The good ol’ Amby has finally shuddered to a halt. And here’s an unofficial Google doodle (albeit a little late) honking in honour of the grand old lady of Indian roads.
In the hills, where I come from, the incline is steep and the load is heavy some Mark IIIs and IVs still ply – loyally.The taxi drivers have another reason to prefer the Amby over the more agile and more fuel efficient East Asian or European cars – within the broad frame of an Ambassador they can squeeze in many more passengers.
It is inside the black-and-yellow taxis of Shillong where most of my Ambassador memories reside. One incident, not involving a taxi though, that I often recall is that of an Uncle’s dilapidated second-third-or-fourth hand (I’m not exactly sure and am pretty sure he isn’t either) Ambassador. Though it came with an MLK number plate (indicating a Meghalaya registration), it spent much of its remaining years in the plains of south Assam. The few hundred kilometres drive from Karimganj to Shillong was a little too much for the ageing engine.
Even though the car didn’t appear to be in the best of health, I commanded the driver and with my cousins in tow took her for a spin around the town. As we should have expected, it started to sputter before coming to a grinding halt. Right in front of the main entrance to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly (a fine wooden structure, before it got burned down in an accident) and as luck would have it, the Assembly was in session.
The security guards frantically gestured at us to get the car out of the away. We tried (me barely into my teens and my cousins, much younger) to push hard but the sloth just wouldn’t budge. Finally, the Meghalaya Police personnel on duty didn’t have much of a choice but to abandon their positions help us clear the entrance, cursing under their breath, so that other more-privileged Ambassadors with red beacons atop could drive out unchallenged. There’s not much in the tale, but for some strange reason, it remains.
Here’s a far more visual description of the beast that once defined a big car for us (the Premier Padmini and later the Maruti 800 were the small cars):
Our taxi, the colour of cream, textured with dust, swelled in the anxious curves of an overdue pregnancy, the lines of its frame a throwback to a time some forty years past in the States, a car from a Dick Tracy comic book. The Ambassador was modelled after the British Motor Corporation’s Morris Oxford, originally produced in 1948, copied by Hindustan Motors in 1950. Though a series of cosmetic modifications had been made to the automobile through the five ensuing decades, even the latest model years were flamboyantly antiquated and this persistent renewal, year after year, the continued production of that same, mid-century form after the rest of the world had long since moved on to cars smaller and sleeker, more efficient, more reliable had rendered the immigrant car indigenous. Even after Japanese and American and Korean and German cars made their way into the Indian market, offering higher standards of quality and convenience, the president of India plied the subcontinent’s roads in new Ambassadors.
Shuddering as it started, shaking with every pause, the Ambassador kept its driver busy, pulling the choke or shifting gears. A rush of life, barely familiar, pressed against the car as we left the station. Through this life – bicycles and mopeds, motorcycles and ox carts, camels and vendors, men and women and children — the Ambassador asserted itself on the road in the way a rogue elephant might lord over a stretch of grassland, loudly, its horn blaring, its bulk demanding a path and accommodation.
(Excerpt from Sameer Parekh’s 2002 novel – Stealing the Ambassador)
Back in 1990s, the brave heart might have gone off with his bride on a train but many dulhanias went to their sasural in a decked up Ambassador as this 1998 advertisement beautifully captures (The yellow mustard fields never fail to remind us of the Shahrukh Khan-Kajol super-duper hit).
An finally, an oxymoron static edition of the animated GIF above: