I love getaways. Mostly because I hate driving in the city. Every time I have to get around within city limits I always take along my trusted driver. But I feel truly free if I have to drive or ride to anywhere outside the city... especially in the summer... which is ironic because I hate summer. It’s hot and unpleasant. But because the days are longer, you can get out earlier in the morning. There’s some level of satisfaction to be had when you make an early escape from the clutches of an impending city gridlock.
Last month I had a chance to get away from the city. I took the Hyundai Elantra on a long drive and was pleasantly surprised. It was the top-of-the-line six-speed manual version and I was amazed with the level of equipment they’d packed into a sub-Rs 20 lakh car. Interior quality is fabulous, the cabin is spacious and comfortable, and it returned 18kpl on diesel. I’ll concede that it’s not the most confidence-inspiring car at high speeds, but I never drive above 100-120kph anyway.
Which reminds me, diesel cars have come a long way when it comes to refinement and NVH levels, haven’t they? I still remember when I got my first car at the age of 22. It was a “company car” i.e. I didn’t pay for it but I got to own it for two years, no strings attached. Or so I thought; there are some things you can’t get away from.
I won’t name the manufacturer because it still sells the second-generation of this model, but I’ve never had one car give me so many problems in my life. The wheel alignment would go haywire every time it went into a pothole or over a small bump. The horn worked only when it wanted to; I had perfected the art of removing the steering hub cover to tinker with the spindly wires and copper plates to get it to work... while driving. One hot afternoon in bad traffic, the air conditioner failed. In a couple of minutes, all the power windows failed too and turned the car into a mobile oven. Another day it decided it wouldn’t let me engage second gear. So I had to drive to the workshop, some 30km away, in first, third and fourth gears.
My arrival at work was always an event; sound and smoke courtesy a squeaky fan belt and thick diesel exhaust fumes. Seeing my embarrassment almost every other day, my friend Hormazd poignantly stated “***a cars are expensive even when they’re free”. I remember I used to get the PUC certificate immediately after getting it serviced. I was sure that if I even let a couple of days pass, the car would fail the test. Yes, it was a free car with fuel and maintenance paid for, but man did it extract a price. It was like a four-wheeled Enfield.
Speaking of PUC, I remember in my college days I’d be stopped by traffic cops and they’d say the three famous words: licence, registration, PUC. I always had all three documents so they’d just check it diligently and let me go. While they were considered an irritant by most, I respected them for sacrificing their health working on polluted and chaotic roads all through the year. There was no getting away from the traffic policeman in Mumbai.
One MLA in Mumbai learnt this a couple of months ago when he was fined for speeding on the Bandra-Worli sea link. Sadly, the petty politician ensured that the honest cop was summoned by the state assembly to explain his “rude behaviour” towards an elected representative. Then, within the state assembly premises, the respected member of the legislative assembly, along with a few colleagues, grievously assaulted this cop.
You know what’s remarkable about this story? That the MLAs thought that they could get away with beating the shit out of a policeman. And you know what? I predict they will. Moral of the story? You can always get away from the city. But if you want to get away with assaulting an officer of the law, you need to first get elected into the temple of democracy.