I am Bankim Biswas and what I write is a lot of bunkum and wishwash.
I am like most of you… we, the people of India. We have solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic. Ask the preamble who asked me to mug up this line. Some naughty mischief-mongers said that we are a sovereign democratic socialist republic. Socialites getting socialistic on us via the 42nd constitutional amendment. Some naughtier and mischief-ier folks asked us to also become a sovereign democratic socialist secular republic.
They told us to get socialistic when they found that 70% of the population can afford one meal per day. The thin… wafer thin actually… the thin middle class was too thin to be divided into a lower and an upper section. Lower guys could afford a bicycle. Atlas or Hero. You choose. One was from Ludhiana, other was from Lucknow. But if you were amongst the paltry guys who could be called upper middle class, you could buy a Vespa or a Lambretta. It all depended on whether you could wait 5 years or 7 years. Of course, some of us were the so called rich. We had to buy a Fiat or an Ambassador. Simply put, you bought a Fiat if you wanted a horn that sounded a “peep peep” and you bought an Ambassador if you wanted the horn to sound a macho “Pomp Pomp”.
Ambassador was distinctly designed for the machismo-most amongst the paltry rich. If you could twirl its steering, you could vanquish the pehelwan in your local akhada. You could seat kids, dogs, servants, and an ice-box in your lap. You could roll down the windows all the way down. This was the only car that could kill dogs that were unfortunate enough to get run over. Other cars managed to only dent a dog’s leg while it whined and scampered away behind the bushes. An Ambassador was clearly the car with a difference. A loud statement that made its promoters refer to one of its models as a Landmaster. When you hurtled the Ambassador down the ghats like Shammi Kapoor did in most of his movies, you had to rotate the steering at 78 RPM while “badan pe sitare lapete hue” played in the background at some 33 RPM.
In contrast, the Fiat was a nimble manufacture from guys who named their city as Walchandnagar. Cute. Bought by nice guys who looked upon gears as playful joysticks and not spears and swords. If you were a husband, you could seat your wife and your Pomeranian in the front seat and your naughty brats and their ayah in the back seat. You could not roll down the back windows all the way down, but that was an affordable deficiency. Who wanted kids to stand up and jump out of a full window? If you owned a Fiat, you were a cute clean-shaven nice guy and not the heavily mustachioed burly Ambassador driver who slapped wives, traffic cops, and mechanics.
Was there anything in common between Fiats and Ambassadors? Too many things actually. For one, they were Indian cars that drove on Indian roads and they often coughed, spluttered and choked to a stop much like the roads themselves that coughed, choked and spluttered to a stop. If the car didn’t start, you pulled a choke and a starter to make it cough, splutter and choke to a start. If it stopped again, you pulled open the bonnet with pliers, and fed the radiator with tons of water like you would feed a thirsty camel. If that didn’t work, you reckoned that there was water in the delco. Or that the spark plugs had stopped sparking. Or there was kachra in the carboretor. Technologically, Ambassadors were superior to the Standard Herald, Morris mini-minor and other wannabee cars. Yes, the royalty drove Impalas and Chevrolets bought before exorbitant custom duties invaded our socialistic fabric. Some UNESCO and CARE officials drove snazzy Datsuns that were allowed in by funny laws. And yes, one occasionally spotted ladiz driving cars while smoking a cigarette. Back then, we did not need gyms and slimming mantras. Papa could take the wheel, family, neighbours and retinue could push the car instead of working the bullworker and volia! car would cough splutter and choke to a grand start that lifted the spirits of the colony of its origins.
While the cars coughed and choked, socialism rose to the fore. Clearly, car driving was for the savage. Running over dogs and hiding dents with Mansion Polish wax. There was a Japan waiting to unleash technology and common sense in locomotion. They knew how to brake a car when you braked. They built cars where one did not say that “everything except my horn is bajao-ing”. You did not have to travel to a chor bazaar to buy back a Landmaster fender that your driver stole and sold. Japs sold their yens for air-conditioning in Vijaywada, power steerings in Jeedimetla and fuel efficiency that made Caltex fold down. Middle class was going to expand like never before. Lower rung wanted to buy cars. Upper crust wanted to buy cars. Rich wanted to buy cars. They all bought Maruti and Japanese common sense. Ambassadors and their burly logic were consigned to truck drivers who wanted to reform into respectable human beings. Ambassadors still ferried cargo and idiots and its bonnets still went up on highways where it was stranded. But the roads got smoother and wider. A dog could not get killed unless it was on a suicidal mission through 8 lanes on a highway. New technologies made cars forget how to cough, choke and splutter. Socialism was being re-crafted. It was pushing poverty and wealth aside at both seams. Ambassadors were now being sold in antique shops in London while Fiat- Premier Padmini-ed for long years, was up for a re-invention in Europe.
When too much happens too fast, the had-beens undergo a trauma. They’re not sure if they were happy plying monstrous Ambassadors before anyone else did or whether they drive a comfortable air-conditioned masterpiece that is the same as what Ramlooamma’s son drives. Comfort is nice and fun, but discriminatory. It is too common and does not set the men apart from the boys. It is socialistic. Makes one want to run away to England or Monaco. Who could have guessed that aristocracy and zamindari would become extinct faster than the tiger? One could fly down from Pataudi to Hyderabad, drive down to Srisailam in a Jeep and shoot tigers. But on the return journey, one could be pelted by stones from Naxalites who drive Jap stuff and overtake your vehicle that still does not know how to tether a tiger skin on the Stepney.