Central Locking, Power Windows, and All That Jazz

July 30, 2009

I never realised quite how important central locking and power windows are in a car, until I started driving the kids to and from school. Here’s how things go on a typical day.

First, there’s fresh poo on the roadside, bang next to where I park. There’s no point looking for another place to park – there’s fresh (human) poo all along the road. I guess it serves as a toilet for some nearby community.

Right next to the toilet strip is the drain. It is supposed to be a rain-water drain. As there hasn’t been any monsoon to speak of in Bangalore this year, it is usually clean and dry. I wish the folks who use the road as their toilet could drop their droppings in the drain, but, if they do in fact try to do this, they don’t seem to have very good aim.

So if you park next to the poo which is next to the drain, that side of the car is ruled out for exiting the kids from. If they don’t fall in one, they will likely fall in the other – and I’m not sure which would be worse.

On the other side, there’s traffic to deal with. Obviously, it is the lesser of all the evils. So, having parked, I get out, avoid the poo and the drain, and tackle (that means put shoes on, comb hair of, and un-strap) the girl on the driver’s side of the car. Then I close the door (which has child lock enabled, thank goodness), go around to the other side, and tackle the other girl. There’s traffic whizzing past inches from my bu… err… backside, but I figure the worst it could do would be to shave some inches off (and that might not be such a bad thing), so of course I ignore it.

Meanwhile, the first girl has unrolled the non-power windows and unlocked the door, even though she can’t actually open it. I go around to the other side to roll up the window, while both girls, now unstrapped, work on the window and door on the other side. Since they are two and I am only one, and since they are inside and I am outside dodging poo, drain, and traffic, the only way I can win this game is by shouting at them and threatening physical violence. Depending on their mood, this is of limited efficacy, but usually buys me enough time to roll up the window on the poo-and-drain side of the car and run around to the traffic-ward side and drag both the girls out before they can roll down either window again.

Now I get their bags out of the front passenger seat and get them (the bags) onto them (the girls). This, while ensuring that only my backside is in danger of getting shaved by traffic – the girls don’t have as much to spare. Then I close the door. Now comes the tricky part. The front passenger door cannot be used to central-lock all four doors. So if the driver’s side is on the poo-and-drain side of the road, I have to nip across to lock it, while either letting go of the girls and leaving them to the mercy of the traffic, or dragging them with me to step in their choice of either poo or drain. It’s a lose-lose situation.

If, however, the driver’s side is on the traffic-ward side, then, once I have the windows all rolled up and the kids out of the car on the traffic-ward side, I have to lean in and pull the bags out from the front passenger seat, without losing sight or control of the girls. Not easy.

So, what I need is a car whose windows can be rolled up and locked, and which can be centrally locked from either side, preferably without needing to use a key. I was assured that such is impossible. Power windows, of course, do exist. And front doors can be locked without a key if you lock them from the inside, then get out and hold the handle up while closing the door. But passenger side doors don’t do central locking, I was told.

Well, ha! I went and bought myself a bright red Hyundai i10 anyway and guess what? It does allow me to lock the front passenger door from the inside, then get out and close the door, without holding the handle up or anything, and it not only locks, it central-locks all the doors. Plus it has power windows, fantastic steering, a music system (how on earth did I survive in a car without that for so long) and it’s the perfect shade of bright red.

So, problems solved.

Of course, once I got the car, I also found a parking place at school which is almost always available, which doesn’t have either the drain or the poo. That makes life SO much easier.

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So Long, Unicorn, And Thanks For All The Fun

June 12, 2009

The world consists of two kinds of people, as I’ve had occasion to note before: two-wheeler riders, and others. The others might be car drivers, auto drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers, pushcart drivers, even pedestrians; but if they don’t have a passion for two-wheelers, they are ‘others’.

I’ve been a happy two-wheeler-ist since I was 18. My parents did me the favour of teaching me to drive a car, and then scraped together their savings and dipped in to my education fund to buy me the best automatic (I mean, gearless) two wheeler available in those days: a bright red Kinetic Honda. I practically taught myself to ride, and in a week, I was driving myself from Panchkula to college in Chandigarh, much to my delight. (Now that I think of it, my parents must have been incredibly brave to let me do this.) Back then, I remember, 3 litres of petrol cost Rs 50 and lasted me a week. The good ol’ days…

That Kinie came all the way to Bangalore with me after marriage and saw us through a few adventures here before I was forced to sell it. It broke my heart to see it go, but, back then, we were moving to the US, possibly for good (which, in those heady days, meant anything from one year to one generation or more).

When we returned from the US, I bought a Scooty. This trusty steed served me well for many years, and I finally sold it only in 2006, when I already had my new bike and didn’t need it any more. It wasn’t working too well by then, but the colleague I sold it to was so delighted to finally get her own set of wheels, she didn’t mind. Besides, I practically gave it to her.

The new bike, a Honda Unicorn,29052009019 was a motorcycle, something I’d been dying to ride ever since I went shopping for my first two-wheeler at the tender age of 18. So I was over 30 when I finally got it. So what? I loved it the more for having had to wait so long. (I’ve written lots about it already, so I’ll try to keep this short.)

While I was working, I rode the bike to office and back – about 20 km return every day. That was fantastic. Looking back, and looking at traffic the way it is now, I’d have to admit that it might not have been very safe (my ever-present helmet notwithstanding). But at the time I didn’t see anything risky about it.

When I stopped working, and after the kids came, opportunities to ride the bike were few and far-between. Too many times, I had to take it out just to take it out and keep it running. Then, maintenance became an issue: vehicles hate to be kept standing and deteriorate alarmingly quickly. I should have sold it months ago, before it entirely stopped working, but it’s difficult to listen to good sense when your heart isn’t in it.

And now I really don’t have a choice. Most of my driving will now revolve around the kids and Amit is adamant that they will not sit on a two-wheeler until they are 18 – at least. So the bike hardly ever gets to go out. Now the battery has died completely, which makes taking it out a real chore, having to kick-start it everywhere.

So I finally did what I should have done long ago: I put it up for sale. At the same time, I took it for servicing: it might as well be in working condition when it goes. Buyers are coming to look at it over the weekend. I still don’t want to part with it, but now I really, really should.

By Monday morning, I expect, it will be gone. And then, I will no-longer be a two-wheeler-ist – ever again; I’ll always be just one of the ‘others’.


New Car

July 28, 2008

It all started when we were in Delhi. Amit sat in the driver’s seat of my sister’s car, a Fiat Adventure, and was thrilled to discover that it actually fit him. (For those who don’t know, Amit is 7 feet tall.) He then drove it, and loved it. If the car had been available on the market, he would have booked it that evening and that would have been that.

However, fortunately or unfortunately, Fiat has taken that model off the market. So, Amit spent 120% of the rest of the holiday researching/planning/talking/fantasising about buying a new car. (This includes time spent sleeping and dreaming.) It’s still not quite a week since we got back (and a week during which I’ve been sick as a dog, at that), and he’s test-driven four-and-a-half models – and two of them twice!

Wait a minute. Four-and-a-half? How does anyone test-drive four-and-a-half cars?

Well, it’s a longish story.

We started with the Maruti SX4. He loved it, I thought it was ok. Powerful, of course, compared to our current car, Wagon-R, but a rather hard ride (not nice in a car). But at least he fitted into it, and comfortably.

Next, he tried the Toyota Innova, which wasn’t so comfortable and we both didn’t like the thought of a car that was quite so big, even if it was available with a diesel option. (I didn’t test that car, I was too sick that day.)

Amit had called for test-drives of the Chevrolet Optra, the Optra SRV, and the Skoda Fabia, but none of these cars showed up. Chevy, in fact, was shockingly disinterested in making a sale.

Meanwhile we breezed past the Ford stable, nodding at the Fusion and glanced at Toyota’s Corolla, then found our eyes gliding past and resting longingly on the Camry, controlled ourselves and cruised on.

The next car we tried out was the Honda City, which was a much smoother ride than the SX4, but had a clearance so low you were virtually guaranteed to scrape your bottom (sorry, I mean your undercarriage) on a large percentage of the bumps that came your way, which, in Bangalore, are many. Still, it was a good ride and we were having a tough time deciding between the City and the SX4, when Amit threw a large-sized spanner in the works.

Honda Civic

It was quite a bit outside our budget, but then, we’d already had one heady and exhilarating fling with a car outside our budget: Maruti’s Grand Vitara, which was waaaaaay outside our budget but which, we’d convinced, we could somehow afford. We’d gone to the Maruti showroom to look at the various colours of the SX4, when, naturally, seeing how big it is, it caught our eye. Amit promptly sat himself behind the wheel and would not be budged until they promised to get him a vehicle for test-drive. That – the half of the four-and-a-half test-drives – never happened. But it was a great romance as long as it lasted and it was only the dismal mileage it promised that prevented us from pursuing it further.

The Honda Civic was a different story, though. Its fuel efficiency was only a tad worse than the City and quite comparable with the SX4. (As an aside, the City is a better name than the Civic, though both are quite unimaginative. Neither is as bad as SX4, though.)

It didn’t take very long for Amit to put in the request for a test-drive of the Civic, and Honda promptly drove one halfway across town for us. I got into the driver’s seat and – oh boy! Before I had driven it a km, I just knew this was the car we would be buying. Amit had already returned from his test drive with ill-concealed excitement all over his face, so I knew we were on to a good thing. That, plus the fact that his test-drive lasted an hour!

Not that that tells you much. I was so excited by the car that I decided I didn’t even need to test-drive it much – a 2 km loop and I almost headed home to do the high-fives. I’d have time enough to drive when we got our own, I thought, and the sooner the better. Then I thought, “Oh, heck, no. When we get our own it’ll be Amit doing all the driving. I bet he’ll go to office even on weekends just so he can drive the car. So I better get a good long drive in now,” and I kept going.

The car is just a beauty. It looks absolutely sexy has a deadly dashboard, and the engine is a beast. Its ground clearance, the one factor against its sibling City, is 170 mm, the same as our Wagon-R, which never worried us. Its pick-up and power steering are fantastic, climate control is chic, music system is cool, but the best thing about it, no doubt, is the complete smoothness of the drive. As good as sex? Yes. Well, no, actually, as good as ice cream. (Sex versus ice cream? Come on – that’s a no-brainer.)

Ok, if you guys out there have driven something better, like say a Porsche or a Beamer or something, then you’re sure to be wondering what I’m going on about, but, sorry guys, this is the best I’ve ever driven, and don’t forget, I’m comparing with a humble Wagon-R. So bear with me while I gloat over it a minute.

I came home grinning, to find Amit waiting for me, grinning. We were in love. Now, we only had to work out how to bring this baby home.

Oh and – there’s one little problem. Amit’s long, long legs didn’t quite seem to fit under the steering wheel. What are we going to do about that?


Depression Survival Strategy: Go to Pondicherry

June 30, 2008

Unlike the previous depression survival strageties that didn’t work, this one seems to have worked. So far.

Actually, just before we left for Pondy, I was in pretty bad shape. I really had my doubts about how I would manage the trip, what with the long drive and the girls being cooped up, and the court hearing and all. But then, it was not as though I had any option, so on Thursday morning we all piled into the car at 6 a.m. and by 6.15 we were on the road.

As we left the city, I think I left my depression behind too. We had decided to drive ourselves, not take a car and driver, and I drove the last 100 km. This was a big, big thing for me. The last time I drove on the highway, we were in the US. I smashed a Pontiac Grand Prix (flipped it 360 degrees, actually) and we were lukcy to escape unhurt. It’s an accident that I still have nightmares about. In India, 100 km takes 2-3 hours (especially with an extra 20 km detour for a wrong turn) and I was tense the whole time. But we survived.

Pondy was hot and humid and the hotel room was icy cold. Somehow, the girls didn’t catch cold, though Amit did.

Our lawyer was actually mostly human this time round. She even almost smiled once. Plus she answered all our questions, and patiently explained the whole convoluted process about two or three times over so that we now feel thoroughly confused (whereas we earlier only felt completely in the dark).

We spent from about 9.45 till about 11.45 in the courthouse. It was tough keeping the girls entertained and sort-of quiet, but we had a bit of help from all the strangers who were milling around.

Since we had a whole extra day in hand, we decided to drive to Auroville and Auro beach. The beach was a fiasco. Though the girls had enjoyed the swimming pool when we took them several months ago, they hated the beach. The didn’t like the feel of the wet sand on their skin and the roaring of the breakers (tide was coming in) the rushing water, and the way it pulled under their feet as it went out scared them.

But they enjoyed running around and playing at the Visitors’ Centre in Auroville.

I took a long, lovely swim in the hotel pool – it was fantastic. A completely peaceful poolside environment, nobody else in the pool, and the water was so clear I could see every molecule of the tiled bottom. Of course, it was only 4’3″ deep, but that works just fine for me. The only problem was that they had dumped SO MUCH chlorine (or something) in the water that my eyes were burning for well over an hour afterwards. But, in the change room they had this shower that sends shooting jets of water out horizontally – there must be a name for it, but it was the first time I was meeting this contraption and I didn’t have a formal introduction, so I wouldn’t know – it was amazing. Just for that whole swimming and shower experience, I don’t mind going to Pondicherry once again. I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it though…

So in general it was a good trip. I drove again on the way back – it was a divided road, which was challenging in its own way. I was still scared, though. But I suppose after ten years it’s high time I laid that old ghost to rest.

And now, it’s back to life as usual, complete with defunct toilet, thermostat-less frig, tax filing date, diet and exercise, and all the other woes of modern life.


Two-wheelers Old and New

May 20, 2007
Ok, I know I’ve blogged about my “new” bike quite often already, but somehow I just can’t get enough of it. It’s just crossed its one-and-a-half year non-birthday, and at over 5500 km, it has averaged a little more than 10 km per day. Every day. I just got it serviced and tanked up and now it’s purring like new. It’s a vastly different riding experience from my previous two-wheeler, largely because it has an engine that’s twice the size and the power it generates is fantastic. After 5500 km, I still can’t get enough.

I never loved my previous two-wheeler, primarily because it was a Scooty. Ever since I became aware of such things, I’ve wanted to ride a big bike – and I mean BIG as in Harley Davidson, or perhaps one of the Kawasaki mean machines. As far as I’m concerned, every biker – those who really love to ride, as opposed to those who do it merely to get from point A to point B, which is actually a secondary by-product, if you ask me – every biker secretly dreams of a big bike. After all, biking is all about power, and power is all about size.

I started demurely enough with a Kinie when I had just passed my eighteenth milestone. I would have started earlier, except that there wasn’t a two-wheeler in our family and one had to be bought specifically in my name, which required me to be all of eighteen and not a day less. It was bought, after a great deal of talk and consideration, with a big chunk of my parents’ savings, and a small chunk of some money that had been put aside for my “education”. In those days, 25 K was a big deal, but, as far as I was concerned, education wasn’t.

Needless to say, I loved my Kinie. For a start, it was red. Red is absolutely the only colour for anyone who’s passionate about any vehicle. Not blue, not black, not yellow – it’s got to be a bright, blazing red.

Then, since it was a Kinetic, and in those days it was a Honda as well, it was an easy ride and required almost zero maintenance. Getting from my home, in Panchkula, to my college (GCG) in Chandigarh, a full tank would last me exactly a week. Other than tanking up weekly, I did practically zero maintenance on it and it worked well, despite me dropping it a couple of times when it was brand new (I seem to make a habit of that).

That Kinie gave me a great sense of freedom, independence, adulthood, “hep-ness” and all things good. I might have been the only girl in the whole of Chandigarh wearing a helmet (it was the only condition my parents laid on me when they bought it), and every other college girl (and guy) might laugh at me for it, but for me, if the price of riding a Kinie was wearing a helmet, I was ready to wear ten of them!

That red Kinie went with me from Chandigarh/Panchkula to Delhi and later to Bangalore. It saw me through my abortive attempt at college, my first few jobs as a journalist, and the early days of my married life. It took me to distant and unwholesome corners of Delhi (which has many distant and unwholesome corners) and saw with me many things that might have been better left unseen. Through sizzling heat, numbing cold, and drenching rain, it never let me down.

I was practically heartbroken when I sold that Kinie – at a throwaway price, too. I only did it because at the time I thought we were leaving the country for good. As it turned out, we were back in less than a year, and I needed another bike. That’s when I bought my Scooty.

I never loved my Scooty. For one, it was blue, and it didn’t even have the luxury of an electric start. But mostly I never loved it because it was a step in the wrong direction. If you want to ride a Harley, you don’t go from a Kinie to a Scooty. But, it was all we could afford at the time, and I rode it for six years, the longest time.

Buying my bike – my Unicorn, I mean – was a completely irrational, impulsive, indulgent decision. It isn’t a girl’s bike, it was too big and too heavy for me, and I didn’t even do a proper market survey of the other bikes in its category. I ruled out Pulsar purely because its tagline is “Definitely Male” (talk about irrational!), Yamaha and Hero Honda because they seemed staid (!) and didn’t even consider any of the others. I did the briefest of test rides, during which I managed not to drop the bike, and, still doubtful that I could really handle the beast, I signed away upwards of 60 K. By my standards – cautious, careful, sensible – it was a crazy thing to do.

Now, 5000-odd km down the road, it doesn’t seem quite so crazy. After all, riding the bike is a major incentive to go to office (!) especially when the traffic is not too maniacal. Oh, and my bike loves to go fast! The Scooty hated it. But my new bike, when I put it in second gear and crank up the throttle, zips off as though it’s got a train to race.

Of course, it’s not a maintenance-free bike – I’ve had a few small problems with it already; nor is it red. It could have been red, but my neighbour had a red one already, and I didn’t feel like being a copycat – a frivolous reason, considering that I don’t even see that bike around any more. But it just goes to show – colour doesn’t really matter.

Best of all, I finally sold my Scooty to a colleague and guess what – she loves it! She’s never had a two-wheeler before, and she doesn’t drive a car so it’s given her a huge degree of independence that she relishes. The other day she came up to me grinning and told me that the mechanic had adjusted a screw on the Scooty and now it was “the best Scooty ever!” – this for a rattletrap 7-year-old vehicle that needs servicing practically every month just to get her from home to office, a distance of about 2 km each way. But, the Scooty finally found an owner who loves it, and I finally got a bike I adore, so everyone’s happy.


Bike-o-mania

December 27, 2005

img_1293_small.jpgI must confess that even after 350 km, I still get a daily thrill out of my new bike. It is just the thought of riding it – to tennis or to office – that makes me get out of bed in the morning with a measure of energy and enthusiasm.

One thing is clear after 350 km – riding a “guy’s bike” is not a question of physical strength or even of stature. Not really. Ok, you assume a certain minimum of both, but if you consider that I possess sufficient quantities of both, then obviously what’s required is a very nominal quantity indeed. What you need, really, is willingness: the intention, the determination, and the conviction that it can be done. And really, it can be done.

Ok, I know that I confessed to dropping it three times (and counting). But what the heck. You can’t learn anything worth learning without getting a few scrapes.

Anyway, my bike is the best. I took it for its first servicing on Saturday. At last, it has had its brake handle replaced, so it is whole now. Oh, and it’s shining again (I’m such a slob about cleaning it).

What I like best about my bike is… second gear! It’s really a fun gear. If you want to putter along slowly, you just slide into second gear and it purrs along with a deep, throaty, satisfied sound, like a big fat cat full of warm milk. In my office campus, there’s a speed limit of 15 kmph. (Yes, 15! Can you believe it?) I used to find it funny, all these big fancy vehicles crawling along at 20-25 kmph (nobody can really do 15) as though they’re in a procession or something. Now, I look forward to it. My bike loves it!

Then, when you’re out on Ring Road and speeding away from an intersection, you step into second and go, boy, go! The engine gives a subdued roar and the bike leaps forward like a race horse (and you know I know what I’m talking about, right?). The idiots in their fancy cars are left standing still. My bike loves this too!!!

:d

Ok, so I’m bike-mad. It’s good!


New Bike, Old Bike

December 11, 2005

My old bike is feeling neglected. It stands under the trees marking the car’s parking place and gets covered with leaves and dust like it’s always done. But now it feels neglected because the new bike, which is bigger, stronger, and shinier, is the one that stands close to the building, and gets taken out for a ride at every opportunity. Over the weekend, I parked the new bike next to the old bike under the tree. I’m sure they exchanged words. Now the new bike is equally dusty, but it still gets taken out for a ride and today it is going to be parked in the pride of place near the building again. Poor old bike, it’s going to have to remain resentfully under the trees, guarding the car parking space, while its former glory turns to rust.

My new bike is now three weeks old. It’s still only got 160 km on the odometer. But now I’m getting used to it. I no longer feel so shaky and I don’t have to spend all my energy concentrating on which gear I’m in. It’s almost become automatic to shift to a lower gear when I brake, and shift to a higher gear when the engine begins to pull. I don’t even have to really listen to the engine, I can just feel when it wants to move up.

It does feel good to ride a bike that has some power – after six years on my old bike. This fellow goes purring up to 50 without a thought and won’t allow me to use the fifth gear until I’ve exceeded that, which I very rarely do. My old bike use to struggle with all 60 cc of its engine, to hit 45, and then it would behave like a bucking bronco even on a relatively flat road.

Oh, and I’ve managed to keep my new bike on the vertical in the last few days. Wish me luck!

PS: My new bike is temporarily christened Bluebird, because it’s blue and it’s not a Thunderbird. I’m trying to think of a better name, but it might not happen.


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