A tribute to the Ambassador, with whose passing a way of life has also passed

A little more than a decade ago a book celebrated the journey of the good old Ambassador. A conservationist called it “the sights, the sounds and soul of India”. The book presented the Amby, as the car is fondly called by many of its users, in different parts of the country — from the parking lot of Shastri Bhawan in New Delhi, where each babu had his own Amby space, to the little lanes of Calcutta where the car often blocked the way, to the seaside drive in Madras where people frequently left their Amby to soak in the sea waters and the sun rays, confident that their car would always stand with them.

With its sturdy body, luxurious seat, great boot, there was nothing to beat the Ambassador. It often used to have those little white or light blue curtains on its windows. It occasionally had a little fan too, for the comfort of the sahib. Every now and then, it came with a beacon, or a tiny flag post on the bonnet. Ah, the joys of the Amby, the colours of the emerging nation that took pride in its “own car”, symbol of a nation reaching within.

It often denoted the status of the owner, such was the pride, such was the joy of travelling, and being seen travelling, by Ambassador.

Why, even at the book launch of Raghubir Singh's “A Way into India” — yes that is the name of the book, as I now recall — Sheila Dikshit, the then CM of Delhi, arrived in an Ambassador.

All that is gone now, the book, the evening, the car, leaving a little lump in the throat. It was not just a car, it was the image of a nation on the move; you could find it on the unpaved floor of dhabas in outer Delhi, you could see it snaking past traffic in and around Kashmere Gate. In New Delhi, if you did not have an Amby, you had not arrived in life. And everybody had an Amby story: young boys and girls scored higher in the social stakes if they got down from an Amby in the morning; men did likewise, if they were driven in an Amby; women used it a little better. The wide seats with plenty of space made sure no sari got crushed because you were sharing the seat with somebody. Nobody called it a car. It was either their Amby or The Car.

All that is confined to the dust laden pages of history; the Amby is history too, its last few years adding a sorry footnote. Some felt sorry that the car could not keep up with the competition, others sad that some unmentionable elements actually saw in its big boot an opportunity to hoodwink the cops. Some used it as a taxi too, a sad comment on what was an august vehicle. Amidst all this, occasionally the car made news for positive things: like when some Delhi government ministers returned their fancy cars for an Ambassador, or when a rare Good Samaritan used the big, big car to ferry passengers at the time of a bus strike.

Those were little smiles for a car that gave us all lots of smiles. It was a first crush for many, it was a lasting commitment for many others.

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