For some of us, it was a pleasant surprise while some of us knew it was on its way. The day that dad brought our first car home. The first thing to do was of course click photos. On those old Kodak cameras. All the neighbours would come out to check out the car and congratulate us.
Maybe your family would call people over for a small celebration. The more religious ones would follow it up with a quick drive to the nearest temple or church. To get the blessings of the almighty before we embarked upon the countless journeys the car would eventually take us on.
These days, every household seems to have more than one car. So much so, that there's no place for parking. But that wasn't the case back then. There weren't too many cars to pick from either. In fact, our options were mostly limited to: Ambassador, Premier Padmini (Fiat) or a Maruti 800.
And our first car wasn't just a machine with a steering wheel, engine and wheels. It was a box of memories. Remember convincing our parents to go for ice cream or a long drive after dinner? The entire family in the car, on a night drive, circling through the neighbourhood. Such happy times!
We just needed an excuse to get in the car and go somewhere. If anyone was going on any kind of errand, even to the shop nearby, the kids would be more than happy to tag along. Remember rolling down the windows (yes, you really had to roll them down back then, not just press a button like these days), and looking out while the grown ups frantically told us to put our heads and hands back in and stay safe.
And remember when our friends used to come over for a birthday party. No one drove or took a cab, everyone was dropped off. And when it was time to leave, our car would turn into the dropping machine, going to each house and making sure everyone returned safe. Good, old days!
These days, we don't seem to go on too many road trips. Everyone's busy with their own lives, no one has time to sit together for a family meal, let alone a trip with the family. But back then, we used to look forward to those mini vacations. Driving to a hill station or just to visit relatives, getting the uncles and aunts and cousins also in the car.
And when there were too many people, the tiniest members of the family were shifted to the boot or the 'dickie' as we called it. Yes, it was cramped and stuffy. And no, we didn't care. It was the drive that mattered.
Every car had a stack of audio cassettes. From old classics to Bollywood tracks, we would hum along with the songs and when we got bored of listening to the same songs over and over, antakshari & car games filled the void.
It was always more than just a car, wasn't it? Like a member of the family. There were times when the car would piss us off and be a real pain the ass. Sometimes it seemed like it just had to breakdown in the middle of nowhere. It would overheat too. How many times have we heard the words: "Bhaisaab coolant leak kar gaya hai."
Usually, we'd rely on dad's 'mechanic skills' to fix it. Almost always, he'd turn out to be the hero and save the day. Sometimes all of us had to get out and push the car, while dad steered the wheel and gave us instructions. I'm telling you, that sweet noise of the engine revving after a few pushes was like music to our ears. Such relief!
And it was so typical of dads to forget the keys in the car. Dad would often be lost in thought as he took everything out of the car but suddenly realised the keys were still inside. Back then, a ruler was the saviour as we popped open the lock.
But time goes on. Things change. We got older and our cars got older too. Soon the old one was disposed off and we bought newer ones. Some of us sold the old car while those who kept it often ignored it. In its final days, it would serve as a learning car for those of us touching 18. With no power steerings or automatic gears, if you learnt to drive that, you could drive anything.
When you finally realised that it was never coming back, it was then that you remembered that first day when dad got the car home and you excitedly sat inside and tried everything out, pushing every button, turning on the stereo and jumping around.
Those old cars were nothing compared to the beasts on wheels we have these days. The ones these days have lots of fancy features and buttons. They're better, faster and safer too. But they will never compare with our first family car. Because those ones, they served us well. And boy, did they have memories!
Drive around all you want in your swanky new Hyundais and Hondas, but they'll never bring back the joy ride of your first family car!