Ode to the Good Ol' Ambassador!
The Ambassador or Amby as it was fondly referred to has been a witness to my growing years. Being the dealers for the states in the North East for Hindustan Motors we always saw a string of these cars ...from the hunchback version of Mark I to Mark II to the Mark III that I was more familiar with.
In our garage there was my Dad's favourite the two toned Hudson and my cousin's favourite Mayflower in black which we were not even allowed to go near.There was the Studebaker which was more for picnics so The Ambys were our mode of transport. And it was in the Amby that we saw the world beyond our limited borders
If there is ever a spot for the most spacious common car..the Amby will win hands down. So many of us would fit into it. Every Sunday early morning all of us little ones ( and there were many of us as ours was a joint family) would pile into the Amby and go for a long drive with my Uncle. he would park the car and then make us kids run around on the empty roads. A healthy exercise .
I remember it was such fun...and How Green was My Surma Valley then...water bodies all along Rongpur, the undulating hillocks of Meherpur and following the river Barak on our way to Masinpur. Small bashas and pukurs and shupari gaanch along the way and those beautiful bamboo fences as demarcations. And the birds and flowers and rice fields. And the North Cachar Hills in a mauve blue haziness all around. After running around we would pile back into the Amby fighting over the window seat and reach home a hungry bunch ready to have a bath and breakfast.
And in 1960 , all of four years plus I was sent away to Loreto Shillong. The Amby took me along the route which I would do till 1972. It was a very long drive along narrow roads with the gate system in place. From Silchar we hit Gumra and Kalaincherra and the soft hilly terrain gave way to huge mountains on one side and deep gorges and ravines on the other and we halted at Sonapur which was breathtakingly beautiful and went to the Circuit House overlooking the river below and had our packed food which was always pooris , aloo, aam ka achar and bhindi if it was summer and matar aloo or matar gobi if it was winter. And chilly pickle.
One always met up with someone or the other. ... and sat around drinking tea. The next stop or next gate as we used to call it was Khleriat where we again stopped at the lovely quaint circuit house which had flowering Gulmohars and wicker chairs. The tea service was old world and came with a plate of Monaco biscuits. After that came the verdant valley and the Khasi Jantia Hills and Jowai. I know of many people who could not take the curves of the road and were throwing up along the route....or dozed off after popping an Avomin.
But I was always looking out of the window getting dust on my face and hair being tangled as the breeze and dust played hide and seek in the strands. There were no A/c's way back then. One reched Shillong checked into Pinewood...had a hot bath...went to Police bazaar to buy some more tuck and eat some outside stuff and then up the hill went the Amby depositing me with my black trunk and holdall and bag at the front door of Loreto Shillong.
Every winter my sister and mom and me would pile into an Amby with our trusted driver Basant and drive from Silchar to Calcutta where my Dad would join us flying down. Then he would fly down to Delhi and we would drive all the way to Agra. And spend nearly two months there. Then drive back. I loved the drive. In winter the yellow of the mustard fields and the green stalks of sugarcane were a welcome change from undulating hills of tea ! Dad being a heart patient couldnt drive though he used to in his early days. He always liked the freedom of having a car and his own driver wherever he went.
My sister got married and Dad insisted he wanted to give her a car since that was what he had done all his life. So we drove the new car all the way to Agra. It had a japanese cassette player and an a/c fitted. it was such fun to drive with Queen singing Radio Ga Ga over the hills and valleys and plains. There must have been more cassettes but this one song always reminds me of that Amby no TRA 851 and that drive.
Then I learnt to drive ...car no ASC 3124. Our initial car number was ASC I but the DC asked my Dad for that number so Dad gave it to them. It was a shiny Black Amby which was always being waxpoled by the driver as my Dad was very strict about his cars being in mint condition. I somehow smell Waxpole and it reminds me of being dropped to College...the car smelling of it ! Driving was honed when my Dad passed away and everyday some relative or the other had to be picked up from the Airport which was 25plus miles away. So I would go along with the driver and drive with the music on thrilled with myself. Though Basantda would rap me on my hands if I rode the clutch. I loved the freedom of driving and I still do.
With the passing on of my Dad his car and the other imported ones were sold off as they were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and we had three Ambys. The beautiful black one, the Dusk Exa and a blue one I forget the name of the shade. We did a trip in May to UP from Assam via Calcutta (always) it was hot as hell and I had never seen such heat ever. It was my first experiance. We had a khus khus tatti on the car tied tight and every now and then we would stop near a petrol bunk and douse it with water to keep us cool inside. it worked wonders. And I saw many Ambys on the road decked out this way.
And then in 1980 I got married. On a trip to Silchar, Shekher (my husband) wanted to learn driving so Basant da taught him how to drive too. But we bought a Premier Padmini. I am dead sure my Dad up in heaven felt betrayed ! But gradually the Maruti came in and we all knew that Amby was dying a slow and agonising death.
Soon no one but the Govt. had Ambassadors....white ones with Bharat Sarkar emblazoned on it. And a blue or red light if the connections were right. I came to detest the white Amby with their white shirt pant drivers who were rude and arrogant and road hogs. Any white Amby meant it was paid for by the taxpayer but the poor taxpayer was literally being bulldozed off the road by these white bulls ! The cockroaches as the yellow black cabs in Cal were known as were in a pathetic state. Bombay had the Premier Padmini as cabs mostly but if you were unlucky , like I was once, you got an Amby which had waves of heat hitting you from below and the grime and smoke from the streets of Bombay coming in through the windows which couldnt be shut. That was the last time I sat in an Ambassador...swearing to never again venture near one ! You see, we have become spoilt with all these fancy cars in the market, cooling us , keeping us clean, and our hair in place.
There is no winter morning struggle to get your car started nor stopping to fill water in a boiling radiator in the hills. There is no pressing on the brake a couple of times to get it working...no coupling noises...no pushing to start a car with the battery gone cold. And no noise of the gears kind of meshing up....Our new cars are swanky, have great air conditioning, have such an awesome sound, no cassettes or cd's required...just a usb or your phone does the job. We have power steering so no struggling to get out of a tight spot parking...and no longer do we wave our hands out of our windows...we have indicators to do the job for us !!
But there was something about the soft rumbling of the Amby...it was heavy duty and it was comforting to know that every roadside mechanic could fix it without much ado if something did go amiss. The space of the Amby...the comfort was good. And the clearance was terrific. Now a days the speed breakers just break your damn car thats all ! And even though the damn Amby was rusted. falling apart, cosmetically marred and chicken poxed...it still chugged along like an old faithful friend. That was the wonder and magic of the Amby. Amby grew old with me !
RIP Hindustan Motors Ambassador....you will go down in the annals of motoring history in India as the car that spawned a million dreams, a million desires to roam the world and the freedom that came sitting behind your wheel. If you had not been so hard to get we would have never ever got a Maruti which is so easy to get !!
RIP AMBY of my youth , of a million thoughts that came into my head as we crossed bridges together, took those ferries across rivers unspanned by bridges, of picnics , of moonlit nite picnics, of tea estates and parties and of my many firsts ! First time I wore a saree and sat in you to go to a party in Coomber and coming back the accident....you turned turtle and I was standing in the rain with the saree in my hand !! At 2 at night. And a line of other Amby's stopping pulling us out getting us warm taking us home. You were sturdy so we escaped without a scratch...I shudder to think what would have happened had it been one of these dinky toy cars of today !
RIP AMBY becoz you gave us freedom and bought smiles to our faces and as we sped across the roads singing along without a bother about too much baggage...you accomodated everything and more. You had a big heart Amby ! You did.
You are a part of my personal history Amby. In you I experianced a host of emotions, I cried and laughed and sang sad songs while driving with a broken heart, I have been happy and sad and cranky and moody and have got got angry with the driver many times....but you were solid. You took me along on narrow roads with the wind on my cheeks and getting my hair all entangled !! YOU saw me thru much !
You struggled to stay afloat but your time had come. The Politicians of this world had made you a "dirty " car... ferrying their ill gotten gains and such...you hid your sorrow under the pristine white but those drivers drove you recklessly and with gay abandon. So go in peace
Rust to Rust ..