Innocence on wheels

It’s finally happening. The Ambassador, that most ubiquitous of vehicles to straddle the streets of our childhood, is staging a dignified farewell. It will exit even from the lives of last politicians enjoying official use of Hindustan Motors’ hip-heavy 1950s mascot. Built to last we thought. Now, a decade short of a platinum jubilee run, it bids goodbye.

How do we so easily let it go? Bow out with neither clamour nor rallying cries of Ab ki bar Ambassador? Wasn’t this much more than just a car?

It was to me. The navy blue model we had was sheer reassurance on wheels. Stately, or as some said, stolid, it spelt dependability and domesticity, simplicity and solidarity. A mobile hub an age ago where shy kids like me met people in easy friendship. Ours never drove only the family. Long before the term “car pool” got coined, my father followed the practice. With a big basic difference: his was a one-way service. The others didn’t have a car.

No solo cruising to South Bombay from Bandra for him. Dad extended an open invitation to people which left us wondering. They weren’t next-door or down-the-road neighbours en route his destination. Far from convenient, a few were ferried via a detour. That meant leaving home at least half an hour earlier for office in Fort. Fetching folks at a tangent from where we lived, he spanned the distance cheerily. Amazed how he chose to literally keep going out of his way, I blurted, “Don’t you feel like a chauffeur?” He said, “Come see why I don’t.”

I did. Ensconced within the Amby’s ample girth, its interiors generous as the man at its wheel, I got first a taste and then my fill – of companionable laughs, shared stories, cosy camaraderie. Not forgetting assorted sights and smells. Fresh flowers carried for someone’s desk. Goldfish feed for a bowl on another work table. Books exchanged but not before I browsed through them before each handover.

We hung out in the same car and hung on to it as well. Like thousands of other Ambyphiles. Repaying our sturdy steed with a loyalty that seldom saw the eyes swerve to covet other cars. Not when this taught us to savour slow living. Grace
over race, majesty amid modernity.

That iconic mode of transport commanded owner’s pride. And it moved in innocent times. We were free to trust in this car with a clean heart. Pick up hitchhikers without expecting to be mugged. Help the stranded with the kindness of strangers. Offer urchins a ride in the rain without heeding mean warnings against delinquents. Roll down the windows to breathe in sea air sans toxins.

To kids today, savvier and snobbier about technology than ever, the Ambassador is a hoot. Too square, too ponderous, too lumbering; nothing sleek, svelte or swift about it. Actually, the Amby isn’t namby. They are. Hit-and-run Audi audacity fuelling their mad need for speed (something earlier hefty wheels could never oblige with luckily).

I felt fully safe in that cavernous space. A small medallion on our dashboard glowed softly. Seasons of sunlight shafts smoothed an already serene pair of faces it sported: one young, one not. St. Christopher was carrying the Christ child across dark waters. Patron saint of travellers, protector of all passengers packing those seats, he watched over us with benign gaze.
Thank you MHN 1431. Grand old ladies like you should’ve ambled on...

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens.

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