(Published in Business Standard on September 21, 2013)
A salesperson—let’s call him Manu—gets out of the car. He gets out, and gets out some more, and keeps getting out, like a fire hose uncoiling from a hydrant, which would make sense if we had fire hydrants on the streets, which we don’t because this is Delhi and we barely have streets #elections2013. The point is, Manu is very tall, so getting out of a car takes him much longer than the average human being. This is irrelevant to the story, but then the story isn’t world news either.
He is getting out of the car so that he can vacate the driver’s seat for me. When I have taken the wheel, he re-coils himself into shotgun position and finds white-knuckled purchase on his door handle—a tic developed by driving instructors and car salesmen and other people who spend their time being driven by unproven drivers.
I’m test-driving the vehicle. I’m doing this because my mother has taken it into her head that my current vehicle is a piece of junk. Having encouraged the purchase of my current vehicle as a great improvement in safety over its predecessor, she has now come to believe that it is merely a hideous accident waiting to happen that will reap the life of her daughter, so young and full of promi---oh wait, that’s the other daughter. Anyway, the point is, she thinks it’s a piece of junk whose fate lines look like truck tyre marks all over it.
A piece of junk—my Baby Boss (that’s her name, don’t ask)! Red! With a chunky wheel grip! And a cute backside and silly snouty nostril-lights! And a thingy on the dashboard I never worked out the genus and species of but it was supposed to make her look sporty!
She is getting on in years, though (Baby Boss, not my mother). So I test-drive this new car. And I like it. It’s sleek and elegant, and has astonishing new technology that allows me to manipulate both side mirrors with a button, instead of having to throw off my seat belt and lunge across the car. I feel like a tribal villager in New York.
Still, I’m not all naïve. On my first date with this car I’m evaluating it not as a flighty, love-hungry millennial but with the cool appraisal of an older Gen-Xer. It totally passes all cool appraisal tests, so I give in and fall in love and bob’s your uncle, new car.
But part of the deal is that I have to give them Baby Boss. Taking on this nice shiny new thing means letting go of my beloved old dinged-up thing. It’s like getting a puppy—not because your loyal old dog has died, but just because its hips are a bit arthritic and you like the new puppy and you can’t have two dogs. It feels wrong and mean. And yet.
I take out all my stuff—dance shoes, thousand-year-old receipts, wrist brace, earphones, CDs—and give Baby Boss a kiss on her dusty paintwork. My life with her—a bunch of midlife rollercoasters—flashes before my eyes. I know the history of each scratch and dent on her. I know which bits of her are not original. I know how she does on a speed bump and on the highway and in the rain. I know what I did in the back seat. And, um, the front seat.
A car, like a phone or a laptop, is an extension of yourself, a repository of history, a Proust-like madeleine. Goodbye Baby Boss. I wish I could box you up and stick you in a loft to open in my dotage like an old letter. Happy trails, and watch the trucks.