The God’s own country – a piece of cushy land, lined with beautiful golden beaches on one side, tasty spices in between and chilly mountains – all crammed into the shape of a thin tapioca. Until recently, no body made a straight road here. And that made it, the best place to drive. You twist the key and despite some broken roads in your vicinity, within the first few miles, you realize this is where God learnt his driving. Such is the camber of the roads, the twists and turns and the sudden crests and troughs; this should be called a race track rather than a state. And every district has at least two such roads. May be more.
And that lead to the birth of the car enthusiast. Cars are an integral part of the Malayali life style. Multiple car ownership is nothing new here and we like to learn about cars as much as we like to drive them. Why else would you have four Malayalam car magazines and another one in English that caters solely to performance and tuning, and still find readers for all of them? Speaking of which, the tuning culture is better than anywhere else in India. Punjab may have the loudest audio systems and the largest collection of chrome wheels, but we are so much better in this small state of ours. We spend the money on light weight rims, sticky Yokohamas, hybrid turbos and adjustable coilovers instead.
So, why is this God’s own country suddenly turning to be the devil’s den to motorists? One, it is the roads, which are more potholed now than ever before. But we are used to this sort of thing after the monsoons. And these rebuilds happens every two years and that how government contractors get their money. Live and let live – that’s the attitude we have towards everything. Whether it’s Solar or ice cream, unless you are unemployed or a politician of the opposition party, we don’t take so much interest in any of the government’s activities.
Until now. Because now, they have turned their gun towards the motorists. Specifically, the tuning enthusiasts. When I say tuning enthusiasts, it conjures images of street racers in loud Hondas, ripping up the tarmac, jumping red lights and creating havoc in the city. But that’s the stuff of the movies. There can be one or two immature boys out there living up to the hype, but having met nearly all of them and known them as readers of our magazine, I say these are some of the most well mannered people on the road. And undoubtedly the safest drivers on the road.
And there is a very good reason why they are so good on the road – it’s the love for their cars. They can stop on a dime without panicking, swerve to avoid a child that has run on to the road and more often than not, these are the people who keep their lane discipline and give you way when they see flashing headlights in their rear view mirrors. And they spend more money and time than the average motorists to keep their cars in the best condition possible. They change parts before they fail and they upgrade those which could have been better made. So they know when a car is in need of better tyres and improved brakes and they discover it long before they crash on to a lorry and change them. And they advise their friends to do the same, since most Indian cars are built to a cost and are severely under-tyred. If anything, the world needs more car enthusiasts. And if everyone loved their cars so much, there wouldn’t be any crashes at all.
So why is it that, all of a sudden that these auto enthusiasts with a taste for a bit of light tuning, looked upon so badly by the Motor Vehicle Department? Why is having a mesh grill at the front or a chin spoiler would be so much out of “the law”. That’s like saying men shouldn’t wear big moustaches. Oh…that doesn’t work. Because it all started with a gentleman whom you first notice for his facial hair that sticks out like a spoiler.
And to make matters worse, there is a matter of newspaper reporters getting the false impression and printing it. When the Commissioner said he was gonna take on audio equipments in vehicles, he didn’t perhaps stress enough that he meant public carriages. Leading news papers reported as if this spelled the end to all vehicles fitted with music players and some even said this would have a drastic effect on cars that come pre-loaded with standard audio equipments. No effort was made to make corrections to the statement in the next few days. The department who runs on motorists’ money should be held responsible for the chaos and confusion that was caused to them. But this is Kerala. And no one really cares!
The RTOs have misinterpreted everything the Commissioner told them and now thinks they are to track down every single car which they think are modified in some sort of way. And can they tell these modified cars from their stock counterparts? Not very well. I saw someone getting charged the other day, for having a black roof on his Indica Vista while the factory itself sells them with black roofs these days. And another got relieved of Rs.450 for sporting some wide rubbers on his car, since the Govt would rather have him dead on skinny factory tyres. Why do car companies skimp on rubber and why do their higher spec models have wider tyres standard? To save costs and we know it. Companies like Maruti put on 165/80 R14 tyres (as opposed to the 185/65 R15 on the Z variants) on the lower variants of the Swift, which they sell millions, and leave it up to the customers to upgrade them based on their driving requirements. If you drive on snow, you put winter tyres, if your drive on the track you put slicks, and if you drive on our roads, you put the widest rubber you can find, cause you never know when you might want to brake hard to avoid hitting something. Increasing your contact patch gives you better braking and makes you safer on the road. The upshot is ‘rubber’ prevents accidents. All sorts!
Having wide tyres, as long as they don’t stick out of the wheel arches and cause no splashing on to the wind screen or on other vehicles on the road, should be fine. Instead, here they are ‘fined’.
The thing is, the laws can’t keep up with the way automotive technology progresses. Day time running lights are mandatory in certain parts of the world and are universally accepted to improve safety. Car manufacturers like Audi, BMW and Mercedes started offering them in their cars and even local manufacturers like Mahindra and Force Motors are following suit. The idea is, you see a car from afar and unless you are that daft, you don’t crash into it. But the blokes running the department sees these little LED lights are a safety hazard and should be banned. They say, these ‘spotlights’ fitted to the bumpers of cars are a distraction. For the smooth roads we have that double up as tranquil, meditation camps, yes. What next, ban the sun because it’s too bright? Something needs to be done about the traffic lights, coz I find them particularly distracting while driving.
And if I were to bring up the question of road taxes and how they were used to improve the roads, the story would take a U turn. And as if spending on road repairs was a crime, they decided to invest on speed cameras.
As India’s one and only performance and tuning magazine, we should raise our voice against these unreasonable ways they are having against us enthusiasts. Because if we don’t you will soon be reading about tuned cars than driving them. We are not demanding to let everyone with their high intensity beams and loud free flow exhausts slide either. But being methodical and reasonable to the motorists would be an acceptable thing to do for a department funded by, may we remind, “the motorists’ money”.
And we are not saying all these to get ‘likes’ and ‘tweets’ on the world wide web either. We are doing it for the society and the lives of people dependent on the aftermarket and accessories industry, which is a Rs.520crore business these days. The revenues have fallen since the ban of sun films, and many of them are running out of business already. Things I am afraid are going to be even worse.
What is funny is, I don’t see a massive effort to bring the state’s safety to international standards. I see one man’s greed to carve a name for himself and make media waves.
As for me, I am gonna sell my car and ask for my road tax back.