Ok, perhaps ‘karmic’ remains to be seen. The important thing is, here in India I have bought my own car. Arre Kya Baat Hai!*
Up until now I have been renting a car. Renting or leasing a vehicle is different here than in the US. What you rent is a car and a driver who will take you wherever you need to go; the cost per day is Rs. 1,700 – 2,000 ($32 – 38). This is convenient and for short-term business trips perfectly fine. However as a long-time New Englander I have an impulse to economize. Also the basic car you get when you rent is a compact, like the Maruti Swift or Tata Indigo. When Kim, Alex and Morgan are here, all arriving with lots of luggage for extended stays, these little vehicles won’t cut it.
The car you want here for carrying lots of people and luggage in comfort is the Toyota Innova. This is a mini-van not that different from the Toyota Sienna we had a few years back. There’s at least 4 Innovas parked in the garages at my flat and you see them all over as you drive around. Having ridden in one a few times I concluded it was the car for me. Here’s a better look at my actual car, parked at my flat:
A popular car site here is carewale.com (Hindi for “car merchant”). There I was able to research prices and features, and also re-sale value for used Innovas. Another variable in my cost analysis was salaries for drivers. For that I learned a lot from my colleagues at work, and also there are examples you can find on sites like indiamike.com. Then there’s the price of fuel. Petrol here is Rs. 75 per liter, or about $5.40 per gallon; diesel is government subsidized and is Rs. 49 per liter, or about $3.50 per gallon. Most vehicles here use diesel. With all these facts I figured that by buying now and selling when I leave India, even with paying a driver and buying fuel I should break even (or even do better) relative to renting a compact car – and I’d have a much better vehicle.
But, how to get it? I didn’t want to buy a used vehicle from a private person, because I wanted to make sure all the needed registrations would be done properly. I was also confused a bit by something I read in an expat guide, which said foreigners could only own a vehicle after 1 year of residence. That was not true, as I found out when I visited a dealer, DSK Toyota and its showroom in Hadapsar. The folks there explained there were no problems and so that’s where I made my purchase. DSK handled all the paperwork and registrations on my behalf – could not have been easier.
Finally the car is ready for you to take delivery, but one thing remains – the puja, which you see in the photo at top. Puja refers to a variety of rituals made by Hindus, and some Buddhists. There are many different ways this can be done, but the constant principle is to make an offering to a god and ask their blessing. Some Hindus make puja everyday, but starting a new venture, like opening a business or buying a car are special times that virtually always require puja; for the average Indian person if there was no puja for a new car they would be uncomfortable. (Which reminds me I have to ask some friends how they feel when they travel overseas and ride in cars in the US or elsewhere.)
Here’s the preparation for the puja, including water, incense, spices, rice and turmeric/sandalwood paste, and coconut:
In summary, the puja for my Innova was to Lord Ganesh (who blesses new ventures) and went like so: First came the decoration of ribbon and marigolds. I then donned the hat you see in the photo. (In the middle and North of India people cover their heads when doing puja, in the South apparently they don’t.) Then my helper – also wearing a hat – inscribed a swastika on the front of the hood with red paste – swastika is an ancient sanskrit word, and in that context roughly means “goodness” or “higher self”. Next we circled the car clockwise, sprinkling each tire with water. After that we went round again, this time daubing each tire with saffron power, turmeric and then sprinkling rice. All the while incense was burning. Then we came to my favorite part. I was handed a coconut, told to make a few mystic passes with it, and then to smash it in the pad provided. Roger that! Coconut water not only anointed the car like it was supposed to, but all the onlookers as well. Finally we put saffron and turmeric on the small glass Ganesh that the dealer provided, and made an offering of some of the coconut and a piece of peda:
Peda is a kind of sweet made with milk and sugar, and flavored with pistachio, saffron or other spices. We shared out some peda with folks from the dealership, moved the Ganesh to inside on the dashboard, and our puja was done. The coda to the ritual was to provide a few small tips to my sales associate and to my puja helpers.
I’ve been driving in the car – with my driver Rupesh, of course – since Tuesday last and a finer ride can’t be found. Based on wife Kim’s suggestion I call the car “Coconut” – we, like many US folks, have the habit of naming our cars so there’s no reason not to name this one. Rupesh approves – the coconut after all is sweet, sustaining, and – aside from my smashing example – quite sturdy, all useful attributes in a car.
My Western friends may be thinking – not to put too fine a point – that this primitive religiosity is at best quaint, but more likely a hindrance to modern development. In one sense I agree – India is in many ways a medieval place. But I also am in mind of a remark made by the hero in Zelazny’s Hugo-winning Lord of Light, who said:
This is only one world … who knows what goes on elsewhere?
While I’m here in this world – India – I’m happy to let its ways guide me. And as my family knows I’ve more than once made my own small rituals to commemorate a passing friend or the end of the year – puja is no different.
Till next time … thanks for reading.
* Literally means “Hey, what’s up?”, but as an interjection can mean “Hey, great!” or “How wonderful!”