Saturday, May 14, 2011

Straight and Simple

If you have driven a 38 year old Fiat for most of your life, and recently, say, in the last 2 years, switched to a new car, you may externally get used to the material comforts, like suspensions that kind of make you glide while driving; airconditioning, that makes you breathe a bit more easily on a hot and humid Mumbai noon in May, and windows that open and close at the touch of a button, and don't require you to perform rotational motions with window handles as if you are extracting sugarcane juice.

While we enjoy the external manifestations of what is commonly referred to as technical superiority and progress, it is interesting to note, that for folks on the wrong side of 60, the mind tends to remain immersed in the days of yore, when cars were pushed frequently by entire families, while someone suddenly put it into gear with the ignition ON; or someone made a slapdash adjustment of your carburettor screw, allowing you somehow make it to the nearest gas station while on a trip.

I've lost count of the times the dynamo was removed, and someone did something to the windings or brushes, and one time the ignition got all locked up, along with a wheel, while we were escorting a bride and groom home from their own reception....

But the crowning glory has been when, on going through a pothole with a misleading depth, the battery of the car, simply jumped its place and fell down on the starter, spilling all its acid there, and there was an almighty explosive noise much like Diwali fireworks.

The reason all this came to mind was because yesterday was the first time we had what can be called an episode in the new car.

A friend and I were attending a social function in the Hill area of the community where we stay. I had taken great care to park the car way to the side, under a streetlight, since the road was steep , narrow, wooded, but still used by biggish buses, driven by impulsive young people, and I wanted to keep out of their way. In the big urge to park as close to the edge, one backed up, and left.

An hour later, we returned, got into the car, and were amazed to find that the ignition and steering wheel had locked. That too, with the wheels pointing to the right, something we had managed to do while parking.

(The last experience I had had, was in our old car when the ignition would randomly lock itself, the key would not turn, and this would happen in heavy traffic, shopping districts, and on flyovers. The thing to be done was to get out of the car, hold on to the sides (of the car), and then shake it back and forth, like you were sifting some grains. Some folks would be muttering about a Bendix Wheel, and somewhere in this shaking manoeuvre, the lock would unlock. And this was often hugely entertaining for the large amount of audience that collected, something very typical of Mumbai.)

So my first impulse was to get out an shake. The car.

Unfortunately, the new car is big, and so the only thing that shook, was me. Putting the car in gear, and releasing the handbrake and clutch, was a kind of gut feeling I had. But the wheels remained firm, and we slid to the middle of the road. Trouble.

We got on to the phones, and Mr Murphy got activated on my phone. No network. Luckily my friend's phone worked, and we called home. In the meanwhile, I urged my friend to leave as she had an appointment, and I sat there in the dark, trying to find solutions from the car manual in the glove compartment.

About an hour went by with me waving the buses away from the car, rickshawallahs giving me looks, and some folks walking by possibly muttering something about women drivers and how they think they know how to park.

You were supposed to apply strength to the key and try and turn it, anticlockwise. I tried. I was aware of my Fiat enabled strength, and took things with a pinch of salt. The key could have cracked.

It had become darker, and I realized this was an area where leopards often wandered around, in the dark. The radio wouldn't turn on, and so I just sat there waiting for folks to land up, when I suddenly spied someone I knew emerging from the adjoining building gates. They came to see what was the problem, and actually smiled. Apparently the thing to do was to turn the steering wheel this way and that, while simultaneously fiddling with the key in the ignition. I hadn't known the "simultaneous" part....

And suddenly the ignition lights came on, the radio started humming, and the folks explained this solution to me. In the meanwhile some folks who were supposed to be rushing, arrived, and there was some discussion with gestures, about how things are inside, and why the thing locks up.

Turns out that one way to avoid such goof ups, is to ensure, that every time you park the car, the wheels are pointed straight ahead. There is nothing automatic about the locking, but it is a simple mechanical movement.

Yes , the new car has many things with power settings, which have made driving easier, and more enjoyable. But it is more of a black box than the old car, where you opened the hood /bonnet at the drop of a hat and started fiddling around with things.

It also has a message .

Life , in these modern times, allows us to use lots of contraptions that make our life easy. There are a lot of variables in life, that take on different values for us. Certain values these variables take, can be problematic for us , or maybe sometimes even good for us.

But in the euphoria of life-becoming-easy, it is imperative , that we remember, that keeping things straight and simple (like my car wheels) , is often the solution.....

(Just to set records straight, and just like they showed when Kate Middleton and her dad left for the Abbey, I was escorted by a twowheeler (Bajaj M-80) all the way home ....:-))....).


  1. Interesting adventure. And though in your post you have made it sound amusing, no doubt it was not amusing at the time.

    "To keep things straight and simple". A good point to remember in most situations- vehicle related or otherwise!

  2. Ha ha ha! Like ur car wheels ;) Valuable lesson their indeed :)

  3. Sounds most unnerving:(
    Good lesson, though!!!!
    The old cars were something else- many a morning I've pushed our Ambassador which didn't seem to want to wake up.

  4. I once rented a car in Houston, Texas. It was a small red Ford. I drove it from the car rental park at the airport to as far as I could go without peeing myself. Everytime I tried to stop and park and take the key out, it would not let me. So I ended up pulling in a gasoline station and asking how I could shut the motor off. The attendant showed me. There was a button under the edge of the dash where the key goes that had to be pushed in at the same time you tried to turn the key off and get it out.

  5. What a great post, you made me laugh. I'm in my 50's, but had plenty of time spent with the old cars.

    I came to visit via Sylvia K., and am your newest follower. I can't wait to read more of your posts. I am putting you on my sidebar under "Writing and Poetry Blogs". I love your artwork too.

    Have a great week,

    Kathy M.

  6. Indeed an adventure in Leopard territory ! ignition problems getting solved with a 'simultaneous' turn of the key !!

    good one !

  7. hahahahahah! My mom used to drive the she stopped (Actually she stopped some years ago) she cant change the floor gears it seems..she wants only the side gears...

  8. well we learn something new each day .. now you know for next time ..

    from fiat i remmeber my computer teacher oooh she was HOT and beautiful use ot have a FIAT .. and We once took it for a ride and it stopped in middle and then the DHAKKA through the same road where we were showing off , not a good experience and then to face the beautiful hot teacher :)


  9. You make me smile. There are still things on my 9 year old car that I do not know how to use.
    Can imagine what will happen when I replace this one. Told my daughter I want one more new car - her reply - that is sad.
    I do not think it is sad.
    Old age does this :)

  10. :) was a fun read!

    loved your poem on my post. it brought the grand hotel to life!!

    thank you

  11. My steering wheel regularly gets locked along with the ignition and from day one I was taught to rotate the key and steering simultaneously by an autiwallah who passed by.

    I did not drive the tried and tested fiats and majestic ambassadors but as a child regularly contributed to pushing the standard vanguard that my dad qwned. i remember pushing the car down Worli hills and worrying all the time whether my dad would speed off sans me!!
    a good read as usual.

  12. This was hilarious, esp Murphy's law and shaking the car :)

    Reminds me of the time I spent a panic-stricken 5 minutes trying to get into my car which would NOT unlock with the key or the remote.

    The daughter asked me why I was trying to open a blue car when our car is silver :P I might've been arrested for trying to break into the car!!

  13. When I just learnt to drive I once jammed the steering wheel on MG Road in Pune, one afternoon (40 degrees celsius temperature) and on another afternoon locked myself out of the car - both the times I called my dad, who always knew what to do. After that on his insistence, I kept a steel measuring scale (for locked doors -it was a Maruti 800) and my cell phone in my bag which I habitually never stepped out of the car without. But can't imagine how frustrating it must be to be stuck without network!! And you manage to make a funny post out of it :) Loved the sugar cane juice extraction comparison :)

  14. Oh Suranga....that was one hilarious situation...I didnt know of this before - like never heard S talk abt lemme go and educate him a bit...he he he...
    He is pestering me to attend driving classes....I am asking him to promise me to buy a car for me...both are not happening....LOL

  15. Manju True. It was not funny then. But laughing at stuff always reduces the tension.

    Hitchwriter :-((, but still :-))

    Swaram the wheels were just one problem; I was more worried about a bus crashing into the car in the dark !

    Dipali I now feel that a car doesnt feel yours unless you go through some troubling situations like this...

    Honest Abe You know I actually went and checked if they had such a button in our car. There isnt . Just hope this doesnt happen to me ...

    Oregon Gifts Thank you, and welcome to my blog !

    Kavi I am convinced the leopard saw me and turned back. I now have chauffeurs and folks looking at me strangely when i park, get out and look at the wheels, and get back in again, to straighten them and switch off ....

    R's Mom You know, even I sometimes switch on the wiper thing thinking its a wheel gear like on the Fiat ....
    Bikram So tru. Its all a learning experience...

    Ernestine :-))

    magic eye Thank you !

    HHG We seem to have had very similar auomotive childhoods .....

    Starry Thank you. And you know, we refused to get the electronic unlock/lock thing, that makes a throwing-up sound, and have only the front windows on automatic. Ignition automatic locks was enough.

    IHM I am hoping the car stalled in front of Marzorim on MG Rd or something. And I am not surprised at the steel ruler. In my working days, in the days when they had PC-AT's and the harddisk wouldnt start rotating on booting, I have even used a knife to give a dhakka to it s such, and it would start . (The boss saw me doing that, and immediately ordered a new machine, possibly out of fear, who knows ...:-)) Always reminded me of cars which could be started by inserting a handle from the front, and doing the sugarcane juice act. These automatic things ! Shaa !

    UmaS I think insisting on a car along with the driving classes is just fine :-).... But do get started on the driving classes. I have always felt its a good skill to be able to use in any emergency. I have seen situations where a elder was sick, there was a car in the house, but they delayed medical attention because the only person who could drive was not in the house..:-(