‘Pantvati stayed with us for 11 years after that accident’

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Illustrations: Vikram Nongmaithem
Illustration: Vikram Nongmaithem

In the sepia days, when tweeting was for birds and Mario Bros was the ps4 for teenagers, my neighbours gathered around a white gleaming Premier Padmini that had crashed against our compound wall. In those days, a Fiat was as prized a possession as a Maserati is today, and no one could understand what heartless fiends would allow their car to be mutilated and then abandon it. I, all of 13, joined them, shaking my convent school plait in rhythm to their morning titters.

My best friend then came along, “Isn’t that your new car?”

I muttered a curse at my school bus for being late. As the crowd turned to look at me, my oblivious ex-best friend continued, “What happened?”

How could I explain what had happened without sounding utterly and completely… well… inane? Yesterday began with a promise to be good. Our first family car, nicknamed Pantvati, was delivered to us amid much cheer and jubilation. There had been general consensus (a rarity really) among my father, my mother, my brother and me that the motor deserved to be taken for a spin after dinner. That night, my father sat behind the wheel for a full minute and a half, before declaring that the road, the potholes, the sloping Malabar Hills, the missing streetlights and lack of night-vision goggles were getting in the way of his driving, a familial habit of daily melodrama that each of us took turns at. My mother, forever the enthu cutlet, took over and we started along Napean Sea Road, before returning to the government colony of Hyderabad Estate.

A final slope had to be mounted. And that’s when things began to get hazy.

Pantvati decided it was time to take the Pants for a different kind of ride. So she suddenly stopped and refused to budge forward. My mother braked, accelerated, started and restarted the engine. The car stayed put. So we did what every other family used to do those days: we got out of the car and began to push. And we pushed and we pushed until — lo and behold — Pantvati crawled forward. Still, she was enormously heavy, and we decided it would help if my mother got out of the car as well. Tentatively she did, pushing the car with one hand and stirring the wheel with the other. We continued shoving and thrusting and huffing and puffing, till we reached the top of the downward slope that led to our building.

We’re home, we shouted, in unanimous euphoria, knowing Pantvati would now glide down to our building and our efforts for that night would be over. We gave a final shove to the car. Pantvati began rolling forward, with alarming momentum, and it was only then we realised that there was no one inside the car to apply the brakes. There was a mad, confused scramble as we ran towards Pantvati, who then swerved and crashed loudly into the compound wall.

After the ensuing silence, we laughed. Not because we could afford to. Far from it. My parents — on their government salary — would have to dig into their savings for the next two months to cover for this expensive mistake. There would be mechanics, policemen, garage owners, disapproving neighbours and some unwanted attention to deal with.

They knew all this, my parents did, and still they said, “It’s good in a way. At least we don’t have to search for a parking spot now.” The car would remain where it was. “But everyone will see it like this!” my brother and I protested. “It’s okay to let others see you make mistakes,” my parents replied.

For long after that night, my family came to be known as the Padmini Crashers. But people soon forgot, their memories embezzled by their own problems. And we? We drove our Padmini for 11 more years. We even rechristened her Panvati, and she never, not even once, stalled on a slope again.

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