Human beings in their lifetime, encounter various categories of situations. Some of them are worth remembering, and some hover for few days, cloud our minds, before they pale away into the vast abyss of the dark reserves of our memory, never to come back. The ones which bring pure bliss are recollected with fondness.
However; the ones which are outlandish, and defy human logic, keep coming back with questions, “Why did this happen?“, “Is there an unseen force of strong love ?“
Our logical mind keeps breaking them into smaller chunks until we perhaps, find the plausible reasons that may have been responsible for their occurrences.
In most cases, I have seen that strong feelings like passion for something, intense love for someone, or perhaps fleeting infatuation about something or a living being put a vice-like grip over our mind. Something happens, it could be good or bad, and our human mind desperately tries to analyze. When it is between human beings, the connection takes place fast due to our natural ability to communicate. We use, implied and sometimes direct ways, to show our liking for an object or a living being, which slowly increases to adoration.
We, humans, use our most prized resource; our ability to speak and try to communicate our anger or liking. We use our eyes, facial expressions, or bring changes in our behavioral pattern to reach out to trounce or love, the intended receiver.
Have you ever thought about the same love, affection between a human and a nonliving, man-made creation?
Well, I may sound like an oddity at this point but I am sure, it will keep you guessing after I unfold a few of my real-life experiences. I can sharply recount five of them and even to date I chase for an answer.
Let me tell you about the bizarre events as they had taken place year-wise…
One of my friends who stays in the US, had come to India and on his way back I had requested him if he could take back a gift for a close relative of mine. He graciously accepted and asked me to give something small for easy carrying. I thought a paperback edition of a book written in the Bengali language would be perfect and went to buy it from one of the oldest, busiest, and most crowded book bazaar that exists in Kolkata, West Bengal, the College street. You can get any book in this world at unbelievable prices.
This area has all the modes of transport that you can imagine, and they navigate amid, a teeming population of college students, and teachers as reputed colleges and universities flank the road on either side. As early as six am in the morning or, as late as 11 pm, this area is always bustling. Surely, enough, after nine pm, the buses and cars tend to decrease and chances of getting parking for my car were assured, at least that is what I had thought. I used to drive a white Maruti 800 DX in those days.
On my way back from my work, I visited the place. The road, which I had taken was Mahatma Gandhi Road which intersects the College Street and I proceeded to that point and turned right on to College street which makes it way to Shyambazar crossing.
The bookshop I wanted to visit was on the right so I planned to keep the car on the left and was scouring for a safe place to park. I found two vehicles parked, a Jeep, and an Ambassador taxi. There was a wide gap between them and I let in my car into them and stopped. I found a roadside vendor closing his day’s sales and peeped out of my left window and asked him if I can keep the car there. He said that although it is late in the night, chances of a police officer riding his motorbike were less likely but skittish policemen are always unpredictable. The sidewalk read “No parking’. I did my routine checks of closing the car windows, stashing the music system in its glove box, and decided to get out. Then it all started seven successive efforts to disembark failed. About a hundred thousand times, I perhaps got in and out of my car in the last two years. The first attempt – I hit my forehead on the window seal which sent me back on to the seat.
Attempt two – I tried again, and this time the broad leather strap of the laptop bag, peculiarly encircled around the gear knob and I was pulled back in the car with the same force with which I wanted to get out.
Attempt three – I freed the laptop bag and pushed to open the driver’s door, and this time, the door refused to open. The inside lock just did not open up. Attempt four – I heaved at the door and it did open, but my left kneecap hit the corner of the bulge beneath the steering column. A sting of pain shot through the leg and I gave up. One thing was certain – I will not be able to get out of the car.
I sat back and with utter frustration, kept thinking about what to do. Something told me, that this place where I was parked may not be a good one to be on or perhaps not, that I settled back, started the car, let in the clutch and drove away from the sidewalk, cleared the taxi in front and looked for a place. Thankfully, about ten feet away on the left, a very dimly lit narrow alley appeared in a terrible state; mud and scooped up concrete slabs littered all around. I was too tired to explore and I turned in and parked again. I tried to get out once again. This time, it was a clean one. The laptop cleared over the gear knob, I did not hit my head either. I was outside the car in seconds, locked it.
Folding my trousers, I jumped on the broken concrete and plodded across the muddy road and came to the main road from where I had turned in.
A very unexpected scenario was in front of me. Numb with an unseen fear, I had stopped breathing. I was facing a big burly police officer, standing beside his red Kolkata police bike, with a sheaf of papers on which he was scribbling away. A monster of a truck, called the wrecker, had gulped in the parked Ambassador taxi; a metal to metal clashing sound reverberated the nightly silence as the big flywheel of the crane was winding in and pulling the front end of the hapless dangling Jeep.
I cleared my throat and asked the officer, what was it all about. He glowered at me and said that he is disgusted with motorists who think that they can get away by parking in the night when it clearly glowed in the neon lamps that this is a no-parking zone.
I stood there, motionless, the sensation of pain had withered away. A warm glow of thankfulness overwhelmed me, as I looked at the rear of my car, tucked away in the darkness, the rear glass flashing the same neon lamps with a smirk, as if with a hint of a smile.
What would have taken place, if I had kept the car? She would have been the third victim. Did she have a premonition of what was to come? I am sure, she did; did her best to warn me every possible way she could. I simply could not buy the book for which I had gone. Tears welled up, I was filled with pure love for my dear car. She saved me a lot of trouble. I ran back, splattering mud and muck on everything. I did not care what I was doing. I have to reach my car and caress her. I am in love with her. She has done what a fellow human would not do these days – a selfless act of complete protection to her owner. I thanked my four-wheeler, and my stars for that night and leaped in. I touched the steering wheel, kissed and hugged her with my trembling hands skimming over the dashboard, the gear, and pressed her deep against my heart for moments I am not sure.
There was no soul in sight apart from a few stray dogs shouting away. I started the engine, her soft purring engine came to life as if acknowledging my hug, yes we are again together to drive the life miles. With every press on the gas pedal, she hummed her presence. I reversed her and came on to the main road of devastation. There was nothing.
A nightmare turned into a dream. I gunned the engine and we both disappeared over the college street.
A small social gathering, organized by my mother on a weekend. Among the many who had come, there were few who were very elderly ladies, well into their octogenarian postings. The gathering started and was reaching its crescendo when monsoon made its presence felt by an earth-shattering thunderclap, followed by rain. Kolkata has its monsoon season or the rainy season from mid-June to August. The rain increased its fury for two hours with an inevitable outcome – water-logging. The drainage system in Kolkata is extremely old and not much of its design and network has changed, since independence in 1947. The slight pressure of rain and water clog the conduits. Fearing the worst, my mother asked me to drive four elderly ladies, who had to go back home. I acquiesced.
I was driving the same car which starred in my College street episode. We were four of us, and through the driving rain, the little car made its way towards Middleton road where I had to reach to dispatch my elderly occupants. It was after nine pm in the night, so the one-way restriction was off, and cars could go both ways. I took a right from AJC Bose Road crossing into Camac street, headed towards Park Street. We had hardly gone about two hundred and fifty meters when the water level had risen up to about three feet from the road. I switched off all the lights, fearing short-circuiting and with a half-clutch, increased the engine revolutions so that no water could enter the exhaust pipe in the rear. One drop getting sucked in will kill the engine. With the engine, nearly screaming its gut out, the sound got muffled as I saw signs of water gushing in through the door hinges into the cabin. I pressed on, and the sea of water formed waves as the bonnet and the radiator pushed the water which created waves that thrashed the roadside buildings. I wondered whether I was behind the wheel of a car or a motorboat.
About fifteen minutes passed, halfway, to the Middleton road, the unmistakable red sign of the battery came on to the small dashboard of the car. The charging had stopped, which meant the alternator had packed in. The car made its agonizing journey through the water. I muttered all the good forces on earth to keep us from stalling. I navigated seven cars on either side, all stone dead who had shared my objective.
The stranded drivers were looking at us with awe. Finally, we reached Middleton and my elderly passengers had reached their home. With profuse showering of blessings, they parted company as I turned my little car one hundred and eighty degrees to complete the arduous journey of coming back. Series of stranded cars blocked the Middleton, and in no way, I could have proceeded towards Jawaharlal Nehru road. I kept the engine running and she pushed on. With the same number of cars static on their death bed, I had a fair bit of an idea by now the water level which existed. The engine temperature had gone past the normal and slowly edged towards the mark ‘H’ and reaching the red-line. I prayed as I could figure out, probably the water had moved into the water pump which circulated the water with coolant mix around the engine. Within minutes, I saw the white smoke streaming down the bonnet edge. It was raining so plucked at the wipers but they did not work. Light and ghostly images ran rampant over the water-laden windscreen. I could hardly see it.
I drove on till I reached the drier surface on AJC Bose road and patting the car dashboard, I urged her to munch the remaining four kilometres to our home. By now, all the engine warning system glow signs were burning bright. Several electronic pieces of equipment had died. By some stroke of luck, the engine was running and the wheels were turning. Finally, I reached home.
I parked in front of my house and looked up to see my mother standing for my return. At that instant, the car stopped. I did not get a chance to turn off the keys. The engine died away and within minutes the battery coughed up too, as all the lighting system caved in. She was lifeless, dripping water down all her sides, her mudguards, her bumper. A white glistening metal shape on four wheels which journeyed through hell, respectfully lying like a stone. I could not keep my hand on the hot bonnet, the white smoke was belching away through the sides. She did what she was supposed to do. Like a trained St. Bernard dog, she reached her owner, safe, and died in the process. She never let me down, ever in any precarious situation.
I opened the driver’s door to get inside her. I settled in as I could smell the earthy smell of water, maybe due to the rains. I could smell the heated steel with its petrol fumes as it had condensed after the torridness settled.
Her warmth and care made me drift away on her driver’s seat. A ring of love and protection prevailed. I stayed with her through the rainy night.
From 2004 till 2008, we had stayed in the city of Hyderabad, state of Telangana (now) which was formerly known as Andhra Pradesh, India. Hyderabad is a very lively city with a great history behind it which makes it one of the oldest cities in India. The state has fantastic roads that fan out in all directions and if a motorist wants to drive, a twelve-hour stint can visit many tourist locations. My parents were visiting us for three months right after the summer had ended. We chalked out a plan to visit over the next weekend to a place called Nagarjun Sagar. It is about one hundred and fifty-two kilometres south-west of Hyderabad. The place is famous for its twenty-one sluice gated dam, which stretches over the Krishna river. The other one which makes this place historically important is it’s seat of Buddhism study. On a bright Saturday morning, we set off in our spanking new Maruti Zen LXi. Due to the constant pressure of being a project manager, we could never plan our travel trips so when we managed to get a day or two of the holidays, we filled the gas tank, dumped a travel suitcase, and away we hit the highways.
The Zen was one of the most well-designed cars, fifteen years back, and commanded huge respect for being a trustworthy tour companion.
We had finished our snacks and were mid-way when the engine oil warning sign started to blip on the dashboard console. This meant the engine oil was leaking and the level was slowly going down. This was quite alarming as this meant the frictional forces will soon be in play and the engine temperature would slowly rise, choking the pistons in the cylinders.
We were doing about a hundred-hundred twenty, reduced speed to about a mundane sixty to keep in the range of most economic driving. After about an hour away, and with another seventy kilometres to kill, I stopped and checked the oil level, it had gone down appreciably. We gave ourselves a break of twenty minutes, to cool down the engine and saw the slow dripping of the oil along the lower arm which meant the oil was coming out of the oil filter. I had no special toolset to open the bonnet, nor I wanted to stop over a desolate section of the highway alongside a nearby wood. We started again and maintained a balance of speed and temperature. As has been my good luck with my beauties, my Zen reached us Nagarjuna Sagar guest house intact. I had to get the car fixed as we had a big plan to drive around the dam and explore a few nearby areas. The day temperature typically climbed in these areas to about forty-seven degrees centigrade so we needed the air conditioner running almost non-stop.
After my family settled in the motel, I immediately drove away on the lookout for a garage that could fix the car. I got one, but it was not a typical service station but a roadside mechanic. The man readily agreed and said that he had spare parts for the filter and would take, a maximum of one hour.
I helped him open the filter and after he fixed it, unfortunately, the oil light came back on. He opened up again and spent about an hour more and re-fixed it but the problem persisted on. It was dark by now and asked him if he can look into it one more time. The man said he could not work in the night so he will attend the car early morning. I was very disappointed that our travel was getting slowly compromised.
He promised to keep the oil pan, and all equipment intact and asked me to drive to the guest house for the night. He also agreed to give his own Jeep for two days in case the Zen was not repairable. I thanked him for his kindness.
A long drive, followed with the manual work to fix the car, and the sun beating down for almost two to three hours had made me very tired and while thinking about the car, I fell asleep.
I found myself running into a man, he resembled my friend at Kolkata. He has one of Kolkata’s very plush Maruti Service center. I found myself explaining to him what had happened and our inability to figure out the cause of the oil leak. However, as I heard him, my friend’s voice sounded very faint, and it sounded different. He made a lot of gestures but I could not read them. I kept on telling him, what we had done. The checklists what we ran but he kept his hand outstretched towards something I could not see. I again looked at him and I found what he was showing; the oil pan underneath the car. I asked him, what he meant but hardly I could hear him. I saw myself bending below the car where the oil pan, half-filled with engine oil rested. I reached for it and looked at it, and then again looked up to my friend.
He asked me to put my hand inside the oil. I did what he asked and after running through it, a ring touched my hand. It was about four inches in diameter and was deep gray in color. I fished it out of the oil bath and looked at him, he was not talking but asked me to put that ring into the filter and re-attach it to the car. A glow filled me. A quiver ran through me, and I was completely drenched in my own sweat. All I could see was darkness around me. I heard the air conditioner humming and the fading red night lamp on the wall glowing red. What is this…Where’s my friend? Where am I?
Dear me, I was sleeping.
Goodness me, it was a dream. I was surprised at the distinctness of it. I looked through the window glass and saw the first defused bluish-white light of the early morning. I was excited but not sure what I saw. I got dressed, picked the car keys, and tiptoed out, locking the door behind me. The weather was simply brilliant. The first rays of the streaking sunlight had surfaced over the river Krishna, and the blueness deepening. I ran through the cool breeze towards my car. I got in. The red light glowed like the morning sun. I started her and came to the mechanic’s house where his Jeep stood. To my utter relief, so early in the morning, he was up. I asked him for the oil bath.
He brought it from his house, exactly how I had seen it the last evening. I took it, and kept it under the car, and in went my probing fingers into the murky oil. My heart had missed several beats as I did it. I touched the plastic ring, exactly what I had seen it in my dream, deep gray, about 4 inches in diameter. The mechanic too was surprised to see it. He said, shall we try again. He opened the radiator this time and re-fitted the ring which is called the O-ring, which seals the gap between the screw nut and the filter body. He slowly put back the parts for the eleventh time, I guess.
Poured the two liters of engine oil which we had drained out. I started the engine. Once again, the red engine oil glow warning came back. I kept on looking at it.
The mechanic asked me to keep the engine running for two minutes or more. Eyelashes fixed, my eyes watched on, and with a joy of complete victory, I hugged the mechanic, the red light was gone. I switched off the engine and started her back.
The red light was not there. I paid the mechanic all his dues and drove back.
He stopped me, asking me how did I find out. I kept quiet as he would laugh at me on what had really happened. I told him, that I had the car’s manual with me, where I found the fix for the problem.
As I drove back, I was speechless, no thought crossed my mind. I was convinced that there is some force that connects with our subconscious which tends to unite beads of a system that has torn away due to some sort of wild destructive force. The system always tries to bring back the stability and uses perhaps an ability which is far more powerful than a human being can imagine to put us on a track. It could be bad or good. The object perhaps is the medium, we love from the deep recesses of our soul.
I went back and we finished our journey without a hitch. I held on to my dear car along the winding country highway and with a muted sigh, asked her whether it was she who guided me to root cause, all I could hear was the rhythmic hum of her fluid engine. I will never know.
With my mother, I shared two things – one was driving to distant places and the second was history. And by chance, if it happened to be a fort, we both popped out like a cork from a champagne bottle. She was very lively and in spite of her devout interest, most of the things were a far cry because of her constant pain in her lower vertebral column – she was a patient with acute osteoporosis. In spite of this, I drove her to great distances, and when the pain started, we stopped to take a break. Such was her condition but her spirit of adventure astounded everyone around her.
When we were in Hyderabad, I came to know of her fascination for the Golconda fort which was one of the star attractions.
Every tourist who visited that place also enjoyed Son et lumière, the light and show program which tells about the Kakatiya kings who built the fort on Shepard’s hill around twelfth century AD. I helped her to my Zen and off we went to see the fort and although she was reluctant, I could see the glint in her eyes with excitement. After reaching Golconda, I came to know that they do not allow the visitor’s personal cars inside the premises. The fort is managed by the Indian army and I went up to the commandant asking permission to allow us to take my mother in the car. The officer was very helpful but told me about a challenge that none of us had thought about. There’s no road for a car to go, only a service personnel road, hardly about eleven feet wide which ran over the rampart of the fort. I went up and saw that most of the road was covered with grasses and loose stones.
Only extremely power 4×4 Jeeps can even dare to venture, definitely not a low ground clearance Zen with only 2 wheel drive.
The angle of approach was at fifty degrees, and they refused to give me permission. I pressed on for an hour and told them the plan. I have to do something to show my mother the light and sound show which was almost inside the fort complex and the sitting gallery was way deep inside connected by an arc of a twisty, dusty road to travel.
Finally, I got permission, literally begging the officer. I secured the wheelchair on the roof rack atop the car and with my mother and me, we started to climb the acute angle. At first, the car’s front wheels spun furiously, and we did make grounds but after about six feet of movement, the entire car slid back on the rocky road below. The only way if I can climb was by reversing the car all the way up as the engine gets maximum torque which can be harnessed. I came down, reversed, and started my climb again.
The next fifteen minutes, both of us remembered for the rest of our lives. My mother with her broken body could only see about a slice through the rear glass and settled back, without a sound. I used my mirror, put on the hazard blinker as it was six in the evening and the show started at six-thirty. With the blinking blinkers along with the reversing lights as my guide, I gunned the engine hard. The car shuddered as it rolled on to loose rocks and pebbles, losing traction momentarily. I released the gas pedal, put the handbrake, and back the power alternately as my left hand clutched the seat and my right hand moving the steering wheel.
On either side of the rocky road, there was a fall of about thirty feet and if I had lost control, we both would be dead before we hit the ground within the wrecked metal frame. The Zen screamed, either with annoyance or having victory insight as I pressed hard on the throttle and kept the trees about six inches from the bumper. The car reached half the climb and reached a short plateau. Then came the descent of another hundred fifty meters, almost a slide. The car’s thermostat came on in quick succession as the heat of the engine had increased. With brakes and accelerator interspersing, within a wavy pattern of movement, the car finally landed on the level ground.
There was the roar of claps from somewhere, as I failed to notice the source. Probably, the soldiers. My car and I, both succeeded and we were able to keep the promise of showing Golconda to my mother.
No one could believe, a car of this caliber can do what she did.
What was the secret of this success – Was it the culmination of all the appropriate conditions at the exact time or something else… none of us, the Zen or me, did one single mistake to fail.
We drove down to one of the most inhospitable Himalayan terrains, in the state of Sikkim, India. We wanted to visit the beautiful and treacherous, Yumthang valley. Our Swift took us till Gangtok, capital of the state and from Gangtok to Yumthang, about a hundred thirty kilometres took us close to ten hours. The roads are nonexistent at places, and with the constant landslides, the road remains out of bounds for hours.
The BRO, the Border Roads Organisation does a commendable job of maintaining them at that height. As the road condition is severe, we hired a Tata Sumo, in fairly good condition and made our way. It belonged to a friend of mine so I was able to convince him so that I could drive the hilly roads and take a spare driver if the need came. Yumthang trip needs a full posting, so let me go directly to what happened on our way back. After a grueling ten-hour drive on our way up, on our way down I had given the car to the driver.
At Mangan, which is the midpoint between Gangtok and Yumthang, we broke for lunch. After having Thukpa, and other oriental dishes, typical of the place, we set off. The road and beauty around kept changing from left to right as it hugged the huge hills.
At places, we could not see beyond one kilometre, so had to gear down and driving with caution was the only solution. Mountains are ruthless and do not spare a person who has done a mistake.
My worry or a six sense started warning me as I noticed that the driver was running the car at unnecessarily high speeds, especially around the corners. I told him twice but he had a glazed look in his eyes, and hardly changed his driving. I had hardly spoken a syllable when disaster struck. The driver turned sharp right, throwing the rear skidding across the road, and the rear tire got jammed in thick mud. He veered left, but the Sumo kept its forward movement and grazed against a road stone or a bridge embankment.
The driver flung open the door and ran off, anticipating another hill accident.
I saw for a minute the landslide hit a section of the road which had fallen into a valley below amid trees and grasses. The drop was about three hundred feet and then there was fog so I could not see the end of it. The Sumo lurched and went headlong but slowly and stopped. My family completely froze, thinking the end of it all.
Every movement we made, the car tilted likewise, so I told my family to go at the right rearmost section to hold the Sumo on the roadside and I was in the front seat looking at the depression below. The Sumo creaked as I moved by an inch.
One of the ladies who were present looked at us and said a very touching statement. She said anyone of you had a life beyond today. He or she had to live so the others got saved. Only a six inches of graze had kept us from sliding away and I would not have been around to tell the tale.
Again, this time, not, my own car; however, a hired car saved us from getting wiped off. How do I explain the way vehicles in my life have saved me from abnormal conditions?
These chivalrous ladies who have touched my life have been an indispensable part of my presence on this planet.
Be it a city, or a mountain, they have wrapped around me their protective arms. Is it because I treat them with full respect, look after them as per the manuals are written by their creators. Or, is it something else. For me, the best-loved place is behind the wheel of any vehicle, other than a hearse.
I am convinced that if we love and show our affection to any object, the so-called nonliving ‘thing’, the recipient gives back more than you bargained for. I reckon cars are far more classy and descent than our fellow humans, today.
They may not talk, but provides enough evidence to say
I spread my arms, and bow to the veiled force of gratitude, to these charming ladies who loved me, and to those who accompany us today in our quest for exhilaration.