Let me say a few words about the ambassador car for those who aren’t familiar with the type. The ambassador car can be called a classic symbol of India’s post independence industrial era. Outdated even when new, the car has a silhouette that is easily a designer’s nightmare. A huge lumbering heap of metal, it has a frame like a tank’s with a steering mechanism like an ox cart’s. Inefficient and clumsy, wasteful of steel and petrol, overpriced and overweight, the ambassador had dominated India’s routes for good fifty years and had the patronage of nationalists, politicians and businessmen of the country. Foreign visitors have never ceased to be amazed that this graceless contraption of spectacular ugliness enjoyed two-year waiting lists with all dealers.What can I say about my dad’s amby? He bought it when he married my mom, and in those days he was one of the very few who owned cars. As deep as I can peek into my childhood, I can’t recall that car starting without a crank, or a push! For a few years it was all fine but when the ‘Maruti’ came, it put all other cars to shame. It was hip, modern, sleek, suave, light, affordable, petrol-savvy and had Japanese technology written all over it. All our neighbors and acquaintances were buying the Maruti at breakneck speed, while my dad’s amby was getting from bad to worse. Now it won’t start without a 3 hour battery recharge and some serious pushing. The engine cranked, wheezed and sputtered into life only after my brother and I had stumbled for 500 meters, muscling away and declared death by exhaustion.……. then my bro would go running in the house to tell mom “it started, it started, let’s go!”. Doors would be locked hastily and then dhup, dhup, dhup, the car doors would bang with great glee. We would be off, only to get stuck right in the middle of some major crossway and face the embarrassment of pushing the damn car again, all dressed up for a wedding party or something equally flashy. People passed us by in their Marutis, sympathy dripping in their eyes, we ducked our heads in pure misery! In all those years, never once did we reach a movie hall in time for a show. In our teen years we found the car to be a big-time style-cramper and would rather walk than be seen getting off from an amby! The very idea was infernal!
My dad refused to sell it and buy a Maruti. We could never fathom the love and fondness he had for the stupid car. We cursed it with all our hearts. The more we cursed, the more he loved it. Maybe it was a thing from his youth, maybe it was the reluctance all men feel while parting with stuff that’s served them long. They like junk. He always looked rather satiated while behind the steering wheel of the hellish vehicle.
Well, that was then. Somehow after countless threats of fire and arson and many other things a gleaming white Maruti arrived in our driveway. There have been a few cars since then; my dad got into the routine of changing his car every 2-3 years. Now they drive a brand new Honda, but my dad still remembers his first ever car, his amby, the car that according to him, “served us well”.