Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Maruti Chalisa

The very sight of an old Maruti 800 floods me with memories. It takes me back to the early 90’s. Back then, the car meant Maruti, and if anybody said he had a Maruti, he could mean only one thing: the Maruti 800.

The expressway was still years away. Mumbai was still Bombay. A Bombay-Pune trip took around four hours, and it required prior planning. Visits to the mechanic, tanking up fuel in the car, taking the picnic basket were must-do tasks. Travel held romance. If you wished, you could simply take a turn at Khopoli and head towards Alibaug. After a few hours, you could join the highway and resume the journey. Overtaking was a maneuver meant only for accomplished drivers. Mind you, the expressway has reduced the deadliness of inebriated truck drivers.

A Bombay-Pune hop wasn’t just a hop. It used to be a gastronomic odyssey. A stop at Khopoli, for Ramakant’s vadapav, another at Lonavla for Chikki and fudge, and roasted corn cobs in the ghats in Khandala. Oh, the innocent times!

And then there was our old Maruti 800 of 1980’s vintage. No air-conditioning, no power windows, just a closer-to-the road driving experience. She served us dutifully for years. She braved the rust that Mumbai’s rains inflicted upon her, not to mention the bad roads.

The old Pioneer car audio was our usual companion during long drives. However there wasn’t any Radio Mirchi or Radio City. In those days AIR ruled the roost. Later Times FM, Radio Mirchi’s predecessor, came to compete. And then, there were my favourites. In those days Colonial Cousins gave good music and even Daler Mehndi’s tunes were pretty hummable.

Maruti put millions of people like us on the highway. It is India’s very own Volkswagen Golf or Rover Mini. While the Mini has become Cooper and turned from a plain jane into a sexy hotbod, Maruti still remains the peoples’ vehicle. Many middle-class Indians nurture a dream: to drive their own car. The Maruti 800 is the only vehicle which has the capability to fulfill this.

Recently, the Alto overtook the 800 in terms of volumes of sales (for one month, don’t remember which).So is the 800 nearing its end? Not really. Not in this half of the 21st century, at least. The Alto is essentially a Maruti 800 in a new set of clothes.

The Alto’s increased sales may also be seen as the breaking of the traditional mould. Maybe the 800 reflects the story of modern India. If the 800 was the liberator who made waiting ten years for a dowdy car history, then the Alto represents resurgent Indians, the small-town entrepreneurs and members of the Great Indian Middle Class. Agreed, it is puny by Western standards, but we have come a long way, that’s for sure.

Maruti rules. And it will continue to do so, until someone comes up with something better. Will Ratan Tata’s 1-lakh car make any impact? Keep watching this space.


Arnab said...

Agree with u on the article.... But i heard the other day that Kandaa Motors(some Chinese company) is bringing out some car at Rs.150,000. That will be interesting coz for the first time 800 will hav competition

Harsh said...

Agreed,it would be competition, but the car must stay together that long!

Kunal Thakar said...

pretty nice post! Btw, you lived in Bombay or in Nashik?

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Rashmi said...

Hi Harsh...really, really nice.
Took me back to the days when we used to drive 700 kms from Nashik to Goa in an 800...twice a year!

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