My Dad’s first car was a 1958 Standard Super 10. The previous owner was a senior police officer, so my Dad tended to get waved through checkpoints and suchlike on his frequent road trips. A few years later, KLT 9006 became MEO 5860 when he moved to Bangalore, got a wife and a brace of kids. It also changed from black to white. “The Standard”, as my Dad refers to it, remained our car until I was sixteen. In and around Whitefield, it was iconic, practically a surname.
It’s gone everywhere and ferried everyone – long-distance journeys, school runs, doctor and vet runs, birthday parties, picnics, railways stations, bus terminals and airports at all times of the day and night (it got its windshield broken in a riot on one of these trips), social occasions in all corners of Bangalore,. And of course the mechanic. As our best friend said (they had a Standard Herald of similar vintage): “Until the Maruti came we didn’t even know that cars were supposed to run continuously, without needing constant tending.”
We knew how and when to pour water in the radiator before we were tall enough to see into the engine. We knew about batteries and distilled water and fan belts. We knew how cars worked; we saw it with our own eyes. And where today’s cars have a neat package of basic tools, my dad had a whacking great toolbox and a pile of rags that was essentially bandages and plaster. “Palani’s workshop” in Ulsoor where we had gold-card, frequent-flyer status is now a Diagnostic Centre.
The next car was The Tank, a granduncle’s 1978 Ambassador that we bought after he died. My brother and dad drove it from Calicut to Bangalore in pouring rain, the trip immortalised by my brother’s article in Autocar India. In between, there were assorted hard-bitten Mahindra Jeeps and a Hindustan Trekker that came via my Dad’s job. One of these was my first driving experience. I had to practically stand on the clutch to get it to move.
In 1999, my Dad got his first new, straight-out-of-showroom car – a Maruti Omni. This one did a lot of long-distance trips, too. A second Omni came with air-conditioning and power windows. Now there’s a Hyundai Santro, his first automatic, which I think is the favourite car after the Standard. He certainly treats it like a pet dog.
He learnt to drive in government jeeps on the treacherous hill and forest roads of the Nilgiris. He has fascinating stories of rogue elephants and stray horses. Cashew farming in southern Kerala, fish farming in paddy fields, potato projects in Kodaikanal (“doesn’t taste like my potatoes”), oranges in Kotagiri (“not as sweet as my oranges”). At the time, the agriculture department was also responsible for the welfare of tribal villages – this consisted of giving them the benefit of agricultural research, cultivation methods, seeds and conservation, but also seemed to include wider, less defined support services including rescue from and/or condolences for marauding elephants. I wonder what happened to all this. It seems more desirable than turning forest tribes into handicraft factories or tourist attractions, but I suppose time marches on and all that.
The “Super 10”, as my brother and I call it, had been running for 31 years when we sold it. Apparently it still is, there has been the occasional sighting. My Dad is 73 and has been roadworthy (more or less) for about 47 years. At the end of this month, he needs to get his license renewed. We all have our fingers crossed - his driving license is not just necessary to him, it's also in some fundamental way important to us.
Photos: One is our car, as you might have guessed. The other is the original brochure for a 1958 Standard Super 10.
The House That Built Me, Miranda Lambert, 2010
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