Monday, March 26, 2012

Of Mahindra, Monsters and Miracles

When I saw that Indiblogger was running a Mahindra XUV500 Incredible Stories contest I knew I had to share my own incredible road story about our beloved Mahindra SUV aka 'Monster'.

There is a huge amount of emotion, sentiment and superstition that comes with your first car. Not just the first car your family owned, but the first car that was YOURS. Only and exclusively yours. Bought with your hard-earned money. Or with blood-sucking EMIs as in most cases.

The day the 'Monster' came home...
So our first car was a beautiful, gorgeous black Mahindra Scorpio bought just 6 months after we got married. It was a BIG DEAL. Yup, in capitals! I remember the looooong fights Sid and I had before we actually decided on the Scorpio – coz the EMI of the car was more than the EMI of our 1 bhk home loan and I totally didn’t see the need to buy an SUV at that stage. Our careers were just taking off, we were still doing up our new home slowly and there seemed to be too many expenses and responsibilities. But boys will be boys and Sid’s passion and love for this car left no room for argument. It was a simple case of want over need. And so the Scorpio was welcomed (grudgingly by me) into our lives.

But within a couple of months I was smitten. Scratch that. I was head-over-heels in love. The Scorpio (and here I might sound slightly unhinged) made me feel invincible. It was as if I was on higher ground (in my defense, the car does have a high ground clearance) and no one else on the road could see me. I felt pleasantly invisible – like I could dance to my favourite music, lie down, make crazy faces, yet no one would see me because I was in this invisible, invincible cool contraption. I took to lovingly calling our car the “Monster”, thanks to its sleek, dark, imposing looks and its powerful hum. But hey, it was a cute, reliable, friendly monster. Like Saphira in Eragon! A fictional pet dragon... in case you are wondering what in hell’s name I’m talking about :P

One of many road trips

I have so many memories of the Monster. Our very first trip out of Mumbai was a drive to Lonavla with Sid’s Radio Mirchi colleagues. One moment we were partying at G&A’s place, and the next we had a drunken bunch of people in the car screaming and hooting for Maggi at Lonavla! It was hilarious... the teetotaler Sid with his newly acquired driving skills trying to get directions from the rowdy bunch behind, the frantic stops on the way for people to pee and giggle for no reason, the midnight Maggi, the stopover at Fariyas for early morning chai and potty :D Hahahaha! Well I did warn you it was a drunken drive...
Sunrise with friends, and the loyal Monster in the background.

The next long trip in the Monster was with G&A to Shirdi and that set the precedent for many, many wonderful trips together. Shirdi at the peak of summer, where we had to change into shorts in the back seat of the car to combat the heat, where the powerful AC of the Monster kept us alive and kicking in spite of the 45 degree temperature outside...

This was followed by one of the most exciting long drives ever! Sid and I decided to surprise his parents in Hyderabad one winter. We had both been busy with work and unable to go home for Diwali. So a week later, we took off at 4pm from Mumbai, drove all night, covered about 700kms, and reached our Hyderabad home just in time for breakfast! To say that Sid’s parents were surprised would be an understatement :)

Riding the waves at Murud-Janjira
There are just so many more memories – driving the Monster at sunrise right on the beach at Murud-Janjira; our full family squeezed in comfortably as we made our way to Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Matheran and Karla – a new hill station every summer; weekend getaways in Kamshet and Manori; feigning sickness when my job burned me out, taking sick leave, then driving all the way to Bangalore in the rains to visit my best friend... some really wonderful road trips that make for a lifetime of reminiscing .

Drive to Bangalore in the beautiful monsoons
And then the unthinkable happened. One night we went to watch Mani Ratnam’s “Raavan” and parked the car outside the theatre. Sid had misgivings about the safety at the open parking lot, but we all overrode him (in my defence, we were about to miss the opening of the film!). And when we came out of the cinema hall at 1am – yes, now is when you shut your eyes – the car was gone.

Cops, FIRs, weeks of trying to figure out contacts in the motor theft department, meetings with the bank and the insurance company... life had taken a U-turn. It was one of the worst phases ever. I prayed, ranted, cried. Sid remained cool as a cucumber. Friends and family sympathised, expressed shock, anger & disbelief. And we slowly resigned ourselves to life without the Monster. We were back to travelling by auto and cabs. I was no longer invincible. Or invisible.

9 months passed. And one fine day, we received a completely unexpected phone call. Loyal followers of the blog have read all about it here. In case you haven’t read my earlier post, I will cease with the killing suspense now and tell you all about that fateful phone call:

It was a hot, sweaty evening in Mumbai (like most evenings in Mumbai). I was out shopping on the streets of Lokhandwala when my phone rang and an unnaturally calm voice said, "Listen carefully..."
Needless to say I got so psyched, I pressed the phone even closer to my ear. "What happened?" I whispered back.
"Listen very carefully 'coz I'm going to say this just once..." the voice said very slowly.
I'm sure my eyes were round as saucers, and my mobile was sweating in my hands. "Ok, I'm listening. What is it?" I asked equally slowly, my heart thumping wildly.
"It is back", the voice replied with barely suppressed glee.

The whisperer was my husband. And as you must have guessed, our car was back! Yes, the cops actually found it in some remote border village in Rajasthan called Jhalor. The poor Monster was being used for smuggling contraband.  The cops were chasing some smugglers who were driving our Scorpio, and when the cops seemed to be catching up with them, they quickly abandoned the car and ran for dear life!
With the backseats stolen, our Scorpio has now been converted into an extra bedroom for dear friend A!
Within a month, the car was back in Mumbai after we had completed all the court formalities. 2 rounds of servicing and repairs later, the Monster was at home and raring to go :) There were more than a few hiccups, obviously. The last row of seats were gone, the stepney was missing, the Blaupunkt stereo system was ripped out, and the car creaked and groaned on the roads. But the faithful old thing is still running as smoothly as ever. In fact the first celebratory trip in the newly returned, though battered car, was camping at the Big Red Tent in Khopoli.
First trip in the newly returned Scorpio!

The Monster is our very own miracle. And though it’s a little bruised and looks like a jalopy now, it restored our faith in many things – like prayers, God, and the Mumbai police! Unfortunately we are at a stage where we are thinking of selling the Monster next year and buying a new car. I’m of course back to being all practical and am asking Sid to consider economical, fuel-efficient, small cars. Preferably those that run on CNG. And guess what he wants now? The Mahindra XUV500 of course! Sigh... some things never change.

And to round off the post, here is my dedication to Monster – a dish that is unique yet comforting, good looking yet easy, powerful (in taste) yet gentle (on the tummy):

Monstrous Potatoes in Sesame & Red Chilli Masala 
(Potatoes in traditional andhra Nuvvula podi)

Large Boiled Potatoes – 4
Vegetable oil – 1 tbsp
Nuvvula Podi – 2 tbsp
Sesame seeds – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Fresh coriander leaves – to garnish

Sesame seeds – ½ cup
Dried Red Chillies – 4 or 5
Salt – to taste

This is a simple podi or powder that is traditionally eaten mixed with hot steaming rice and ghee, or as an accompaniment with idlis and dosas. Its very easy to prepare and can be stored in an air-tight container for a few weeks.

Dry roast the sesame seeds or til along with the dried red chillies. Adjust no. of chillies according to your tolerance to heat. Now coarsely grind these 2 ingredients in your mixer along with a little salt. Store and use as desired.

Nuvvula Podi
For the Potatoes:
Cut each large, boiled potato into 4 pieces. The idea is to keep the pieces “monster-size”. There is no need to peel the spuds. Heat the oil in a kadhai or non-stick pan. Add a small teaspoon of sesame seeds and as soon as they sputter, add the potato cubes. Stir well, sprinkle salt, and 2 heaped tablespoons of the Nuvvula Podi. Fry this on a high flame till the potatoes are crisp and brown. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot with rotis or rice.

This post is my entry to the Indiblogger Mahindra XUV500 Incredible Stories contest.