Not everyone can carry off a yellow car. But someone did, just this past weekend, when my mother sold my beloved old 1997 Zen. She was called Peeli, she was sunflower yellow, and I drove her for eight years before my mother said she was having sleepless nights thinking about breakdowns on lonely Delhi roads, and insisted on getting a new car.
I learned to drive with Peeli, returning from the Automobile Association of Upper India with my licence and setting off on my first solo mission to the perils of Connaught Place with my heart in my mouth. We had many adventures together, in the company of a battered Eicher map with which I navigated the unfamiliar streets of Delhi. I drove her all over town at all hours of day and night, outraced nasty men drivers, gave lifts to the deserving, bashed her up when a cow stepped out on the road and caused a three-car pileup in which she and I were third. I drove her to my first job.
She was far from perfect. Her ceiling peeled off from inside in front of the steering wheel, so for a few months I had to drive around holding it up with one hand, because that was easier than getting it fixed; the speaker wires were loose and made a horrible crackle; the antenna rusted; and the carburettor always needed cleaning so the engine kept dying. The back seat was littered with music cassettes, old bills and papers, the odd bit of forgotten clothing, and books that I read at traffic lights.
She was perfect.
We got a new car in 2005, a silver Zen, but, being a well-adjusted adult, I stipulated that I’d use it only on the condition that Peeli stay with us. My mother sighed in that way she does when she’s reminding herself that I am her child and she loves me, and agreed.
The new Zen had power steering, and power windows, and a back windscreen wiper, and fog lights; when I first took the wheel, I felt like a country yokel come to the big city for the first time. I quickly grew used to my flashy new lifestyle, but sometimes, late in the night, I lay in bed and missed the simple old country ways, when making a U-turn involved a good upper-body workout. After Peeli retired, I liked just knowing that she was around, a well-preserved old lady resting her tyres in the dim coolness of the basement garage, coming out of retirement occasionally when we had guests or when my siblings came to stay.
Then, the other week, I went to Spain, where, in addition to eating vast quantities of fantastic food, I had the profound thought that ‘hola’, pronounced ‘ola’, which is Spanish for ‘hello’, happens to be Hindi for ‘hail’, which in English is also a fortuitous, if archaic, form of hello. Anyway, I called my mother from Spain to ask if she wanted anything from the duty free shops. She said, just like that, “I must tell you that I sold Peeli.” After a slight pause marked by the small sound of my heart breaking, I told her I wasn’t getting her anything from the duty free shops after all. She sighed in her special way, and said, “Don’t make this harder. We have to let go. She’s gone to a very sweet family, and I told them how sad you would be, and they will take very good care of her.”
I have the gentleman’s name, address and telephone number. I asked my mother to let him know that I’m going to replace the front licence plate and keep the original. She sighed in her special way, and agreed.