From my TOI blog, Freeze Frame
First published August 22, 2013
We live in strange times and are, perhaps, moving towards an even stranger future. These days a conversation or a picture, at times even a comment, in the virtual space evokes emotions that the object of affection in the real world may not evoke or even if it did, it would to a much lesser degree.
A few days ago, I stumbled upon a Facebook update by a virtual friend about a Fiat. Between the first look and typing in my two bits, the ‘Fiats of our fathers’ update had gathered over a hundred likes and 40 comments. If you look closely, you will notice that at times Facebook updates have a Domino effect on people, and everybody starts falling all over themselves, feeling feelings that they haven’t felt in a long time and remembering things they had thought they had forgotten forever.
It was a memory that I had thought had been duly archived in some forgotten crevasse of my brain. That ‘battered tin can’ update suddenly recalled it and the mind turned into a flipbook of cars that raced back to the future from my past. The first car that emerged out of the mist was a white Fiat that I knew rather well; but it did not belong to my father. Our little para (neighbourhood), a cul-de-sac close to the ‘central avenue’ of the city, started with the high windows and the side entrance of the Mallik-bari and ended in a tiny square with a garage that evidently used to be the stable of the Malliks in their hey-day. The youngest scion of the Mallik-bari, the middle aged, fair, slightly balding, well endowed Felu Mallik, would be seen driving the Fiat out at exactly 9.15am every week day morning, where he would return at about 5.00pm every evening. It was a pearly white car with shiny chrome wheel caps, sparkling headlamps and beige upholstery. Most of us who would gather at the tiny square to play around the same time loved peering through the rolled up windows, mostly to admire the interiors. On Sundays, it would wear a dirty tarpaulin shroud, to keep it out of harm’s way and mis-fired cricket balls. And when it rained during the monsoons? Felu Mallik’s Fiat would be gently pushed out of the alley, and helped around a couple of tricky bends, all the way out on to the arterial central avenue, by a battalion of Mallik-bari men-servants, to jump start his day.
My grandfather’s house on that street, no. 10/C, is no longer our address. The notorious Gujju boys of the street have sobered, got married, fattened and moved on to the more affluent by–lanes of New Alipore, as have my long–haired, doe–eyed friends of yore. The alley, I hear, is nothing like what it used to be decades ago. And who knows what became of Felu Mallik, who never married and his pearly white fiat, that one day had lost one of it shiny headlamps to my eager, untrained cricket bat. Sold off as scrap perhaps?
The next car was also a Fiat. It is an integral part of a story from my very-early twenties, when I had missed the bus…err, car. Strangely, my otherwise elephant-like memory fails me when I think back to this car; I don’t remember the exact colour of the vehicle or whether it was shiny or in a state of disrepair. Perhaps because it’s a story that the mind is still not ready to accept and wants me to forget? Was it a sultry Summer afternoon in Calcutta, or was it a nippy Autumn evening? Never mind. All that I will allow myself to tell you is that for a very brief moment I thought I was being invited to ride alongside a young man with smiling eyes and an infectious boyish charm only torealize that the seat had already been taken, by someone else. She had slipped in beside him, he turned the key in the ignition, the old fiat coughed up some bad breath and before I knew it, had disappeared out of sight and eventually out of mind. In hindsight, I think that episode saved me from an accident that may have broken a few bones and a heart…
Soon it was time for me to learn new lessons about cars and men, in Delhi…
Picture courtesy : Joy Bhattacharya: Fiats of our Fathers