Behind the wheels

Goan Museums

Behind the wheels

Two museums in Goa celebrate one of the greatest inventions: wheels. Preeti Verma Lal finds out more about their driving forces.

Decades have flitted past, but Goa’s vintage car collector Pradeep V Naik has not forgotten that rosy day in 1970s when his uncle drove home in a new Mercedes Benz. Price, Rs 5,000. Naik looked at it and flinched. “Such a waste of money,” he blurted. Soon, when his uncle bought the wooden-bodied Portuguese Carrera, Naik coaxed him to scrimp. “Why waste money?” he asked. But Naik’s car-hate story turned upside down when he was bewitched by a 1931 black Peugeot 311. He hurriedly signed a cheque for Rs 3,000, paid Rs 8,000 as RTO tax, and brought the black beauty home. That day, Naik got hooked to cars.

In the collection

Today, 16 vintage cars are displayed in Nuvem’s Ashvek Vintage World, the only vintage car museum in Goa. He also owns every Mercedes model made between 1939 and 2012. Add to that the 12 Morris Minors, a 1945 Austin Ruby, a 1929 Ford A, a 1928 Essex, the 938 Mercedes 170 that Roger Moore drove for the 1980 war-film The Sea Wolves and a World War II Vidal Tempo (Wehrmacht) made for the German military and later owned by the Maharaja of Sawantwadi.

He owns a 1956 DKW Wunga, a four-wheel jeep with three cylinders and a two-stroke engine, and a white stretch Beetle on which Naik got Mario Miranda’s iconic caricatures painted.

Other than the cars stacked in the Ashvek gallery, Naik has an enviable collection of miniature cars — Mercedes convertibles in one locked closet, and miniatures of all Beetle models ever made by Volkswagen — countless key rings, belt buckles, archaic ceramic signages of tyre companies that are no longer used, an old Vijay super scooter, and a Rajdoot motorcycle.

In his workshop in Madgaon, Naik is refurbishing an Austin FX4 (London taxi) — one inch, one nut, one headlight at a time. A labour of love that will take at least six months to return it to its original grandeur. A Beetle is being painted white and a dilapidated Morris is now shining bright red.

Naik drives around in a black Mercedes C Class and chuckles about that rosy day in the 1970s when he subsisted on the frugal thought that buying expensive cars was a “criminal waste of money.” Now, Naik walks around with a cheque book, ready to buy a vintage car, however dented, broken or without paint it is.}

Carriage Museum

As if I have not seen enough wheels, from Nuvem I drive to Benaulim to visit the country’s only Carriage Museum. There are no signages. The streets bend at corners and I ask every stranger the road to Goa Chitra, which also houses the Carriage Museum. A faint-hearted person would have given up, but I must visit the museum, which is graded as a ‘must-see’ by Time magazine, as ‘hidden gem’ by National Geographic, and one of India’s ‘Top Choices’ by Lonely Planet.

The car screeches in front of a 30-acre complex that houses the Ethnographic Museum, and the Carriage Museum. I amble through the tiled pathway with ponytailed Victor Hugo Gomes, a National-award-winning artiste and the brain behind the two museums.

Antique wall clocks stare from a white wall that leads into a huge hall that houses 68 carriages (the largest such collection in India) and wheels of all kinds — from those used to dehusk paddy and pound rice to wheels of the spinning wheel.

Carriage Museum traces the evolution of the wheel — the pristine one-block cart wheels without spokes; roughly-hewn, small wooden wheels for carts pulled by donkeys; larger wheels with rubber rims pulled by horses; wheels for human-pulled carts and rickshaws; blackbuck-pulled carts, gypsy carts with metal embellishments and hidden nooks to keep precious things during journeys; funeral carts with the mandatory cross; damne, a traditional Belagavi cart for school children; palanquins for brides; palkis and lalkis (kinds of palanquins) for religious purposes; rare Kutch carts. Gomes, also the curator of the Christian Art Museum in Goa, did criss-cross the country in search of carriages and wheels. Gomes ensures that the artefact is truthfully restored.

In Goa Chitra, Gomes has more than 4,000 artefacts that depict the material culture of Goa before the arrival of electricity. It includes exhibits associated with rural trade and skills, agrarian and storage implements, grain and liquid measures,  and various scales and weights. At Goa Chitra, the wheel of life spins incessantly.

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