First published (September 4, 2013) on my TOI blog, Freeze Frame
Life in the capital city? For a newly married couple? It is riddled with quirks. Take it from someone who survived the city and its satellite for five whole years. I was told that Delhi was never known for being an easy city to settle down in. And no matter how many notes on ‘how to survive Delhi‘ one refers to, they never come handy for the next new migrant. But some quirks are eternal and end up biting all neophytes who want to settle down in sadi Dilli against all odds. Like the wonky parameters of a Dilliwallah to measure another person’s worth – measured mostly by the location / address and size of apartment, brand of furniture, clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery, number of mithai dabbas delivered at the doorstep during Diwali and most importantly the make and size of car. The bigger, shinier, plusher, the better. And one instantly got an entry into the Delhiwallah‘s ‘notable newbie’ notebook.
Things did not pan out any differently for us either. After our first year stint at a posh alley of the Bengali ghetto in South Delhi, also known as CR Park, the Bee and I, we had bought our first car, a beautiful gray Matiz with leather upholstered seats. That’s when I realized that our next door neighbours actually knew we existed, that I was Soma, married to Sukanti and had been living in the white coloured house with our potted plants, white brick walled balcony, flowing white curtains, a desert cooler on the rear balcony and a renowned painter as our landlord.
“Nice car, Sukanti!” he had called out over his wrought iron railings, “let’s catch up over a drink some day.” The almost raconteur Delhiwallahs had suddenly pegged us a notch higher and we had been promoted to the rank of ‘noteworthy’ neighbours overnight.
But our newfound status as ‘noteworthy and could be invited for dinners’ was not meant to last long as nor was our slowly growing faith that ‘things aren’t that bad in the NCR’. A hunky-dory couple of years later, we moved out of the comfortable confines of C R Park and moved to the ‘good-gaon’ bordering Delhi, with its skyscrapers that sold dreams of more skyscrapers post the millennium mark. A year’s stay cleared all misconceptions of how good the ‘gaon’ was. At the crack of a September dawn, our prized Matiz and the driver were on their way home after dropping the Bee off at the airport, when the car was stolen at gunpoint by a pack of goons from another infamous neighbouring state.‘These aren’t regular car thieves, they don’t want the car but need it to settle scores with rival gangs’ had assured the officer on duty who took down our complaint that morning, leaving the badly beaten up driver (who had carried the tale home) and me wondering what it actually meant. Autumn chill was knocking on the door, our litany of woes and an unwell daughter demanded a stopgap measure while we hoped that the car found the cops before being sold off as scrap. What else could have come to our rescue?
A turquoise car, a model from the late 60’s I suppose, that had once been the pride of a dear friend’s family which in recent times was gathering dust in their ancestral garage, and perhaps awaiting the ‘vintage’ tag before breathing its last. Fiat number 3, a Premier Padmini, was god sent, for it saw us through the entire period of the daughter’s first brush with Bronchitis, that year’s Durga Puja and a biting Delhi winter. And even amidst the chaos that had suddenly enveloped us, you know, the case of the missing car, a cantankerous fifty something DLF club dwelling ‘I’m still worth a million in the market today’ land lady, changing houses because the GoodGaon policewallahs decided to use the stolen car as a leverage to extract Diwali ki mithai and daru bottles from the hapless owners etc etc – the turquoise fiat did provide lighter gray moments of jest.
It would find the most bizarre places to stall and not budge to any amount of honking, pushing, cursing, kicking, nothing – unless it decided to sputter back to life – be it the busiest intersection in CP, or while turning into ‘Ek nombor market’ in C R Park or trying to cross the highway towards Gurgaon. And the music it created when the key turned in its ignition every morning – any percussionist would feel challenged to keep up with the range of its beats. Its radiator fumed, its fan belt kept rupturing, its carburetor was forever thirsty. And its exhaust? It perpetually coughed and sputtered and spewed more soot into the already choked up Delhi air. All that drama with the rickety somnambulist (that went by the name ‘car’ in the year 1960 and something) actually helped to keep our minds off the more serious stuff. Once on the street, we behaved as if we were in a vintage car rally. Trust me, the charade kept us sane.
By the end of six months we realized that we had waited for the Matiz long enough and the fact that we would never get the Matiz back was a foregone conclusion. So we bought a smart, ‘utility over glamour’ car and our parted ways with the turquoise Fiat. But our carmic connection with the Fiat Premier Padmini was yet to be over.
The year 2003 was supposed to usher in a period of good Carma for us, so had predicted Ganesha. We bid adieu to the city of lost cars and car thieves, flew across the Arabian Ocean and landed in a car lover’s paradise, a desert city by the Persian Gulf….