The King (of Indian Roads) is Dead… Long Live the King

These days the newspapers are awash with so many happening and eye-catching articles, that it would not be too hard to miss this one: Hindustan Motors, the makers of the iconic Indian car, the Ambassador, is closing shop. Plummeting sales, steady refusal to move with the times and redesign the engine and looks, and a myopic leadership entangled in bureaucratic inertia, and a generation that has grown disillusioned of the bulky “family vehicle”, in addition to a plethora of other reasons has brought the so-called “King of Indian Roads” to a grinding halt.

The white Amby, with the blaring “hooter” and spinning red-light atop it has long been a cherished achievement reserved for the patricians and aristocrats. However, the signs were starting to show. Once the pride of the bureaucrat, the ride for the Indian Prime Minister and the workforce under the title, it was silently displaced by a BMW several years ago. Aside from the streets of West Bengal, the car was becoming a rarity. In all my months in Delhi, I hardly ever chanced upon an Amby that was not on a bureaucratic mission.

The White Car Fetish
The White Car Fetish

There will be no lamentations as very few people of our generation even consider this bulky juggernaut a worthy vehicle. In an age where hatchbacks were taking over, Hindustan Motors failed to refurbish the face of their company. The newspaper reports say that not only were there design and marketing issues, apparently, this once-iconic company was being managed in a really shoddy manner. Towards the end, they were producing only five cars a day with a factory strength of almost 2600 in their employment. An unsustainable venture by any estimates.

I have enjoyed riding this spacious car since I was a kid. Not only do we have one in our family, there used to be several when I was growing up, which were used for multiple purposes. And of course, anyone who has ever had a bone-rattling ride on the Kolkata cabs knows what it feels like to ride one of these vehicles!

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That’s Me: Traditional Dress, Traditional Car

If you are wondering why the demise of what has become an unfit-for-the-age car has caused me such heartache, let me just say that this is not just the end of the road for the car. It is the end of the road for a wonderful bit of history. Established in 1942, the Hindustan Motors company was a powerful, indigenous automobile maker. Second in age to only Toyota, as far as I know (I may be wrong), the company bore a proud heritage of being the makers of automobiles from a pre-independence era. The Ambassador was a spin-off from the Morris Oxford III, and replaced its predecessor, the Morris Oxford II, also known as the Hindustan Landmaster.

Hindustan Landmaster car
Hindustan Landmaster (1957); Credits Deepak AB on Flickr

What is striking is that from the very first generation, the so called Mark 1, the Ambassador has really not undergone too many changes. While I have been a huge fan of the round headlights, and a design that you could identify from a mile off, the lack of commitment to bringing the car up to the required standards was what killed it in the end. Honestly speaking, it is a huge car, with an unparalleled boot space, leg space and the power to stand its ground on the harsh Indian roads. But it needed to upgrade with the times. Maybe not get those super-ugly, “eye-shaped” lights, but it needed to show that there was a future to owning or buying the car. The company failed in providing purchasers with that faith.

Now, most of these cars will act as the rickety taxis in Kolkata till they are eaten away by the sands of time. I shall keep longing for the Amby of old, the one with the steel, round horn, the sofa-like seats, the miles of leg space, the roar of the huge engine when kicked into life, and most of all, the manual transmission gear attached to the side of the steering wheel. It is an extremely impractical car to own now, but somehow, I have always had a thing for the Hindustan Motors products. But still, if I ever manage to wrangle it, my HM car of choice, would be a juiced up Contessa Classic with an Isuzu under the hood, and not the lumbering, loyal, and ever-ignored, yet, much-beloved old Ambassador.

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The Upside Down Pram: A Sudden Encounter in Kolkata

A couple of days ago I was out on a social do with my parents and it was getting late when we started out from the event. It was a weekend midnight, and Kolkata also happened to be hosting a major cricket tie. Thus, on the way back, the roads were understandable deserted – a pleasant deviation from the usual din and bustle of traffic in Kolkata.

So as our little black Santro (now that the state’s CM also drives the same car as me, I have no shame in admitting it!) trundled back homewards, I suddenly spotted a small car ahead of me. At first it looked to me to be a Beetle, the signature Volkswagen product, but somehow it seemed different. The difference became apparent when we pulled up alongside it: it was a Citroen CV6. I did not have a camera handy and hence was unable to click a pic. It was a blue car and seemed to be in good shape.

Citroen 2CV6 80-42-VM

It is one of the cars I liked and have read a bit about, and hence decided to see if I could track down the car in the city: no luck. If you know anyone in Kolkata who drives a Citroen 2CV, convey my warm appreciation to them.

Anyways, back to the story of this car. In today’s age of Tata Nano and Nissan Micra, economy cars which are fuel efficient are all the rage. This car was probably the baap of the concept. the 2CV was specifically made for the rural and agrarian people. Produced between 1948 and 1990, this mass-produced car was one of the few models which remained relevant through such a long period, one in which automobile engineering grew in leaps and bounds. The car was uncompromisingly built, economically designed and was a no-frills affair overall. But I am no engineer, so I will not go into the specific details of the built of the car.

Instead, I will dwell on the numerous stories and legends that surrounds this particular car.

For example, during the Nazi invasion of France, the Citroen bosses were worried that the Fuhrer’s men would realize the power of this simple, economic vehicle as a war element. They buried the entire project involving the whole stable of the small cars, and instead worked in the background, trying to smoothen out the flaws that had cropped up during the designing of the prototype.

citroen_proto

The war years were spent literally in designing redesigning the car to attain the highest levels of minimalist efficiency. It is supposed to have been built so that two tall farmers, wearing hats, could sit on the back seat with 100 kg of farm produce, while the car chugged along a healthy 60 km/hour across non-road terrain, all the while maintaining a steady drive without breaking any eggs in a basketful that the farmers carried.

Whew. That was specific!

The car could make an impressive 100 km on 3 liters of gas, thereby adding to its fuel efficiency.

After launching, the car was predicted to fail by the pundits. But, the market proved them wrong. From 4 a day, productions rose to 400 a day, yet a wait period of upto 5 years was reported. Pre-owned 2CVs fetched more price than a new one thanks to the lengthy waiting period.

The design of the Citroen was nothing fancy. It was bare bones essential. It was one of the first cars to popularize the use of a large box rear section, which went on to become all the rage with Morris Minors and Renaults later on.

It also had a hatchback form, which was the one I saw that night. I must say it was embarrassing to mistake it for a Beetle, but hey, I am rookie, I will be getting there slow, eh!

Thanks to its almost masochistic minimalism, the car had unflattering nicknames galore: the flying dustbin (a play on the Flying Dutchman, I believe), the upside down pram, the tin snail, dolly, little freak, etc. etc.

The Citroen 2CV underwent a large number of modifications and customizations, and the range of hybrid cars it produced seems to be mind boggling. However, one of the facts which marks a special place for this car is this is one of the first cars that revolutionized off-road, dirt-driving. While today that is the realm of the bigger beasts, the SUVs and the like, the humble, little old 2CV may well have been their predecessor!

Citroen_2CV_front_20090329

A beautiful car, this also has the rare privilege of being one of the few, hand picked cars in which James Bond made his escapes. Usually the chase sequences are frequented by snazzy Mercs and Aston Martins, but in “For Your Eyes Only”, the spy with the license to kill drove away in a yellow “little freak”!

What? You don’t believe me? Here, take a look:

 

And dear reader, if you are from my neck of the woods, and you have an inkling who this car belongs to, care to drop me a line, please?

ECFMG ups USMLE Fees for IMGs

Got this unsavory bit of email from the ECFMG Reporter the first thing this morning:

The examination fees for USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK will increase from $740 to $780 for each exam registration. The examination fee for Step 2 CS will increase from $1,295 to $1,355 for each exam registration. The fee to extend a Step 1/Step 2 CK eligibility period will increase from $50 to $65 per request for each exam registration.

Come January 1 and chasing the great American Dream becomes that bit expensive!

Which reminds me, I have got to go pick up the car from the servicing outlet. They called me yesterday requesting me to take my car before they were forced to sell it of to someone. Well, going to pick it up means getting set back by a grand or two in repairing costs: that’s what is putting me off. Talking of expenses of riding a car, one must speak of the fuel prices, which keep going up by leaps and bounds. And with the recent hike in petrol prices by Rs. 2.95, each liter of petrol is now flirting with the coveted Rs. 60 mark. With crude oil going for 90$ per barrel in the international market, it is a reasonable thing to expect another hike in the near future. I just hope that the Chevy Volt, which is purported to be the first commercially produced electricity run car gets here fast. I read somewhere that Ghana was starting to mine petroleum as well, and expected $1 billion in annual revenues. I just hope that helps in cooling the fuel prices somehow (though my experience says that once the price of something is hiked, it rarely comes down ever again!).

Well, that and the fact that I have completed my first month as a blogger: YAY! 25 posts (before this one), over 600 page views, 40+ SPAM comments AND connecting with a few of the bloggers I really admire: I did not expect so much to happen so quickly! But anyways, it feels good to know people (and SPAM bots) read so much of my writing!

And that brings me to the fact that it is Day 3 of the 25 day round up to the exam (I wrote about it HERE). Its just the 3rd day into the countdown and I am already behind schedule, mainly due to a nagging fever-flu syndrome which laid me down all day yesterday. But after plenty of fluids, ibuprofen and wholesome sleeping, I am up and about again. With MAJOR catching up to do! I have to go get done with the 2010 May AIIMS question paper today before I even start thinking of moving onto the next thing. I was supposed to have completed it yesterday evening.

That and its high time I got off my inertia of lethargy and wrote the answer to the PIMP #1.

Biopsy under H&E