Two years ago, my wife and I resolved to get a new car. It was a decision as momentous as having a second child (which we never did). Our discussions built up to an argumentative crescendo.
For thirteen years, we had been content with our Maruti Alto. She was an unimposing, pearl-grey workhorse that did unfailingly what she was meant to — transport us from point A to B, with a short detour to C, before ending up at D, which was inevitably the mechanic’s. That little car had really gone the distance. On long drives and short holidays, she had been our magic charm.
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I regret we did not treat her well. We regarded her like the SUV we deserved but could not afford. When we found a chink in the armour of Bangalore’s impenetrable traffic, we drove like we were within sight of the chequered flag at the Monaco Grand Prix. While the chauffeurs of 4WDs gingerly piloted their steeds through the city’s pothole-pocked obstacle courses (aka roads), we revved her up as if we were raising sand at Dakar. When she itched, we scratched. Like a warrior, she wore the scars of each battle, a fact the insurance surveyor noted gleefully.
Within a decade of abuse, she had multiple organ transplants — a new clutch plate, a new windscreen, new struts, new tyres, and several changes of batteries. Over the years she became a self-realised automobile with a spartan mien and shed many of the flaky pretences she had come with — without ceremony we bade farewell to her cheapass plastic hub-caps and the noisy central-locking system. We ignored the blinking dashboard warnings. And ever since a scratchy compact disc got wedged permanently in the stereo system, her modest interiors were becalmed by a philosophical quietude.
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Treated with dignity, she still gave us 20 to a litre. With the passage of time, she became an even-tempered old lass, shuddering to life and ready to serve at the turn of the key, but her stamina and strength took a backseat. Huffing valiantly on first gear through the monstro-city exhausted her. No more could we count on her for those dreamy long drives.
On the sly, we began cheating on her. We took to renting cars for our driving holidays. We figured we could use our superannuated jalopy to get around the city, and pick a sleek beast of our choice for the highways. Our licentious dalliances with other cars got us thinking dark, acquisitive thoughts. I tried to shake them off, but was reminded painfully of Jean Cocteau’s astute observation: “A car can massage organs which no masseur can reach. It is the one remedy for the disorders of the great sympathetic nervous system.”
I was consumed by material longing for a new car. Personally, I prefer to walk or take the bus to work. My wife, who drove to work, depended on the Alto, but the car’s age became a running joke with her office gang. A vain desire for an automobile upgrade plunged roots and became a contentious dinner-table subject.
“We deserve a bigger car,” my wife declared with prophetic finality, in the same ominous tone she had used before we shunted out our old washing machine and refrigerator. As new, improved editions of both appliances were carted in to replace outgoing ones, my nerves got the better of me.
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I was reluctant to loosen the purse strings. “Maybe we can hold onto the Alto for another year?” I suggested. A car must reflect one’s personality, the wife insisted, and she had clearly outgrown our vintage Alto. As our arguments intensified, we agreed we would regroup for a fact-versus-fact face-off. The dice were loaded.
I don’t know where she had done her research, but it was formidably spot-on. She came loaded with spec charts and financing terms. I, on the other hand, swigged a few beers with some like-minded lads and ended up even more confused and indecisive. It dawned on me why car salesmen purr along to the oohs and aahs of men but talk shop with women. Research holds that they drive the buying decision.
We chose our new ride — a crossover hybrid from the same stable. But when it was time to trade in the Alto, our hearts sank. In all honesty, we expected our weather-beaten, geriatric hatchback to be valued at spare change. Yet, when we were offered an astronomical 75k, we shook our heads in unison. We upped our bid fiercely as if we were a power couple at Sotheby’s, until the beleaguered salesman begged us to stop. He acquiesced to ten thousand more and threw in a suite of bells and whistles for the new car.
“Take good care of her,” we hissed as we signed on the dotted line. “She was our supercar.”