So, the other day my mother says to me, “Why don’t you buy a car?” She says it earnestly, not in that “Fine, if you’re not getting married at least buy a car to prove you’re not a dangerous subversive” way. “A car?” I ask, perplexed.
It is well known that I’m the wrong person to tell, with that fake hint of casualness, “I’m in the blue Skoda” because I will have to ask sincerely, not in order to mock your snobbery, “What type of blue?” For some reason — I’m sure there’s a Latin term for this disorder — I am genuinely unable to tell one car from another. If I had a car, I would never be able to recognise it, leave alone drive it.
“Ya, you should buy a small, little car.” She says ‘small, little’ as if to suggest that if it’s a very small car, it wouldn’t be like actually having one. So, fine, yes, I’m the type that doesn’t want a car, though I frequently dream I am driving one with the style of Sophia Lauren in Sardinia. But well, we know what that means.
Maybe it’s the silliest way of clinging to the past there is, but a damn fine past it was too, my well-spent, productively rebellious youth. If I’d continued living in Delhi where I went to college, I would have had no choice but to get a car. But here, in Bombay, the city where I became a grown up, the charm was that I could hop on a train, a bus, an auto anytime and go anywhere.
It contributed to the feeling of free, easy, egalitarian mobility that is fundamental to any good city — the sense that whoever you are you can, literally and figuratively, go places. I never felt so haute and city-chick as when I raised my arm, calling “Taxi!” and one stopped for me.
Bombay was also one of the few big cities where you could take an auto- rickshaw into the driveway of some five-star hotels. No longer. If you’re in an auto, you have to get off at the gate, ignoring contemptuous looks from the man in uniform there and walk up those steep driveways, getting uncivilised amounts of exercise and risking death by chauffeur. Recently a hotel even stopped my taxi at the gate and transferred me to the hotel’s own small little car for the final hallowed stretch of money’s driveway.
Even in my very ordinary middle-class building — we don’t even have marble foyer and all that and the intercom mostly doesn’t work — the building society, for a while, attempted to ban the entry of autos. What? Do we, who are car-less, have lighter suitcases and grocery bags?
Are we less lazy than the carwalas? This automobile caste system has become pervasive, as we go from a city of people who left their cars at home, because the public transport system was so good, to a city of car provincialities. People stuck in shiny metal bubbles What’s App away, present deodorant to their drivers, and ignore the rest of the world pressing its nose against the windows, in a city where public transport is a daily war.
No wonder the Bandra-Worli sea link, has a new rule that tickets will be issued to cars, not people. If you’re in a taxi, the only public transport allowed on it, you cannot use a return fare. You have to buy two singles and so, be penalised for not owning a car. Welcome to the city of the future — where cars are more important than people.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.