⌚Reading time – 8 minutes
This story originally appeared in my short-story series, Easy But Hard. In this series, I take a look at stories of people that are easily forgotten.
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The cost of a dream
“Buddh International Circuit,” Shubham asked the auto-rickshaw driver. The driver stared at the teenager from the top to bottom.
“It is too far,” the driver replied and sped away.
Shubham kept asking each rickshaw driver he came across. If no one heeded his request, he was prepared to walk the distance. After all, he had come all the way from the streets of Old Delhi to here on his own.
One auto-rickshaw driver heeded him, but kept on complaining that he won’t find a passenger for the return journey. Shubham convinced the driver that he had business at the circuit for only a few minutes, post which he could take the same auto-rickshaw back.
“So, what takes you to the circuit?” the driver asked.
Shubham didn’t know where to start. He gathered confidence for the zillionth time, starting to explain his story.
“Since childhood, I’ve religiously watched F1. Every weekend whenever there is a race, you will find me stuck in front of a TV.”
“But there’s no race today. I haven’t seen many cars or trucks going towards the race track.”
“Oh yeah. I know,” Shubham looked at the driver’s face in the rear-view mirror. His wide, curious eyes would probably not laugh at Shubham’s madness, as the rest of the world had.
“I want to become a race driver. I am going to the track to find out how to be one.”
The driver looked at Shubham. His non-branded shirt, black sandals, and loosely woven F1 cap suggested he was not a rich brat.
“Hunh,” the driver chuckled. “F1 is a rich man’s sport,” Shubham had heard this so many times now that he had become indifferent. Right from his family to his friends to everyone else, not a single person recognized his passion for the sport.
“So, what is your plan to become a driver?” the auto-rickshaw driver asked with a smug smile.
Shubham was about to blast at him – “If you couldn’t achieve your dreams, does that mean no one could? Maybe you never dreamt. So stop judging me…” But he responded, “I want to spend some time at the track. This summer vacation, I plan to visit the track, learn about the driving schools, the money required, and what all it would take for me to sit in an F-1 car.”
The auto-rickshaw driver nodded. “Well, good luck. I hope you are able to drive one day,” he responded. He couldn’t care less.
They didn’t talk for the rest of the journey.
“Actually, if you find another passenger, please leave. I might stay here for a few hours,” Shubham said once he paid for the ride. He had had enough of naysayers now.
The Buddh International Circuit, one of the newest F-1 racing circuits, was one of the fastest tracks in the world. One patch of the track had an incline, which tested the performance limits of the world’s most sophisticated cars.
As Shubham walked towards the entrance gate, it felt as if he knew this place. He had seen three races happen on this track and the map of the track was imprinted in his brain firmly. Countless times, he had imagined what Sebastian Vettel would have thought when preparing for the track.
A peon was sweeping the floor in front of the entrance gate that led to the seating area. On his right was a paved road leading to parking spots, while on the left there were markings for racing crews and equipment to find their garages. The parking spots were filled with premium cars and bikes. Three bikers were dragging their bikes towards the stands. Shubham guessed they were heading towards the track.
“Sahab,” he walked up to the person and asked, “do you have any programs for training drivers?”
“Hunh…” again the same response. Shubham was fed up of it now, but stayed calm.
“Do you know who I can talk to?”
“There’s no one who can help you become a race driver. You need money and contacts.”
“Okay, but I have neither. Would you mind giving me a tour of the track?”
“Well, you can book the track and come here. You will also get a racing car for three laps.”
“But…” Shubham’s helplessness was visible through his wincing eyes.
“If not, there is no other way. If you want, you can go enquire at the desk in the lobby there.” The peon pointed towards a reception area behind him. There were a few people inside having breakfast. Four people were dressed in their fire suits and holding their helmets, listening to an instructor.
The instructor was giving them training on how to brake and accelerate around corners. Shubham set his eyes on him. As he walked towards the lobby, a security guard walked up to him and asked for booking confirmation.
“In that case, I cannot let you in,” the security guard said when Shubham mentioned he didn’t have one.
He waited outside the lobby looking at the instructor’s gestures through the glass facade. Using his legs, the instructor showed which pedal was an accelerator pedal and which one a brake pedal. He was referring to the Volkswagen GT waiting outside the lobby. He showed people how to change gears without losing time. While Shubham couldn’t hear any of this, his eyes noticed the details. He was familiar with a Volkswagen GT. Though he didn’t like the looks of the car, it was one of the most common racing cars. Most of the rally drivers customized a Volkswagen GT to meet their needs.
The instruction session lasted about half an hour, after which the instructor walked out along with the drivers. Shubham was quick in sprinting towards the instructor. The instructor was taken aback when Shubham screamed “Sir?” from right behind him.
“Sir, I want to be a race driver. What should I do?” Shubham continued.
The instructor ignored Shubham and continued walking. The other drivers followed him.
“I am serious, sir. Since childhood, I have watched every single F-1 race. I wanted to be here for the races, but couldn’t afford the prices. This time, I’ve decided to spend the entire summer vacations over here to learn the intricacies of driving a race car.” Shubham continued talking, as the instructor walked towards the garage entrance from outside the track. Looking at Shubham, he could infer that the dream was out of his reach.
The security guard came running moments later, pulling Shubham away from the instructor.
The instructor stopped the security guard from dragging Shubham away, but he didn’t say a word to Shubham.
“Sir, I am serious, sir. I will dedicate my entire life to racing, sir. Please, please.”
“Listen, son,” the instructor stopped. “What I am going to tell you is going to hurt. Listen to me carefully. From today onwards, you should stop thinking about being a racing driver. I appreciate your passion, but without money, you cannot do much in F-1. Also, you are too old to start training. Drivers in Europe start when they are not even ten years old. So you don’t have a chance to qualify for F-1.”
Shubham remained silent.
“Have you driven at a go-karting track ever?” The instructor asked, his voice unperturbed by Shubham’s dismay.
“Yes, once! I had to beg my father for six months for letting me go to a karting track.”
“Okay, good. Whenever you feel so passionate about racing, go and drive at a karting track for a few hours. You will feel good. After that, get back to your normal life.”
Shubham stayed put, as the instructor started walking again. Maybe all the people who had their Hunhs ready for him when he told them his dream was right.
“Wait, what?” a driver interrupted the instructor. “This boy is showing genuine interest. Is there no way he could drive?”
The instructor turned around. With a stoic face, he explained, “Training costs more than one lakh rupees per month. Plus, training facilities in India are not well developed. At some point, you will have to go outside, probably to Europe, which adds to the expenses. Even if the cost is taken care of somehow, this boy is old. He will not have a booming F-1 career. At this age, drivers usually participate in lower level championships.”
“Well, what good is my money then?” The rich driver responded. “Do you know how to drive, at least?”
“Yes, we have a Maruti Alto at home.”
“So, here, today, take a ride in the GT instead of me. If you still like the experience, come back to me and we can discuss how to fund your education.”
“But, sir, it is impractical to let him drive. There is no chance he’s going to succeed. There are so many kids who dream of similar things, but they are never fulfilled.”
“Well, but none of those other kids have the guts to go to an actual track and speak to an instructor. Do you think he hasn’t heard your argument previously?” he looked at the instructor. “This boy is unique. If he wants to spend the summer here, find him an internship at the track. Instead of paying him a salary, let him drive one of these cars.”
“Do you want to keep your funding status or…”
“Sorry, sir. I will start instructing him.”
Shubham had tears in his eyes as he smiled. At least he was getting started on the journey towards becoming a driver. Whether he would fulfill his dream or not was a different issue, but he had successfully climbed the first step – albeit with a little bit of help from a stranger. Perhaps God was willing to let Shubham have his way.
After hearing the same Hunh from countless people, he had found a believer. One person believing in his dream. He decided to capitalize on the opportunity.
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