India’s first Maruti 800 car, which gave its owner Harpal Singh and his wife Gulshanbeer Kaur a celebrity status, is dying a slow death outside the couple’s Green Park residence in Delhi with nobody to take care of it after they passed away.
The car, whose keys were handed to Harpal Singh by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on December 14, 1983, has not been used for one-and-a-half-years.
Harpal Singh receiving the keys to the first Maruti 800 car from former prime minister Indira Gandhi. (Raj K Raj/ HT File Photo)
It now has the hallmarks of an abandoned car: rusting with weed growing around it.
Harpal passed away in 2010 and two years later, his wife Gulshanbeer Kaur too died. The couple’s green park residence remain locked since then. Their two daughters live in separate areas of South Delhi with their husbands.
“Even after mom’s death, the family members used to go to the house to start the car and take a short drive in the inner colony lane, but for the past one-and-half years it has not been used at all,” said Harpal Singh’s elder son-in-law Tejinder Ahluwalia, 65.
Harpal Singh (L) with his wife Gulshanbeer Kaur with their Maruti 800. (Raj K Raj/HT File Photo)
Maruti took the car in 2008 to celebrate 25 years of the brand.
"After that it has shown no interest towards its first baby", said Ahluwalia. “We even wrote letters around a couple of years back to the company to do something to save this piece of history but they have not shown any interest.”
The spokesperson of Maruti Suzuki said, “It is indeed very special, as it was our first customer car. Mr. Harpal Singh had maintained it with great care. If the family now wants us to buy it back, we are open to discuss with them.”
The abandoned car now has weed growing around it. (Virendra Singh Gosain/ HT Photo)
Remembering the day when Indira Gandhi handed over the key to Harpal at a function in Gurgaon in which the family members were also present, Ahluwalia said, “Rajiv Gandhi was also present there. He knew my father-in-law as they both worked in Indian Airlines. The moment it was announced through the lottery that he will get the first car, Rajivji jumped with excitement and hugged him.”
On December 15, 1983, Harpal Singh along with his wife, both the daughters planned a trip to Meerut where Tejinder Ahluwalia lived.
They halted at two places on the way when more than thousand people gathered to see the car. Even in Delhi, it was quite a sight and people gathered to get a glimpse of the car during the initial years of the car’s launch.
Harpal Singh's family: (From left to right) Govinder Pal Kaur, Tejinder Ahluwalia, Amardeep Walia, Sunita Walia. (Virendra Singh Gosain/ HT Photo)
“It is sad to see the car in this state now as it was very close to my father, secondly it has a history behind it, since we cannot drive this car anymore due to environmental norms in force, the Maruti must come forward and keep it in a museum or any other place as a showpiece,” said Harpal Singh’s younger daughter Sunita Walia, 50.
Harpal Singh’s younger son-in-law Amardeep Walia, 55, said, “The car is still not in a very bad condition, it needs some cosmetic repair and it will start running. But if it is kept idle it might become defunct, its makers should save this car as it is not just any other vehicle but a symbol that how the first car made by them stood the test of the time.”
Harpal had sold his fiat car when he brought the Maruti 800. This new car he drove all his life. When Maruti Zen was launched, family members advised him to upgrade to the Zen but he flatly refused.
“There had been many times when it carried eight people. We were surprised how a small car could adjust so many people in it,” recalled elder daughter Govinder Pal Kaur, 58.