that old vehicles need to be kept and maintained as they were in their original state. His interest in these retro machines can be seen from the painstaking efforts he takes to restore his JDM Honda CB 350. The fact that the double clutch of the bus was changed to a newer kind got him dejected. Dicky too kept in touch; he too had been planning to get a heavy license since the last four years. I didn’t want to fail this time as I had kept my contacts updated about things and didn’t want to let them know if I failed.

Retro gauges which weren’t functioning:

The test day:

On the day of the test, I reached the location half an hour prior to the start of the test. Only upon reaching the location I had figured out that I hadn’t brought the required forms along with me. Home was 7 km away and time was running out. Man! I always end up messing things up. But I didn’t lose my mind and quickly took an auto home, got hold of the required documents and returned on time. I knew I shouldn’t get stressed out and mental peace was of utmost priority. Luckily, the test got delayed as the MVI came late and we were allowed to take trials till the MVI arrived.

Our instructor had given us a hint that the MVI would be strict, and we got a firsthand experience soon. He was furious at the ones who didn’t wear a mask and made them go and buy one. Then he took a seat and called everyone according to their turn. We now one by one had to recite from memory, the set of instructions to be followed by the driver before driving the vehicle, i.e. the list of instructions that we were handed over the first day. There were more than 10 points in the list, and we were being valued for each point. The ones who couldn’t recollect more than 70 percent of the points were given a hearing and had to revise again and come back. After one passes this session, one can proceed to take the T-test. The MVI was multitasking, he was listening to the recitation at one end and checking the T-test at the other. I could recollect and tell every point except one and proceeded to my T-test. A few before me had failed and I was a bit apprehensive. But gladly I could complete the test without any fuss and was lucky not to be among the few who failed.

It had been late afternoon by the time everyone completed the first test. The MVI before leaving gave us a talk on various topics which included how responsible we should be on road; how overspeeding is dangerous and how much distance one covers before coming to a halt at high speeds and certain other technical matters pertaining to the service and maintenance of the vehicle. After that, we were given a break, and we took this time to go have our lunch. We returned after an hour and waited before the RTO office for the road test. The road test was to be inspected by another MVI, and he too arrived late because of some delays. The road test was completed within an hour, and in the road test all except one failed. Everyone felt sad for the one who failed as he was the one who was in need of this license the most, he needed it for an exam scheduled the next week. I and Anandhu felt that we were lucky enough to pass the tests on the first attempt itself. Anandhu dropped me home and we celebrated the success by treating us with Milk Sarbath on the way back home.

Our batch:

The achievement:

Within a week, I received the new license by post. The new license had a new section – “transport” added with a symbol of a truck. I was happy and shared the news with my contacts. Though till now am not sure whether I will ever be putting it to use, I consider myself fortunate to have experienced all this and was happy to meet all those who had been with me for the test.

Yours truly, signing off.

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