Thursday, December 16, 2010
The Return of the Fighting Fi(a)t
She was with us for almost 38 years.
And now, after an exemplary service of so many years, that actually coincides with one's retirement, she has taken off, to return to the native place.
She preceded me in this house by two years . For someone accustomed to a lumbering Ambassadors she was pleasurably light, and a delight to manoeuvre.
Her first trip out of state , was to Goa in the winter of 1975. No express highways, and food malls, but she expertly negotiated the narrow 30 degree U turn with 60 degrees gradient in the Khandala Ghats en route from Mumbai to Pune. Onwards via Kolhapur and Belgaum, to Goa, it was an trouble free ride. Goa with some bridgeless rivers then, and she would enjoy the slow ferry ride amidst the smells of diesel and feni, and the subsequent drive through the back roads. Of course, she didn't know we were enamoured of the native red "chira" stone cut from the mountains in Goa, and must have groaned aloud when we insisted on carrying home 4 such stones in the trunk, which caused several eyebrows to rise at the border check post, where they were convinced we were smuggling feni liquor.
Her next trip with us was in the summer of 1977 , almost a South India Darshan , as it were. Driving down the Western ghats, with trips to Bangalore, Mysore, Hubli, Bandipur National Forest, Mudumuali Sanctuary, and Ooty. Then down to Coimbatore in the southern plains. Languages changed several time, milestones , of course kept changing.
A day here and there, and she continued down to Thiruvanantapuram, then called Trivandrum. 3 days, of seeing museums, wonderful textiles, even a movie we didn't understand a word of, because it was in Tamil, and it was time to aim for India's southern tip. Kanyakumari/Cape Comorin, the confluence of the three oceans, and then back up the Coromandel Coast to Pondicherry , then Bangalore, and Hyderabad. The names of have changed now, but had she travelled now, she would have probably recognized the roads.
Several trips, a few years later, down the Maharashtra Coastal back roads, visiting folks in ancestral places, she certainly had her fill of forts, and beaches, areca nut and coconut plantations.
A couple of times, she did go northwest, towards Gujarat. There were some worrisome times, like the time she got stuck in some obnoxious fumes emanating from a collapsed chemical tanker, and the visibility was almost zero for a few kilometres.
Middle age makes your structure porous (ask me , I should know), and some of those fumes came on through the floor , and forced all the people to rush out shouting for help. Several cars banged against her unknowingly in the foggy fumes, and she did sustain grievous injuries. But miraculously, she was helped out by a altruistic lorry driver, who couldn't bear to see the little son of the house desperately in tears over all this and unwilling to abandon her.
She was back home the next day, bloody , banged but unbowed. She had several surgeries after that. But kept indicating the signs of age in the way she would groan when we made her travel fast. The Mumbai monsoons played havoc with her skin, and she had to get it patched and redone. For some years she looked green, and later on a dark blue.
But she would miraculously perform at all important times.
Like coming in from Lonavla in the ghats during torrential rains in the thick of night, because the only daughter of the house , on her regular maika trip to Mumbai (from Delhi) , was to be driven to the train station and going by taxis was not the done thing.
Like the time, she was the official conveyance for a dear neighbor's son's Nikkah (Moslem wedding service). She was to take the young couple back to the boy's house, and gave everyone a fright when she wouldn't budge, for a while. Good sense must have prevailed, because she did get going, and managed to do her wedding duties with great aplomb. Only when she tried to go out the next day, did they find out that she had a problem with her Bendix wheel. Which was to be an Achilles (w)heel of sorts.
Like the niggling bone fractures and muscle pulls that bother me, the Bendix wheel thing was really bothersome for her, and she would get stuck at all kinds of places, like in downtown Mumbai at rush hour, in torrential rain in slush along a lakeside, and sometimes even on an incline next to quarries and stuff with heavy truck traffic. She held her own, and always cooperated with who ever came to help.
Like all folks who go to the beauty parlour, she too, would go in periodically for complexion cleaning and color treatments, not to mention , polishing. But she was getting on in years, and although everyone, right from little children, older folks, ladies in wedding finery, roadside altruistic vendors, rickshawallahs, students walking by, yuppie types with bright white shirts had an opportunity to push her to get her going, over the years, it was clear, that her activity had to be cut down.
In the meanwhile, the world had changed. It was now full of modern weird shapes, noiseless travel (inside), smooth shifts, and sophisticated names. Sometimes she felt out of place when she went out, and folks would give her looks. They would exclaim at the noise she made, and she often suffered impatient honking from others when she appeared to be a bit slow. A few cops even stopped her once demanding to see her papers, and shook their amazed heads when they checked them.
By and by she would rattle and sometimes sneeze. Found it laborious to turn here and there. All that effort would get her all hot under the carburettor collar, and she would stop in some quiet place, relax, and cool down before starting out again.
Its been 38 years. For our old Fiat car. The Premier Padmini.
It was basically home bound the last year. Driven just to keep the battery heart ticking. Many folks asked about buying it. It commanded so little a price, that two wheelers cost more. But selling was something we could not think of. Very often such cars are consigned to lives as taxis. The black and yellow ones. And she wouldn't be one of those.....
And so when we heard of an institute in our native Kokan region, that trained fellows in automobile repairs , so that they could start their own 'combined enterprise in an area now teeming with interstate highways and traffic, an idea took seed.
They needed a car(s) for the students to learn on. Something they could take apart and put back again. The best way to learn. In today's fancy car universe, you replaced entire units, and not individual parts. Much like a doctor functioning only with machines and scans, and forgetting to listen to the pulse, examine the tongue, and the swelling on the feet etc etc.
And that's where she would go. Willingly and happily donated by us. With best wishes from us.
There were lots of checkups, temporary support strategies, a small bit of cosmetic stuff.
The new car , parked alongside, would observe the going-ons with great interest. The newer cars were all about quantity , in features, in cost, in add-ons and many things. The older days were all about long lasting quality, never-say-die, and loyalty.
I have always wondered why one doesn't see cars being pushed these days on the roads. For one thing , the newer shapes are un-push-worthy, and utility-for-pushing has been sacrificed at the alter of fashion and modernity. Fiats , the old ones , that is, are ideally configured for pushing. Ergonomical pushing.
This morning the papers were checked, filed, and the gas tank filled in Mumbai for the last time.
The minister in Delhi, spoilsport in these Leaky days, even managed to hike the price of gas a day before, to make her feel really rich, I suppose.
Typically , she wouldn't start. And so they pushed her. Her family, running behind, hands on her back, for the last time, and her new host, at the wheel, feet on the clutch, and the car in gear. He would release the clutch at some point, she would cough up and start.
The third time it worked, and she took off, to a new life in a new land.
Like a senior citizen, who enjoys teaching children in his old age, she would help train young folks in the vocational, hands-on automobile repair course.
And like retired folks, who return back to their native place , in their old age, she has now gone back.
Last heard, she was 25% of the way there, chugging along, making the long-ago trip, once again .
Back to the area from where my ancestors came.
Dedicating her last years, in the midst of youth, greenery, mountains, green valleys, teaching them , how folks like her are the way they are. .....