Sunday, November 15, 2009

Faces In The Traffic

In the beginning was the Model T: a jukebox of a machine activated by a hand-operated lever carried along by the proud owner of the car. Self-igniting engines were not yet invented. Those were the time of the Victorian euphoria. The spirit of the English nation was ever than never high in spite of an occasional sinking of a Titanic or the burning down of a Crystal Palace by an inadvertent short circuit. However, inventions struggled to keep abreast of the spirit of well being and general prosperity.

While the conservatives still clung to the horsepower of the carriages, the neo-rich resorted to the new fangled automotives that spat out smoke like a dragon and raved like a male rhino. These were serious accusations indeed, but nevertheless, the automakers were determined to conquer the roads by a concerted effort. Sooner of later, filters and mufflers prevented the excess smoke and noise from polluting the surroundings. Those were the days that saw many a design classic roll out of the assembly line that could stand comparison to the handsomest coaches. From then on the carts went before the horses and the horses retired to the paddocks.

By the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, the automakers had more or less consolidated their positions. Many major innovations were also brought about and now what is known as the vintage cars were ready to make history. They were, in a way, bizarre creatures with their headlights projecting like the head and the roof of a tortoise. As to their colour, they came in a wide spectrum to choose from instead of with the earlier mandatory Henry Ford tag of “as long as it’s black”. When these new breed of cars came out of the factories in flying colours people began to flock to them as children to a toy shop.

While a few were tugged along by the rear view of the car the majority were captivated as a result of a head-on collision with the front view of these cars. Reading the popular imagination, the car designers were quick to respond. From then on much time and effort were expended to improve the “face value” of the cars. Accordingly, the slat space or the outline of the grills was carefully positioned. Headlights were placed in such a manner that along with two dots in the center they looked upon as two eyes or even more sensuous or sensual suggestions, depending upon the humour of the onlooker. As a whole, the relative harmony between the grills, the headlights, and the bumper gave an impression of being alive with expression.

Those were the times when an automobile was considered more than a mere vehicle of conveyance. There was something “domestic” about them that endeared them to the people. And not surprisingly they were subjected to regular care such as servicing and shampooed pamperings. Almost like a pet they seemed to compete with dogs and cats for the affection of the household. It is now interesting to note that some even came to admit their cars to then numerous “car clinics”. In the annals of motoring many a heart was broken when a car met with an accident that resulted in the bruising of paint and the denting of body with the sound of a bone breaking.

But these are the reminiscences from the album of an auld lang syne. Time has wrought much change today to the mould of a car and has transformed them into objects of utility and luxury. They no more possess the warmth of expression and puckish grins of their forebears that had once welcomed them into the intimacy of their proud owners. Instead, one comes across only sophisticated boxes on wheels in the form of a car.

They may be masterpieces of craftsmanship to adorn a showcase but sadly there is no more a face behind the mask, which gives life to a metal and a character to a vehicle. What meteor fell from the sky! or what asteroid struck the world causing the rapid extinction of such a species of vehicles that had inspired men to emotions! While roaming deep into the countryside, one might still come across a few old timers, like faces in the traffic, still serving their masters. But, who knows, for them, it might be a relief to die than live like Tithonus amidst a species who is on the brink of cloning their own genes along an assembly line.

                                                                                                                                 George Manjooran.