I still remember the day my dad allowed me to ‘graduate’ from the ancestral rust bucket to our family’s first Maruti 800, a special treat for someone who had no idea how to juggle floor gears. Elated, I remember how I zipped about our sleepy little town on the four wheels of my newly-discovered semi-adulthood in that dinky car, hopelessly outnumbered yet bravely weaving my way through the fat Ambassadors and boxy Fiats of yore.
Glancing up at those burly anachronisms from a few inches above the road, I couldn’t help feeling a wee bit smug. The Mrrooti was where it was at and yes, baby, size did matter! Small was the new big thing. And thus began the great Indian middle-class adventure.
Picnic baskets were smaller but venues were arrived at early; the privacy of the nuclear family was restored, as colonywallahs were refused free rides due to limited legroom — all this as people all around added a new pair of wheels to their lifestyle. So, while the youngest kid of the bunch always got dumped into the boot when baby-four-wheels was pushed for room, on other days the same open ‘dikki’ served as the slightly risky, but much coveted, space from which to dangle your legs while coping with a bar of melting ice-cream.
Later, college weekends in Delhi lazily rolled by on a flattened brown speck people called the 600 — the first model of Maruti to hit the streets way back in the 80s — this one owned by a friend who was only too happy to share her second-hand treasure. For us, that little chocolate miniature meant sweet escape from the daily grind of running after buses, and afforded us the luxury of a few extra winks after a reckless late night.
Although I succumbed to the charms of macho SUVs in my later twenties, the sight of a Maruti 800 will always remind me of what it means to fall in love at first flight. And now the car that marked a turning point in the Indian auto scene is getting ready to turn a corner and disappear into the sunset. Taking a collage of memories along…