Motoring

Love bloomed on the Lambretta, recalls S.P. Balasubrahmanyam

New Delhi, 21/02/2018 : Visitors seen clicking the Fiat Car, which was once upon a time used by former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial in New Delhi on February 21, 2018. Photo : R_V_ Moorthy

New Delhi, 21/02/2018 : Visitors seen clicking the Fiat Car, which was once upon a time used by former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Memorial in New Delhi on February 21, 2018. Photo : R_V_ Moorthy

My first wheels was the tricycle I rode as a kid during playtime in the evenings. In my hometown, Nellore, tricycles were also rented out, just like bicycles, for one anna per hour. I still have a picture of me on it.

Later, doing the pre-university course in Tirupati, I used to envy my roommate who had a Hummer cycle. But I always dreamt of a green Raleigh that came with a dynamo. Priced at ₹265 then, it was a big amount for my father, who was a Harikatha artiste. He offered to buy me a Hind instead, at ₹80. He finally bought me the Raleigh on hire-purchase.

VIJAYAWADA (ANDHRA PRADESH) 26/09/2018:
Noted singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam.  Photo: V RAJU / The Hindu

VIJAYAWADA (ANDHRA PRADESH) 26/09/2018: Noted singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. Photo: V RAJU / The Hindu

It was such a great feeling to ride it. It looked very English and the ride was butter-smooth. The faster I pedalled, the brighter the lamp glowed and that was a small fascination with the dynamo. Especially because, most cycles came with a kerosene lamp those days and this was something cool and modern. My bachelor days were spent on the Raleigh and my college mates would compete to get a ride on it. I kept it in immaculate condition till 1977, when a tailor who worked at my home in Madras disappeared with it one fine morning.

My first bike was a chocolate-and-beige Lambretta scooter I bought from a friend who worked as a poster designer. It costed ₹3,200, which was quite expensive for me, considering that I was given ₹300 for a song back then. My love bloomed on the Lambretta. Savitri and I went dating on the scooter and we loved the ride. It was on the Lambretta that we eloped and got married.

As I made a career in music and saved some money, I bought a car in 1970. It was a 1963 Fiat, priced at ₹10,300. However, I learnt driving on the Ambassadors that my producer’s friends had. Going out in the Fiat was a pleasure, but I would park the car at Hotel Palmgrove and take an auto further to Mount Road. I felt intimidated to drive in the traffic on Gemini flyover and Mount Road, in Chennai. The second car I had was an Ambassador that plunged into a river near Vellore, when (composer) Ilaiyaraaja, a few other musicians and I were travelling from Pollachi to Madras. Luckily, all of us escaped unscathed and we even performed a show that evening.

I always had a thing for imported cars. Later, I added a Toyota, Morris Oxford, Morris Minor and a Volkswagen regular coupé to the list of cars I owned. Actor Sivaji Ganesan was so smitten by my Morris Minor that he was after me to sell it to him. He would pull my leg saying he would one day sneak the car out from the garage.

As I changed cars, I also grew passionate about driving. I even drove a bus in Ullaasam and rode a Bajaj Chetak in Keladi Kanmani . Now, I own a Mercedes-Benz S 400 and an E 200. However, my dream is to buy the Fiat used by Mohammed Rafi. I am his greatest fan and a family friend, and each time I visit his house, I keep asking his daughters for the car.

(As told to A Shrikumar)


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Printable version | Sep 18, 2022 5:58:25 am | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/love-bloomed-on-the-lambretta/article26184458.ece