By Avik Mitra
While a brand new car with sleek aerodynamics and cutting-edge technology is a novelty by itself, the very sight of a vintage or a classic car cruising elegantly on the streets strikes one with an overwhelming feeling of desire. Vintage cars in their high slung elegance are stunning, almost regal. They have captivating designs that are a mark of artistry & craft. Something modern cars can only dream of because of the need to generate sheer power. The very presence of a Buick or a classic convertible Cadillac is an indicator of the bygone days of honor, pride & royalty.
Once the summer begins to recede into the background by the end of June, it is almost a family tradition or more of a ritual to escape for a quick mountain retreat between the cusp of the diminishing heat and approaching monsoons. In the absence of a concrete plan for a getaway, the decisions are often impromptu, taken on the spot. More often than not we head to the highlands to experience the wisp of mist descending onto our faces and clouding vision giving the entire atmosphere a hint of mystery. The winding roads circling around the circumference of the hills, the forested paths, and a burst of fresh air, all combined together begin to crown an arched highway welcoming us into a forbidden kingdom, a mythical land that lies beyond, unknown to city folk. I've had my driving license for a year now. My dad's red slender classic Cadillac stood idle in the garage like a treat on the Christmas tree tempting all the children. It seldom saw the daylight outside the garage as it had become more of a prized showpiece, a trophy to remind him of the glorious past. Every other weekend my dad would get down to spend some quality alone time to keep churning its parts ad keeping it in running condition, but all inside the garage or at the most, the front porch. That's as far as the red vintage Cadillac had ventured in its quest for fresh air.
In the Northern Highlands, the first downpour brings great relief to the landscape, infusing a sense of surreal in the surrounding nature. Nature is truly at its glorious best in the Northern Highlands during this period of time. The gurgling waters flowing in trickling streams at every second mountain creek, the flashes of lightning accompanied by a furious storm and a flickering light in the distance, its as if Nature had been waiting for this moment to get all the elements in her arsenal combined together to present a canvas that is unmatchable. The shifting landscape from orange to grey to dark gives the sky looming above a mystic witness to all that is unfolding beneath. A wet earthy scent in the air, the raindrops trapped on the leaves, bustling shrubs, formation of a misty nebula and the wind caressing your face are exactly the ingredients Mother Nature had retrieved from her store house to stir up a dish worthy of our audience. Under such circumstances a road trip is the best tribute to such unprecedented display of unadulterated natural beauty, thrill & adventure.. It was decided. All the forces of nature were conspiring to build up to this moment only to enable and encourage me to trust my instincts and set on a journey of a lifetime. And the ride would be facilitated by nonetheless than my father's prized red vintage car.
I could almost visualise the picture in my head even before I could set off for our much awaited road trip. A serene winding road with the first rays of sunlight breaking through the heavily forested canopy over it, tracing itself around the hills and a single spectacular dazzling red beauty on wheels traversing its way through the middle of it all. It was almost as if it were divine visual relief by deliberation. Man forcing his authority in the heart of nature. The natural feistiness of nature versus combustion power and speed generated by a man made machine. The sense of thrill ensured I did not sleep at all the entire night. So at 4 AM, I jumped off my bed, to begin my much anticipated trip on the red slender beauty on wheels. Thankfully, the traffic was low as it was still early morning with a dense fog gliding over the cityscape.
After driving for a while through the empty streets, skipping the lights at every traffic signal, with no one to stop me, I wanted to take a pit stop for a brief stopgap. I halted at a gas station diner for a quick meal, finding a lot of admirers crowding around my beauty on wheels in the parking lot, upon returning. I interacted with them obliging them with answers about the make and brand of my car and small talk on its history & possession. Soon after I took off on my red beauty much to the disappointment of the onlookers who were left wanting more of it. As the air started showing signs of a slight chill as I breezed across the road in my fast car, I sensed the hills were not far away now. I was gloating within, at the thought of finally reuniting with the landscape I have been dreaming all night.
The uphill roads were very smooth and from the top, they reminded me of a carpet of tar that had been laid out to welcome my arrival. It was a fascinating mountain resort with its deeply forested hills and rich traces of unbridled flora and fauna. While I had an itching desire to capture pictures of the naturally blessed landscape of my sleek smartphone, I stopped myself from doing so, intending to let the atmosphere all settle inside me. I was excited but I did not want to let the excitement get the better of me. At the summit, I felt like a king. Absorbing the spoils of my treacherous climb to the top.
However surprisingly, I met a young boy from the middle of nowhere who seemed to be quite unusually pleased to see me. He had an affable smile which endeared me to him as well. Upon approaching quite close to me, it seemed he had something in his possession which he wanted to show me. He was yet to speak a word. Smiling gallantly he showed me a picture, rather a painting, an oil painting on a regular canvas, not hurriedly completed. To my utter amazement and delight, I was left speechless at what I saw. It was a picture-perfect painting that captured the beauty of my car while it was cruising through the winding roads, making way for the summit. The artist revealed, he was spending time by himself thinking of what to create when he noticed the red car driving along the road. He was so fascinated, by its unique style, color, and shape, and its aura in the middle of this natural landscape, he decided to capture it in his canvas. He had no idea that the car would ultimately climb all the way up to the summit and he would meet its driver.
I was extremely touched by this incident. I spent some more time with the young artist appreciating his talent. I took him to my car which was parked outside the forested area and allowed him to take a closer look at the beauty which fascinated him so much. He lived nearby, so I offered to drop him off at his home on my way back. I had fallen in love with his painting and on the way back I offered to buy it from him, but even before I could utter the words, he insisted I keep the painting as a memento of this time spent together and refused any money for it. I insisted that he should take some reward for his efforts but he declined politely saying the experience itself and the ride on the car were more than a reward for him. The painting still stands on the living room wall of my house today, just above the fireplace. The lone red vintage car gliding through the road surrounded by a canopy of thick greenery on both sides.