As a woman in the automotive industry I’m often greeted with surprise and sometimes scepticism. Why cars? I’m asked. Why is a difficult question to answer. It’s like asking someone why they like their favourite colour. There’s just no answer to the question why. The heart wants what it wants. How did I come to realise I love cars, however, is an excellent question.
We never had a car at home while I was growing up. We didn’t get one until I was studying engineering. My only access to cars were three different instances over the year. My aunt visited us from the USA once every year and without fail we would go to pick her up and drop her back to the airport. Now as I said, we didn’t have a car, so it was always a taxi, in fact, it was always an ambassador. It was big, heavy and loud. But what a car! They just don’t make them like that anymore!! (pun intended)
Summer vacations spent at another aunt’s place meant one hour drives to pick up my aunt from her bank. This car was another Indian classic. A white ’95 Maruti 800. This was also to be the car I was to learn to drive in, clean, face a breakdown and come to love as dearly as my friends.
My uncle took us out to dinner at least once when he was in Bangalore. More often than not, we were picked up for these dinners. Now, these cars were no Ambassadors or Maruti 800s. They were Lancers, Cielos and sometimes even a Mercedes. For someone who had only been in Ambassadors and Marutis, I was endlessly fascinated by the powered windows, soft seats and air conditioning.
I lived through most of these experiences passively. Although I enjoyed the car rides, I never understood why I so looked forward to them. Until, I had an epiphany. On rainy evening in Bangalore, I was getting to dance class from school by auto (rickshaw) when the 2 minute ride was halted by a blocked road thanks to a fallen tree. And as the auto driver tried to manoeuvre the auto out of the cacophony of vehicles, there it was, a vision in metallic blue, as if the heavens themselves had opened up just to remind us of its majesty. That’s the day I discovered just how beautiful cars are. Beautiful, mobile pieces of art.
Few people appreciate the detail, furore and care that goes into making a car. The challenges they face and how they emerge victorious. To give us something new yet familiar, dynamic yet comfortable, all metal and technology and yet so gorgeous. And I don’t mean just the Ferraris, Lamborghinis or Maseratis. I mean all cars (except maybe the Zen Estilo. I don’t know what they were thinking!! ).
I learnt to drive in a ’95 Maruti 800 in 2007. It’s as simple as they come. 3 cylinder carburettor engine, no power steering, powered windows, brake booster or AC. The car broke down on me a couple of times but even in such situations it was considerate enough to break down in front of a garage or in a parking lot. I learnt to drive it, clean it and slowly but surely came to love it. I have many fond memories in this car. The first time I took it out into the city, I had my very first accident. I was terrified and upset but drove back because my mum was with me and she didn’t know how to drive then :D. I ferried my classmates to college in my final year, drove all the way to Bommasandra from Malleshwaram during my final semester, hit 100 km/h on the outer ring road, ….. And when I moved to Germany to pursue my Masters, it moved on too, to make memories with someone new. Shiro Chan he was called. He was no Ferrari or BMW and yet he would win hands down when it came to claiming that little place in my heart. I’m sure I’ll own and drive a lot of cars in my life but Shiro Chan shall remain my first love.
The thing you need to understand about cars is that they too have a personality. Each and every one of them are unique. Even when they are the same model from the same year, they will be and feel different. You have to connect with them. Sometimes it’s instantaneous and at others it’s cultivated over time. The important thing is to respect them. They don’t just get you where you need to be but they do it safely. Like any person or relationship in your life, cars need to be maintained. I don’t mean the routine checks at the service stations. I mean filling them with a good quality fuel, making sure the air pressure in all your tyres are right, checking if the engine oil level is right, if you have enough coolant. It’s not hard, it takes maybe about 5 minutes to do everything I said and yet most people don’t take out that time to do it and complain about how their car is behaving. Treat your car well, and by this I don’t mean don’t push it, by all means see what your car can do. But remember to toe the line and not cross it.
So this Valentine’s day, take the time to get to know your car. Give it a good scrub, a little bit of pampering, take it out for a drive, just the two of you and try giving a listen to what it’s saying and I’m sure you’ll find yourself falling in love too.