My, my, my dear Delilah...

haute wheels

My, my, my dear Delilah...
It was an Ambassador car, a stodgy vehicle, caramel in colour. It was a 1963 make and quite the pride and delight of my armyman father. I can’t quite remember when and why the Amby went in for a makeover. But makeover it was, because when she returned from the garage after an extended stay, she returned as a sleek black car, in a glamorous new avatar. By then, Dad’s girls were growing up and in the mood to have some masti. So we named the Amby ‘Delilah’.

An unlikely name, I think all of us will admit now. The gleaming paintwork did not hide her matronly frame, the grey seat covers did not entirely conceal her advanced age. Who were we kidding? This was no sexy siren; this was a stout, comely family retainer.

But Delilah was much loved by all of us, and taken excellent care of and driven all across the country by my father. Those were the days when fauji families went to their new postings by car, and every few years, Delilah would be packed with family, our longtime live-in maid Janakiamma, the dogs de jour, and we’d go from Palghat to Pune, from Jhansi to Bengaluru, from Jabalpur to Delhi. Dad would do the major part of the driving, one arm propped alongside the driver’s window as was his wont, making the long journey look so easy.

Mom would take over in stretches, and as for the kids, we would squabble happily amongst ourselves or with the dogs, in the backseat. Like all men who loved their cars, Dad kept Delilah spanking clean, and would keep gently admonishing us not to slam her doors, not to eat inside the car, not to decorate the car floor with crumbs, not to clutch at anything in the interior with sticky fingers. By and large, these rules were followed by Dad’s daughters.

Along came the next generation with their regulation quota of sticky fingers, crumbling biscuits in pockets, curious hands (one kid would keep trying to prise away any exposed foam she saw), rock-star moves (another would thump on the roof repeatedly, like she was a miniature Mick Jagger) and other such habits that would have got Dad’s daughters instantly banished from the interiors of Delilah. Sometimes,  these kids would actually put their sneaker-clad feet up on the seats, too. However, by then Dad had turned an indulgent grandfather, and there were no rebukes.

Delilah was family; she helped us learn driving, helped us get our driving licences without too much hassle. She drove us to collect our school reports, college results, our job appointment letters. In time, she drove us girls to the maternity clinic, and after a few days, she drove us back home, too, new baby held safely up front.

The years passed, Dad was gone and Mom became wheelchair-bound. The family all got their own sets of wheels, and Delilah sat in the garage for days on end, but still cleaned and started up every few days. We even had the engine rebored so she was kept in running condition, except no one really took her out anymore. It was like we had retired our family retainer.

Then, along came this young man who said he had fallen in love with the car the first time he had seen it while passing our house. A youngster with a passion for old cars. “I’ll look after her like gold,” he promised, earnestly. No one could say ‘no’ in the face of such intent and commitment.

He has kept his promise. Every once in a while, we see Delilah purring along the Bengaluru roads and wave delightedly at her. Our family retainer is now bringing joy to someone else, and that is enough for us.

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