Meeting Arul Futnani for the first time changed many perceptions I had. For one, he introduced himself as a farmer and at first, I thought it was a cool way of saying that he worked in a bank. Or something similar. To me, and I’m sure to many who have been brought up in the city, the quintessential image of a man who tills the land was anything but a Levis-clad bloke who loves classic motorcycles and listens to classic rock and roll.
Another assumption I had was that farmers don’t need a watch. I mean, it’s not like the paddy in your field is going to write a complaint to the head of their department if you water them an hour later than usual. And the livestock can’t really use stern words in protest. Boy, did I get that all wrong.
I was woken up by the rooster, who apparently sets his own alarm for an unearthly 4am. Too bloody bad that it is forbidden to eat farm animals, I think to myself. Arul follows shortly after. It’s time to milk the cows, he says. And then the milk is to be taken away for sale in the market.
By the time I actually freshen up and get out of my room, the farm is buzzing with activity. The bovines are chewing on the hay freshly laid before them and the turkey is being his usual flirtatious self and trying to woo the hens. Somebody needs to tell the guy that them chicks are just not his type.
Although everything is moving on just like it has on the farm for a long, long time, today is slightly different. Ashok Leyland has lent us its latest LCV and it’s called the Dost. We have the truck (can I call it that?) for a day and Arul can discharge his daily duties at the farm with the four wheeler as he would with his own pickup.
The cows stare at me blankly, their jaws not stopping for a moment as they get felt up. The cans are filled to the brim with the sloshing white liquid and it’s time for the delivery round. Arul gets behind the wheel and I jump in at the side, navigating the best route to take to ‘I don’t know where’.
It’s quite roomy in the Dost, especially after I spent the last evening trying the competition for size. And unlike the others, the Ashok Leyland has adequate headroom along with substantial room for your feet. The dashboard is expansive and the plastic quality, along with the switchgear, is relatively superior to its competitors – almost car-like in design and finish.
The sun is beginning to rise and the sultry Chennai weather is warming up. Good thing the Dost has air-conditioning, the first to do so in its class. And Arul turns up the volume of the audio system, as if it’s a cue for me to stop ranting about how I always wanted to be a cowboy and impress the lasses with my shiny Colt six-shooter.
With the milk delivery done and dusted, we get back to the farm. The horses need to be fed and apparently they absolutely refuse to take up to the concept of self service. We load up the Dost with bales of juicy hay (How do you know that? – Srini)and head to their enclosure. Before we even unload the dried grass, the horses canter towards us and use the Dost as a banquet table. And there’s plenty of space to go around, with about 43 square feet of loading space that the LCV has up at the back.
The Dost isn’t just about space for the driver and space for a load. It’s a whole new take on the current trend of LCVs that run around on Indian roads. With the 1478cc triple making 55 bhp and 15.3 kgm of torque, despite its highest-in-class payload of 1,250 kg, it has ample grunt to take even the most severe of climbs with aplomb. You can cruise all day, fully loaded, at a steady 80 kph with ease and 100 kph on the speedo is achievable in fourth gear, with one more cog to go. Surprisingly, Ashok Leyland claims that the top whack of the Dost is 90 kph.
Driving the Dost is a breeze. Power steering, a first in the segment, makes it easy to manoeuvre at slow speeds and the feather light clutch makes things even more cushy. The suspension is bouncy on bad roads but seemed capable enough to tackle whatever was thrown at them. In case it’s something too severe, the brakes (discs up front and drums at the rear) are up to the task and cut speed down with eagerness.
It’s a pity that Indian truck drivers get ergonomics straight out of that Twister game. But the Dost could very well be the one that changes all of that. Between the driver’s and co-driver’s seats is a cushion. When the back rests of both the seats are dropped forward, they combine with the cushion to form a bed that is far more comfortable than some wood.
But things need to get done on the farm, and that bed has to wait. There’s a calf that needs to be moved to another shed and very smartly, I suggest that we could use the Dost to shuttle the midget of a bovine around. Once on top, I quickly shut the tailgate. You never know, cows have been known to jump over the moon.
It’s now nearly 10am and the frantic activities on the farm are dying down. All I can think of is getting some much needed breakfast and hitting the sack. Downing the food, I begin to head back for a snooze, when Arul yells out from behind that he’s expecting a group for brunch and he needs to get the menu readied. Gah! Whoever said that the country life is easy going and care free needs to get their heads examined.
Displacement: 1478cc, I-3, CRDI, turbo
Max power: 55 bhp@3300 rpm
Max torque: 15.3 kgm@1600-2400 rpm
Type: Rack and pinion with power assist
Turning radius: 4.8 m
L/W/H (mm): 4485/1620/1835
Wheelbase: 2350 mm
Kerb weight: 1250 kg
Max. GVW: 2,500 kg
Tank capacity: 40 litres
Note: All specifications for the LCVs mentioned below are those that have been claimed by their respective manufacturers
Displacement: 909cc, DI, twin cylinder
Max power: 24.7 bhp@3600 rpm
Max torque: 5.6 kgm@1800-2200 rpm
GVW: 1,800 kg
Top speed: 70 kph
Tata Super Ace
Displacement: 1405cc, DI, turbo, I-4
Max power: 70 bhp@4500 rpm
Max torque: 13.8 kgm@2500 rpm
GVW: 2,180 kg
Top speed: 125 kph
APE TRUK PLUS
Displacement: 870cc, DI, twin cylinder
Max power: 17 bhp@3600 rpm
Max torque: 4.5 kgm
GVW: 1,810 kg
Top speed: 65 kph