No, I am not a petrol head. And I give myself a pat on the back if I can tell a hatchback from a sedan. Do I have a problem?
I didn’t play with toy cars when I was a kid. Don’t jump to conclusions — I didn’t have a closet full of Barbies either. I just didn’t see the allure of a metal thingy on a bunch of wheels zipping around the room. I had the latest toys, of course (my parents didn’t want me to feel left out) and I remember sitting on the floor with the remote control of a toy jeep, fiddling with the knobs, watching it potter about for a while, and then I looked up and gave them a “Is that all it does?” look. Honestly, what’s the big deal? I still don’t get it. When I hit my teens, and every kid in school was drooling over their dad’s bikes, I was super kicked about the “special access” I got to the adult’s section of the school library. Are you telling me that I can finally read Lawrence and Tolstoy and the Bronte sisters? Get outta here!
Cars and bikes are beautiful beings. But what I notice around me is the constant need to project them as an extension or exhibition of masculinity. That is why everyone wants boys to play with cars and monster trucks when they are kids. The motorcycle is seen as a rite of passage — owning one is a familial and societal approval of one’s manhood. The bike exemplifies a sense of freedom, a tinge of “I don’t have to listen to Daddy anymore”. It exudes a macho sexiness that the rider’s physicality might not be able to accomplish, which is why bikes are seen as sexier than scooters — scooters are dad-lier, avuncular. The bike pampers the male ego and hence — through decades of advertising — is treated in a sexist manner, as an equivalent (also, replacement) of women. The bike is projected as risqué, indomitable and beastly — everything a man is expected to be.
Cars, on the other hand, are a tad more complicated. The first cars are always cooler — maybe in a shiny shade of red — with last night’s beer cans rolling around, sand from that road trip and condoms lying under the seat. The first cars give men a sense of control over their lives, which they might not enjoy at their MNCs — or in their relationships. The first cars are “dude cars” — a haven for bros to roll the windows down, thrust their heads out and scream till they burst as they zip through an empty highway, finding a release for all the frustrations and confinements of young adulthood. This is when they are in their first jobs, maybe in a different city, with new friends who are going through the exact same life experiences. This is when they desperately start looking for a support system of friends who understand them. Hence, they move from the selfish two-seater of the bike to a more accommodating group environment of a car. It becomes their personal bubble, in a world that suddenly feels a lot more hostile than it did a few years back.
But as you grow up — in life and career — your car grows up too. The car, then, has to be an extension of your achievements and reflect your calibre. You need the Mercs and BMWs of the world, to tell the world that you have arrived. Because, otherwise, how would they know? I don’t understand any of this. Until recently, my trick to telling a hatchback from a sedan was “sedans have butts”. I usually cannot identify the brand of a car (other than the Volkswagen Beetle, which I absolutely adore), and if anyone asked me where the engine was or what the carbonator did (if cars and bikes indeed have carbonators – it just sounds like a word that would be related to automobiles), I would happily smile and tell them that Warhol is the post-modern Matisse. That is when they will share my confusion.
Do I not like cars and bikes? Of course I do. I love vintage cars for their design and character, a slick black or silver sedan is always classy and open jeeps are great for jungles and beaches. I love Harleys and Enfields, because they project a lifestyle choice, a stand out personality and a sense of respect for everyone and everything. When I see a man making such automobile choices, I would expect — in most cases — a certain degree of sanity and sortedness.
What I don’t appreciate are the connotations attached to automobiles. I don’t understand the hyper masculinity attached to any of it. Those men who buy an expensive, flashy beast are as bad as rowdy teenagers playing Amplifier on loop while zooming around Lady Sri Ram — if you think you need a metal contraption to prove your masculinity, you ain’t man enough.