Part-by-part and day-by-day our Zen is going away from us. Remember Maruti Zen, the oldest model? It’s a 15-year-old car I got married to, after my husband bought it as a young adult with his father’s hard-earned money. We know it’s going away because every month it needs to be upped, with a part needing replacement or some other dying permanently. The engine is coughing with over-use, protesting at every ignition now. The belts screech as if in pain every time the engine starts. The rear windows are getting jammed like arthritic knees. Mysterious groans of ageing are heard through every trip. And the AC? It’s 45 degrees in Delhi, what can you expect?
Some of you will not even remember what this car looks like, while others may have missed noticing these tiny cars amidst the monsters ruling the road roost. The only people who do give it public attention are the two cops at the Gol Dak-khana round-about. Every once a week, en route Connaught Place, they stop our Zen to ask with a smile, ‘RC, please? Just checking if this should have been scrapped already.’ Confidently, the Registration Certificate is shown to the uniformed men. It’s not time. It's in its twilight days, not good night time yet!
Ah, our Zen has had its days!
Once upon a time a boy just entering college with a car was hot property for hitch-hikers, and his parents the ideal providers, God bless them! The Zen has driven his family to countless places. Then, it made space for me like a loving mother-in-law does. The front seat became mine, the gear-shaft the resting place for my hand, over his. (Oh, why did they have to ban tinted window screens?) This small car has been filled beyond capacity like our fridges, with a chirpy family going to Mussoorie, or a couple enjoying the beauty of silence driving on the green Ridge Road, in Delhi. We have even shifted our first 'home' from NACEN, Faridabad to West Delhi over three choc-a-block trips to and fro, without a truck! The Zen has been a cause for neighbour's envy too, though only when it came to finding a parking slot in fancy Khan Market. It has also stood by us in our most difficult times, say speeding to a hospital in Dehradun, 270 kilometers away in the middle of the night. I remember I was in my second trimester then. And it made us reach just in time, which it still does, but then the nagging thought remains that it has numbered days on its hand.
Why are my husband and I losing sleep over the inevitable change of car? We must be like those typical middle class kids from the 90s ...
… kids who knew not what class meant, except the one we were studying in in school with tenacious loyalty to our sections – A, B, C. We were so free of frills, that a string attached to a polythene or possessing a pile of the flattest pithoo stones in the colony meant having enough. No, having it all! No one was sitting and comparing who had a fancier Geometry case, or who wore branded shoes. Old habits die hard. While the world gradually started speeding past our Zen in shinier cars, we stuck to truly feeling that we have what we need.
Did our Zen keep us grounded? It did literally, because it’s a low chamber and speed breakers are not for them! Close family started hinting it’s time we felt embarrassed and the salaam of guards at Gymkhana continues halfhearted. As for us? We still feel free of it all, just like we kept our Zen free of labels (even that red ‘Government of India’ sticker sarkari people slap on their very personal wagons). Freedom, from the race towards glamour and social mobility that is supposed to go only one way – upwards, is delicious. It's the most important ingredient for Contentment. But you must think us crazy, isn’t it?
Our son has with utmost happiness over-turned the ‘Baby on Board’ to now visibly read ‘Child on Board’ on the rear windscreen. He loves our Zen, calls it a racing car, but doesn’t love that he’s no longer a valid applicant for sitting in my lap in the front seat. The other day some friends I made in the world of blogging were over for the first time. While I was changing my shoes to go drop them to the Metro station, I over-heard my 4-year-old telling them a story. ‘And then, papa pushed the car and mumma sat inside to start it. I sat on the bonnet.’ This was a few weeks back, right outside the Café Coffee Day on Janpath. We had to change the Zen’s battery; a bright green replaced the older one. I smiled at my friends then, not knowing if they were contemplating taking a rickshaw to the station instead, but happy to learn that the kid had formed a memory – and his too, like ours, was about riding high on our Zen.
That 15-year-rule of scrapping may not be valid soon, but time is ripe to change our loyal friend for a new one. There’s a child to be picked from school every day. There are social obligations to attend to every weekend. And there are emergencies … ones we never see coming at hours when all we can do is depend on the car to make us reach where we just need to. The old has to make way for the new. Has to. And we’re at it. Looking and looking.
But apart from nostalgia for the simpler, string-free life, and the trembling feeling of seeing out-turned empty pockets, we’re scared about another thing... Will we become runners in the urban rat race of features-packed swankiness? Will a car become more to us than just a means of transport – reliable, comfortable and a necessity?
Will we lose, with our Zen, the zen-like freedom with which we drove this mini-dinosaur with not a care in the world? Now that remains to be seen. The only definitive for now?