I get asked a lot of ‘personal’ questions about my lifestyle. One set I get all the time (and I’m happy to answer) is: why don’t I drive in a city like Dubai, where shimmying down heavy-metalled roads is a dream? Also, look at all the cars you will be able to afford: a Hyundai Verna or a Honda Civic is a semi-luxury model in India, whereas here it’s value-for-money, so you can bask in a sense of the “good life”, at no extra cost. Finally, driving a car around is way cheaper than cabbing it everywhere.
To the first part, I say I’m too intimidated by speed here, so I’ve never been an eager beaver in the self-driving department. For the second, I don’t care what car I’m driving — or being driven in — as long as it gets me from point A to point B, doesn’t break down in the middle of nowhere and is not dirty. Sitting inside a Bentley, for instance, has as much — or as little — charm as it does when I hop into an RTA taxi.
And for the third, I find it weird that those who swear by luxury cars that cost them “an arm and a leg” (their words, not mine) are giving me a lecture on being economical. A bit rich, right?
Unlike cricket (which I detest) that gives way to debates, cars — the fancy ones at least — give way to statements. Most people in Delhi (I say Delhi specifically because it’s the one place that has a somewhat unhealthy relationship with ‘designer’ cars — or what they assume are ‘designer’ cars because, to my mind, they are all bulk-produced) would say that if you are seen getting out of an expensive, on-trend car, you will not be judged poorly like you would be if you were getting out of a cheap set of wheels. If I’m standing at a red light near a busy Defence Colony crossing, with only one thought — when is the light going to turn green? — am I really going to cast even half a glance at the box standing next to mine and try and suss out its label, and then judge the human in the driver’s seat? In fact, I’m more likely to look longingly at wily bicycles that were somehow sliming out of the traffic situation by slinking into a bylane and avoiding the snarl.
There is something called a sunroof. At the push of a button, the car ceiling glides away creating an atrium-like situation. So, once a friend — while he was driving and I was sitting next to him — suddenly opened up this sunroof, and a bright patch of light beamed in on us. “Why did you do that, it’s so annoying,” I said, while he responded with a terse: “You are not supposed to say anything — just soak it in, it’s an experience.”
Then I got it. When these little flaunts happen, you are supposed to be part of the ambience: you should, ideally, snuggle into the ergonomic seat, lay your head on the rest and look up into the sky — with a knowing smile of shared values.
A well-heeled person I know has a similar disregard for vehicle brands — maybe it’s because he doesn’t drive himself (“The reason I love my snazzy car is because it gives me greater driving pleasure,” a friend had scoffed at me when I tried to tell her about the meaninglessness of auto brands), and banks entirely on his chauffeur… always has. One time, around the beginning of the new millennium, he was given a recently-launched Sonata — which, at that time, was being marketed a “high-end, luxury” car in India — by his company. It immediately became a talking point within our circle. A couple of weeks later, at a dinner, I asked him (only because I thought I should since everyone else was talking about it), “Hey, I heard you got a new car!” I couldn’t bring myself up to adding “fancy” before “new car”.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “It’s a Santro.”
“But Santro is the entry-level one, which is almost as basic as the Maruti 800 that I have,” I exclaimed.
“Really?” he seemed genuinely confused. “I believed I had been given a Santro, but it’s quite fancy so I guess I’m making a mistake. Anyway, what is a Sonata?”
“It’s the new hot thing everyone is talking about,” I offered. “And it’s the one you happen to be riding these days.”
“You know, I never cared about car brands… for me, a car is something that gets me from point A to point B,” he began.
Since then, I’ve harboured a secret crush on him.