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I was lost in typing some important stuff, when my phone rang…

I picked up the call slightly irritated at the prospect of being disturbed. It was my father, so naturally the tone of irritation mellowed to soft greetings. He sounded excited and breathlessly said: “listen….The new Nano has come to market. Ratan Tata inaugurated it…. I just saw the test drive on the TV….We want to buy three Nanos…can you check the price and tell me…I will book it from here right now or else will send you the money by core banking and you can buy all three and keep one for yourself as a birthday gift….” πŸ™‚

For a few minutes I was speechless….”What! How many Nanos did you say?”

He was slightly embarrassed and now with a softer tone said, “Three” ….

I laughed out aloud and said, “papa..three Nanos are a little too much…we can’t afford it….Moreover, what will I do with a Nano when I don’t even know how to ride a bi-cycle…. πŸ˜‰ If you want I’ll check one Nano for you and mom and will tell you if there are cheaper options based on taxes from one state to another….” He was slightly disappointed that I didn’t need a Nano but was Ok in a minute or two. Later, I described him about the EMI and bank credit systems and the one-time money deposit scheme for the Nano….He didn’t seem very impressed…but well….

Later, the idea of “three” cars made me chuckle for an entire evening. I was wondering about the apparent “financial prosperity” of the “Great Indian Middle Class”. This incident took me down the memory lane when we had only an old Lambi (Lambretta) scooter which was forced to accommodate 4 people. I was always sandwiched between the rider and the back seat passenger, dangling in the half space between the two seats. Whereas, my brother would be in a half standing position, between the driver (my father) and the front handle. He would keep on singing or blabbering, while our team scooted away to markets, restaurants or sometimes on long drives. As we started to grow up,Β  father had to crane his head over our shoulders in order to see the road and drive, until the process had to be finally stopped and the lambi was sold off. We were all very sad to part with our beloved orange lambi that had borne our weights and us for such a long time. But, the lambi was not only a scooter, it was a symbol of an entire generation, of a generation which had a connection with early 20th century technology. If you search Wiki entry on a Lambretta scooter, you will find not only the story of a particular make of an automobile, but also can find an entire cultural process associated with it. That scooter was a symbol of a generation which had Beatles, Elvis Priestley, the Hippie culture, etc. as its iconic figure-heads. I do not know why, a lambi brings to my mind a generation which had “rock” and “disco” as its themes and “freedom” and “liberty” as its motto.

The scooter was not very comfortable for four people… but still it was the mark of prosperity and “family-ness” of our parents’ generation, where only the richest people in town had a Fiat car or an Ambassador. Every Sunday, my father would take us to the local haat (Sunday market) on the lambi and would shop vegetables, fruit and pulses for an entire week. Sometimes, he would get the week’s poultry supply or a fresh catch of bhakura fish from the local pond, neatly dressed up hanging from one of the handles of the lambi. We also got one Icecream (which me and my brother had to share) and pencils/scented erasers from the market as incentives to go Sunday shopping with our father. There were neither malls, nor gaming zones nor huge Icecream parlours to entertain us. Sunday market was the only place where we could relax after a week’s schooling and homework.

Times changed and so did automobiles… from Lambi to “Humara Bajaj” with the slogan, “buland bharat ki buland tasveer” (rough transl.: a strong India’s strong image). The advertisement of a Bajaj scooter was itself so alluring that, if you did not own a Bajaj you were left out of the race for prosperity where your friends kept on teasing you with; “you know we have a red bajaj and my father takes us to Chinese Fast-Food center in that bajaj…”. The scooter had something of a national pride and well …. who wants to be left out?

Came the time, when the degree of middle class prosperity suddenly peaked with the 5th Pay commission bringing huge goodies for government, semi-government and PSU employees. We bought a new Maruti home. We had elaborate rituals, “coconut-breaking”, “temple-going” ceremonies to welcome the Maruti. In fact, on our first ride (we had to hire a driver as my father did not know how to drive a car) in the Maruti car, we were given new clothes and sweets and also carried sweets and clothes for relatives whom we went to meet in that car proudly. We were given “special late night rides” during our board exams,Β  to relax after a taxing day of nearly 18 hours study just before the exams. During these rides, we just had one thing to look forward to…the music wafting in the darkness from the car’s stereo system playing a cool number from the latest hit of the time….Hmmm….heaven! πŸ™‚ One day while I was in Junior college, my parents were discussing my dowry and debating regarding which car to give to the groom (they had thought I might be a college drop-out soon and join some local dancing troupe πŸ˜‰ ). I was listening to the discussion intently, suddenly raised my hand (as if in a classroom) and said: “no… please no car….Give me a Hoodibaba…you know it’s nice to be on a bike on the road, with the strong breeze blowing on your face” …. The event was no less than a culture shock for my parents. πŸ˜€

Times have changed. With the launch of Nano or such smaller cheaper cars, India seems to be moving towards a certain extreme individualistic life where we too will have a “one person one car” syndrome on the Indian roads. No, I am not being fascist or regressive. In fact, my love has always been formula-1 racing cars. I like the thought of being able to afford or dream of a car easily, but also concerned about the strong sense of the “personal” and “one-owner” system that these vehicles introduce as a part of changing human culture. Anyway, changes are inevitable.

Who knows, what the next-gen would like to see and ride?