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Going grease guns

Photo of Unrecognizable male mechanic measuring the oil level of an engine at an auto shop. Mechanic checking the oil level in a car service garage. Repairing engine at a service station. Car repair."r"n.  

Interested in machines, particularly automobiles, even while in school, I had studied the Arthur W. Judge automobile manuals, an expensive gift from my grandfather.

Finishing school in December 1956 in Madras, I had time up to July 1957 before joining pre-university class. I spent most of this period with my grandparents in Bangalore (now Bengaluru).

One day, I chanced to notice Premier Garage, a car workshop on the corner of Church Street and Museum Road, a 20-minute walk from my grandparents’ home. I walked in. The proprietor was surprised to see a school-educated 15-year-old, asking for a chance to learn hands-on repair of cars. His first response was an outright “no”. When I told him that I didn’t want money and he noticed my earnestness, he relented, assigning me to Ramu.

Ramu looked me up and down, and told me that my job was to hand him the tools as he worked. He would hold out his hand and say “9-by-16”, and I was expected to find the spanner and hand it to him. He soon found that I not only knew the tools (I had a small collection purchased from saved-up “pocket-money”) but I also knew about the systems of the car and how they worked.

Get the hands dirty

I would leave after breakfast, return for lunch and back to work, getting home around 5.30 p.m., wearing dungarees which grandpa got stitched for me — they soon became dirty and unwashably greasy, horrifying grandma!

Ramu would squat nearby smoking a bidi, supervising and guiding me. In the four-plus months under his tutelage, I had become familiar with the workings of cars, and acquired independent competence.

When I was to return to Madras to join college, I thanked Ramu. He grabbed my hand, took me to the proprietor’s cabin and proudly announced how he had taught me car repair.

Thereafter, whenever I visited my grandparents, I always met my guru Ramu.

Time moved on, I joined the Army and fought in the 1965 war. In 1968, I was posted to my regimental headquarters (MEG) in Bangalore.

One day, I chanced to be near the garage and went in looking for Ramu. He was not working there any more. Nobody recognised me. Enquiries revealed that Ramu had moved, possibly to Webb’s Garage on M.G. Road.

So off I went to Webb’s, and fortunately found Ramu. He looked blank when he saw me, but when I told him who I was, he was overjoyed. He grabbed my hand and pulled me around to each mechanic and then to the manager, proudly introducing me as the boy whom he had taught car repair.

My experience under Ramu stood me in good stead when I was serving in a field unit in the Kumaon Himalayas in 1963.

Wherever Ramu is — it’s unlikely he’s alive, having myself completed 79 years — I remain indebted to him.

sg9kere@live.com

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 2:32:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/going-grease-guns/article33948215.ece

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