April 2009 Column - Past imperfect

It usually starts with TN27 Y1111, my joint family’s faithful old Ambassador that has seen more new babies being added to the brood than both Fiat and Ford India have had new managing directors. When all of us cousins discuss cars, Double-one Double-one gets the most airtime. It’s not surprising, considering the various adventures my entire clan has had with it. And it usually involves stuff that won’t be out of place in those silly slapstick comedies that get made in all major Indian languages. Like when the bonnet suddenly popped open when one of my cousins was flogging it on the highway at a ridiculous 80 kph. It used to miss falling into gear, usually while overtaking a truck. Latifbhai often used a rope/belt/cloth to tie the passenger-side front door to the B-pillar to prevent it from opening. And when we passed through rough patches, Latifbhai would tell everybody to stop shaking the car. Latif was of course the Amby’s driver, caretaker, husband – he completed the binary equation, the Double-zero Double-zero to Double-one Double-one if you please. Now, Latif was bent sideways; I don’t know whether it was because of his age or because of his driving position. He’s supposed to have died when the driver’s side door of the Amby popped open one day when he was tackling a ghat section. Now this is something that I can’t confirm, it’s all lost in the mists of time and Y1111 lore.
When we look back today, it all seems funny and promises assured entertainment at family gatherings, except of course the Amby surprising Latif by opening the wrong door suddenly. There have been many misadventures with various cars in the family; we may laugh it off, but when I think about it now, most of them were dangerous and positively life-threatening. I am sure each one of you who’s reading this has several funny stories to tell about their old car or scooter from those innocent and ignorant days, but they are actually not funny. Because bad things happen. One entire family of my relatives perished when a speeding truck hit their Ambassador and crushed it while they were on a pilgrimage drive in Kerala.
I used to sit on my dad’s lap when he used to drive MMB 4856, our twin-tone Amby, and steer. Today, I dare not do that with my son when I am driving. Heck, I even use a child seat for my son. But I see many fathers lovingly ‘teach’ their tiny children driving even today. We get away by doing some terribly foolish things on our roads. As one of my innumerable cousins said, ‘There is a reason why Hinduism has 33 million gods. We need that many guardian angels.’ Yeah, but our guardian angels are tired and overworked. I think nowadays they don’t give  a damn either way, because Indian roads are the most dangerous in the world. Good old days are good only if you survive them.   Don’t worry, be AP

I thought you guys would be the right ones to feature the cars. So do you want to take it forward?’ asked an ex-auto industry acquaintance. ‘Sure, but I want to first see the cars in the collection. Do you have some pictures for me?’ I asked, eager to know but prepared to be disappointed. And then he sent them, over a 100 pictures. A fabulous, new collection has just opened up. The cars include an ex-Mysore Daimler, an early Mustang, a Jaguar Mk V, a 1936 SS/Jaguar, a Type II Microbus, a six-cylinder Austin and a huge bunch of other American and British vintage and classic machines. All in what seems to be in a terrific condition. I know you are curious, but you’ll have to hold your horses. All I can say right now is that they are all there somewhere in Andhra Pradesh, nothing more. But you will come to know soon in these pages... shhh!