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 ....:-))....).