Sitting behind the wheel, waiting for the ‘All Terrain Racing Event’ to kickstart, Parul Chadha, the only female driver in the competition, felt spooked by the presence of boys passing sexist comments from all corners. She looked around only to find them staring at her. Still, this engineering student who resides in Pitam Pura, maneuvered the car with gusto and drove for the next three hours to clear the endurance test. Those who snubbed her were found cursing their cars’ engines on their way to the finishing line.
A third year student of B.Tech. (mechanical and automation) at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology (IGIT), the only girls’ engineering college in Delhi, Chadha’s a part of the 10-member college team, which made an ‘all-terrain car’. This vehicle, designed and engineered at the college workshop, fetched the team the prize money of one lakh rupees at BAJA Asia 2010, held in Indore early this year. The competition which saw participation from teams of many engineering colleges, tests the vehicles which are designed and built by the students themselves. The IGIT team stood 13th among more than 100 teams.
The endeavour started in IGIT in March 2009 when students studying in second and third year, dreamt to make a robust car which would vroom past all other competitors at the BAJA Asia 2010. The dream was hard to accomplish owing to competition by strong contenders from prestigious engineering colleges such as IITs, NSIT and NITs.
The girls invested endless hours in the workshop which would stretch from morning till nine in the evening. Sometimes the security guard would pester them to go home. “We skipped lectures, sacrificed our weekends and even worked on Diwali eve to fulfill our dream,” says Komal Sethi, the captain of the team.
The biggest obstacle the girls faced was in arranging funds. Students didn’t receive any money from their college, so eventually, each girl pooled in her own savings and collected Rs 300,000. That done, getting spare parts was the next challenge. So they would visit spare parts market in Mayapuri to make purchases. Initially on such occasions, shopkeepers would be amused to witness this sight of young women shopping for car parts. “They don’t understand the technical terms which we had studied,” says Chadha. “But it didn’t take us long to learn their lingo. Later, when we would go there and ask for chimta (suspension), makhi (nut with a hole used in the reverse gear) and mundi (knuckle).”
The most memorable moment for the girls was when the car rolled for the first time. “Only wheels had been put together under the body of the car and no proper machinery was put in place,” says Sethi. “But as the car moved a few meters, it seemed as if our baby had taken its first steps.”
The girls spent five days at the event in Indore. In the beginning, nobody considered them serious contenders. It was only when they broke into the Top 20 and passed the endurance test that they were noticed.
“That was the only time when we used to go around saying to boys, ‘Hey you, didn’t even cross two laps’. It was the most exciting thing to have happened to us,” says Chadha. Describing the moments when she was driving during the endurance test, she says, “I thoroughly enjoyed the last lap of drive.”