A number of people read of my recent travels to Tawang – two days going and 2 days coming by road, over rough terrain, for a days experience in what is really ‘another world’! Yesterday, it took 2 hours by flight each way to visit Kolkota for a couple of hours of work. And as I made the mad ‘yellow Amby’ 30 minute drive to my destination in Salt Lake City, the street ambience of Kolkota struck me! Since it was a brief, business trip I was not carrying my camera, but this is what i captured from the taxi using my iPad!!
Every Indian city street scene has its unique character and but are losing this in the sameness of the vehicular pattern – the Santros, Jazzes et al are taking over the roads.But not Kolkota – where the Amby rules! The pre-paid distinctly yellow colored cab drive cost me Rs 189, for a distance that in Delhi would have been double that. And, unlike other cities, cabs from a considerable percentage of the cars on the road. And the non-cabs are also often Ambys – here the Korean-Japanese-European makes seem to be struggling to get their share of the street space.
The other city this reminded me of, was Havana in Cuba – with which Kolkota has also a shared political philosophy. I have always been fascinated by the stories and pictures of the way the “heydays” of US car making era – the late 50s and early 60s – are preserved in Havana. Particularly so, as those were the days of my childhood, when the only non Fiat/Amby vehicles on Delhi roads were the occasional US models used by the diplomatic corps. My brothers and our neighbor and friend, Nari, had a fascination for these cars which they lapped up in the “Life’ and “Look’ magazines that my father brought from his office magazine club. They were up to date with every model and make and would persuade my father to get the old issues, cut out the pictures and had evolved a local “Monopoly” like game of trading in these cars. There was DeSoto, Plymoth, Pontiac and the king of them all, Cadillac and many others i do not remember! On some hot, summer school holidays (no one had heard of air conditioning), they even got me to leave my reading (was always a voracious reader) and join in their games.
It is unlikely that i will ever visit Havana. Nari has retained the interest of his youth and collects vintage cars of that era. Others have moved on, but Kolkota has probably moved less than some!! My brief visit, however, took me down memory lane on a journey to another time.