My father never rode a bicycle or any two-wheeler in his life out of fear of meeting with an accident, which he passed on to me effortlessly. He never bought a car because that was too expensive for a father of two in a middle class family. But we all knew of an existing fear factor behind this for not buying a car. When I started working in Delhi, everyone suggested me to buy a two-wheeler instead of using the public transport but my inherent fear of riding one made me resent the idea. One of my seniors advised me to buy an used Maruti 800 available with his mechanic for Rs 40,000/- which was in its 11th year, almost its fag end of life. According to him the condition was good and since I had no idea about choosing a car I had to rely upon his advice. It was the first time in my life that I had to borrow the sum from my relative to buy my first and till now the only car. I took the car to a nearby temple for the inaugural puja. After performing the puja, the priest put four lemons underneath the tyres and asked me to drive over them. I started the car and as I crushed the lemons the car stopped and it started only after the visit to a mechanic. May be the almighty wanted to say something, but I chose to overlook. After taking the driving lessons from a local driving school, I went to the nearest Regional Transport Office (RTO) with the reference of a senior reporter. As I entered the room for the written exam an accompanying constable introduced me to the examiner who happened to be a police officer. The officer got furious to know that I came with a reference but reluctantly allowed me to sit for the exam. In the same afternoon when I went to that officer to collect my result, he threw the result on my face. I had crossed the first hurdle. On the day of my driving test, I went without my own car. As I introduced myself to the officer he asked me to sit in the car of another examinee. Once he finished his round that person was obviously not willing to allow me to drive his car for the test. I asked the officer about the situation. He said fine, as I sat in the car during the round. He signed my paper and I got my learners license. I never knew it was that easy.
I had soon started going for my assignments in my “new” car. On a winter morning, I was returning from an assignment with a lady reporter on the passenger seat (front). I was driving at a speed close to 45kmph. The reporter had just finished praising my driving skills and suddenly an old lady appeared in front of my car amid the moving traffic. Before I could realise she was hit. I went blank for a second. Fleeing from the spot was the only thing I could think of.
My colleague advised me to take full responsibility and stay stay calm. The locals understood that it was not my fault but the old lady’s so they never created any trouble for me. Her lunch was all over the road and the shin bone was broken below her knee. The leg was crooked due to the impact of the accident. We took her to the AIIMS trauma centre in my “new” car. The doctors did the plastering without even setting the bone properly which the old lady had to get operated after a few months. When the hospital conducted a MRI on her, I was praying to God that she should not have any internal haemorrhage as I was desperate to move out of that situation. Her son-in-law demanded money as she was the only bread earner for her family. I had no cash, and so issued a cheque of Rs 6000/- to him. In the meantime the police took my learners license and asked me to visit the station after I finish the formalities at the hospital. We dropped that old lady at her home and then visited the police station. Both the parties signed the papers and I got my learners license back only after shedding a couple of grands.
A nightmare was just about to get over...
Within 60days of my purchase of the “new” car I lost my job in the year 2009 which was the extension of 2008 recession. After a couple of weeks I got another job at Gurgaon which is now known as Gurugram. My office was more than 30kms from my place. I had no other option but to drive. On any given day I used to drive close to 100kms. That was the time I had really learnt driving. Driving through the heavy traffic, the empty highways, dark and waterlogged roads helped me to shed off the fear of driving. Gradually, I started driving fast though my parents preferred to differ. They say I was rash. Once I took my parents for a ride in my “new” car. My mother sat on the back seat and my father was beside me. As I drove fast, my father would gesture with his hands to slow down as verbal instructions could disrupt my concentration. When his gestures failed then he said to my mother, “Today we are in no hurry to reach home, isn't' it? ”.For an early morning flight I dropped my parents at the airport and received their post security check call on my bed. Do I explain further? Yes, I used to drive really fast. My alertness saved me a couple of times from any further mishaps. I have touched 105kmph with my “new” car several times on the highway.
More importantly, I have enjoyed driving this white coloured 5th hand car. I have always given way to the vehicles whoever has asked for it but never allowed them to overtake me. Accelerated and went ahead. In Delhi, cursing others are very normal which becomes a necessity while driving. Lip movement is enough, no need to raise the voice. Unlike me, one day in Gurgaon I was taking a turn very cautiously and a person on scooter was approaching towards me. Noticing him way far, I took the turn. Don't know what happened to that guy, he fell down around 10fts away from me without even touching my car. And I was so engrossed in seeing him falling that I ramped onto the footpath. He stood up and started shouting and abusing me. Had to ask the police outside the Gurgaon Police Commissioner's residence to rescue me.
Once after a sudden break down of my “new” car, the mechanic informed me that there is no engine oil left in the car, it was all dried up. Not a good sign for a car and certainly not for me. One day, I stopped at a traffic signal and felt an awkward jerk only to found the driver’s seat got broken. I got it repaired on war footing as I was getting late for office. Once it got stuck in the middle of the traffic and had to push it through the dark roads all by myself till one good Samaritan helped me to recharge my car battery with his. Later I had to change the battery. Finally I had to open up the engine and get it repaired by a local mechanic at a cost of Rs15000/-.By then I had quit my Gurgaon job and was back to being jobless. Post the engine repair the mechanic directed me not to drive over 60kmph for the next 1000 kms. In that period I drove from Delhi to Meerut and back with an office colleague for a leisure trip. In spite of a lot of provocations I had managed to keep the speed within the limits. While returning, I heard a thud but couldn’t find anything. Later my local mechanic found the reason behind that sound, the broken Leaf Spring. I got it repaired soon. By then I was familiar with several parts and problems of a car. This car did some good work too, it acted as a chariot of a new born girl child of a once upon a time ,friend from the hospital. That day the F1 driver in me showed some restraints though. During that period I had tried several times but couldn’t land a good job. Slowly my “new” car was taking a toll on me as it was eating up my savings. I was never a superstitious person but after all these bad things happened initiated with the purchase of my “new” car , I was quite low. Not being able to crack a good job for a prolonged period a thought struck my mind. What if the car was not suiting me? I went to the local mechanic and asked him to find me a buyer for my “new” car. Within a few days he introduced me to a potential buyer. I sold my “new” car for Rs 29000/-. The mechanic refused to accept his share of brokerage as he knew about my job situation, But I insisted. Within a month I got a job in a leading newspaper. Later the mechanic called me to inform that the person who bought my car had lost his job. I was speechless!
Our former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and the Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar’s first ever car was a Maruti 800 like mine. But I wonder if they had so many stories attached to their cars. That car was with me for not even a year but the nightmare stayed with me forever. Even today, I am scared of buying a car rather a second hand car.
Photo & Text : ARIJIT SEN
Edited by : RAJASHREE SEN