I was in 2nd standard when my Father bought his first and only scooter – a LAMBY something(most Indians who are above the age of 30 will know this machine I’m talking about). I don’t think he even knew how to ride a bicycle before that. Anyways he practiced and practiced in the nearby ground for some months. Finally his colleagues convinced him that he was ready for the BIG JOURNEY ie. To ride the bike…um…sorry…scooter to office(MG Road) and back(Indranagar). They magnanimously agreed to escort him for the few days. So off he went to office on his scooter with 1 colleague riding in front & another following on his vehicle, behind.
A month later he was more confident; started taking my mom & me on the scooter during weekends. He handled the vehicle the same way he handled everything else……carefully. But one evening while coming back from work an auto brushed against his vehicle & causing him to fall with the scooter on top of him.
A part of his hip was smashed. A top doc came all the way from Delhi, operated on him. To cut the story short, what was supposed to be a 3 months recuperation period stretched to more than a year coz the Doc botched it up. My Father was left with a permanent limp. He sold the scooter during that period & depended on autos[tuk-tuk, as it is called in other countries] for the next 5 years…….until we picked up a car.
The first car was a Standard something(no, not 2000). It was one of those cars where u got into the back seat thru the front door…ie moved the front seat forward and scrambled into the back. It was a small light blue car, second hand ofcourse. My Father wanted to learn driving in that car & then buy a new car later.
One of our neighbors came forward to teach my Father driving in his spare time. My Father took lessons for around 3-6 months before giving up. He knew how to drive but his hip didn’t support him. His left leg reflexes were slower because of his accident. So we had this driver uncle who took us to church & other places and my father paid him some nominal fee for his services.
Whenever driver uncle went out of the city, which was often, the car would lie here unused. Soon the condition of the car started deteriorating. My sister & I slowly started avoiding trips which were made in the car. Too often the car would stall at some pertinent places like in front of our school, church or a friend’s house & everybody we knew would see us pushing the car to get it to start. The worst was my Father would proudly invite whoever he met on the way to ride in “OUR CAR” and he or she would end up helping us push the car at some point during the journey(well ok the situation was not so bad but in the minds of 2 teenagers the embarrassment was magnified)
Once we invited a Priest home for Sunday Lunch. So after church service I very reluctantly got in(coz we didn’t have Sunday school that day) along with the Priest, my Father & the driver. There used to be this railway crossing on the way to our house. All thru the journey I prayed that the gates were not closed for the train to pass thru. My prayers went unanswered. The gates were closed & when it finally opened, the car as usual refused to start. I’ll never forget the sight of the priest tucking his white robe high, gamely pushing the car along with my Father & me.
My Father finally sold the car to some Garage Guy for a pittance. After few weeks GG was seen proudly driving the car everywhere. And everytime he ran into my father he extolled that the car was smooth as a daisy & blah, blah. My Fathers was like “see didn’t I tell u the car was perfectly fine”………… “no value for money”……….and always ended the bhashan with “BIG mistake selling the car”. But my sister & I were relieved, to say the least.
My father then bought another car the next year. It was a Fiat this time. An old car which didn’t clock that many kilometers coz it was previously owned by an elderly couple. Very well maintained & it started immediately on the first try(imagine that;-o). I don’t really remember too many details about this car which means it must have run ok for a few years.
After a few years it was sold off as it was heading the same way as the previous car. Mainly because driver uncle had shifted base to Kerala, which was a big blow to us as it was difficult to get another driver those days.
When I turned eighteen my father sent my mother & me for driving classes. I cleared the test in my first attempt but my mother didn’t(not surprising…..oh don’t get me started on that story). He then invested in a Maruti 800. A white little car. Soon I was driving my family everywhere…….to church, to all the relatives & family friends houses, to wedding and funerals, to the railway station at the crack of dawn to pick some guests & everywhere. My father enjoyed the surprise on the faces of relatives & friends when they saw me driving coz they wouldn’t trust their children to drive their precious car safely. And I relished the envy reflected on their kid’s faces. What they didn’t know was that my father had no choice but to let me drive otherwise he would have to continue forking out money to drivers to cart us everywhere.
Ofcourse it was another story inside the car. As soon as we got into the car my father would turn into a traffic policeman+ guide +roadmap. Then it was “Hold the steering properly, put the indicator, go slow, honk as soon as u see a pedestrian 2 miles away, don’t miss the bump, HORN, GO SLOW, brake, HORN”. Many a trip we traveled together ended in me swearing never to touch his “Precious Car” again. My fathers jaan* was attkofied(for want of a better word)in his car.
To make me drive more carefully he would placate me with “I’m going to Will this car to u, so be very careful with the car” and I would be like “As if I'd want this car, by the time I start earning there will be better cars & I’ll buy one of them”
Once, my sister & I went to the railway station early morning, to collect my uncle & family arriving from Kerala. As we were leaving the station a driverless auto which was parked on the opposite side of the road, came rolling down the slope & hit our car on the side. The not-so-clever auto driver had forgotten to put the hand brake on it. It made a huge dent on the car door. The fight we had with the auto driver didn’t amount to much….just a 150 measly rupees. I had my heart in my mouth as we were nearing the house. Trying to delay the recriminations, I entered the lane from the opposite side so that the dent was not visible to anybody looking from my house. My father was out on the verandah waiting for us. He looked most surprised to see us coming from the opposite side.
After I parked the car in the garage, I slunk into the kitchen and told my mom the whole sorry story. She was most horrified & we went to examine the damage again. My father was already there looking upset. To his credit, he just said “as soon as I saw the car coming from the opposite direction I knew something was wrong” and went away. I felt so terribly guilty. The accident was not my fault but that didn’t make me feel less guilty. He paid Rs.1,400 to repair it……12 yrs back[I still remember]. Even now I feel a pang when I think about it.
After that incident I was doubly careful & took care of the car reasonably well. In some foreign magazine I had read that application of toothpaste would easily erase small cuts and scratches made on a white vehicle. And believe me when I tell u, most of my problems were solved by the toothpaste.
After I married and moved away my father sent my sister for driving classes. She took over for another 5 yrs. After she also married my parents went back to using the services of a driver.
Even after my marriage, whenever I went home for vacation I used to take the car out. Once after meeting my friends, I was going home when an auto screechingly scraped the entire side of the car, on MG Road. The auto disappeared into the crowd before I could even find my voice. I stopped the car at the nearest parking & rushed to survey the damage. My heart stopped. There was an ugly BLACK scratch from the left head-light all the way to the back light. I was so upset. Back in my in laws place, I showed it to the better-half; he didnt look very pleased but said we’ll take it to garage in the evening. All the while my father's upset face kept fading in & out of my mind.
I couldn’t just sit there doing nothing so I took a cup of water, some soap & a cloth to rub the paint off. Maybe I could apply some toothpaste on some parts and the damage won’t look so bad. Gloomily I was trying to rub the marks away all the while fabricating a plausible explanation to my father in my mind. It was 2 minutes before I realized that the mark was dissolving into nothing from all rubbing. I stood back in shock. Then ran into the house & this time emerged with a bucket of water and some shampoo. Husband, seeing all the hectic activity came out. Together we scrubbed at the marks & u won’t believe it, almost 98% of the black scratches dissolved under water and shampoo. The black scratches was just black paint scraped off from the Auto. I muttered my thanks to God a hundred, thousand times. The 1 or 2 light scratches which stubbornly remained were given the toothpaste treatment. There, she looked as good as new.
16 years have past…..the car is still there…...well maintained and gleaming. The vehicle is still my Father's pride and joy:-).
My Father hasn’t forgotten. He has drafted a will and mentioned that amongst other things the car is for me, after his time. He reminds me of it everytime I visit. I smile but no longer do I make fun of it.
*jaan - life in Hindi
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