Years of emotional bonding with his grandfather’s luxury car manufactured in Oxford motivated a young man to revamp the vintage vehicle and make it a piece of marvel. After the devastating floods of 2014, he worked on it to make it ‘the longest-owned car’ on its second coming on Srinagar’s roads.
One night when his mother scolded him for not finishing his homework and fretting the day away playing cricket, the young boy quietly crept out of his bed, and tiptoed out of the house. He stepped into the garage, straight into the consoling arms of his best friend – Morris Minor, a light grey vintage car that originally belonged to his grandfather.
The little boy put his head on the moonlit bonnet and wept bitterly till he felt suitably consoled.
This is how Humayun Abdulla, a feisty teenager and a third generation owner of the vintage vehicle recollects his childhood companionship with the 1953 model, Morris Minor.
The luxury vehicle radiates an aura of antiquity, and has twice bagged the award for ‘Best vintage car of the year’, as well as the ‘longest owned’ car of Kashmir.
“The car has always been a good and reliable companion of mine,” says Humayun in typical teen mannerism. “When I was young and upset about something, I used to run towards the garage and share my thoughts with my Morris. Since then, I have been emotionally attached to this car.”
In a way, Humayun inherited the love of the car from his grandfather.
Back in the early 50s, the car was carefully assembled at a manufacturing plant at Cowley, Oxford in England, and imported to India. The car was put on display at New Delhi, where it caught the eye of his grandfather, Mohamed Abdulla. ‘It was love at first sight’, and the senior Abdulla shelled out a princely sum of Rs 5,000 for it, and brought it to Srinagar.
“My grandfather was very particular about this car as this was his first car,” Humayun talks about how his grandfather cared for his most prized possession, like a favourite child. “In winters he never used the self-system to start the car and instead he used the handle system just to preserve the battery and engine.” Naturally, this reverence was bequeathed to the family.
The young car owner maintains that it is a unique experience to own a classic car of English origin.
“My dad, and all of us in the family, have always thought of this car as a part of our family and I believe that when we care for a car like that, it automatically stays in good shape and never acts problematic. So all of us together have been able to preserve the car,” says Humayun who is currently a student of Mayo College in Ajmer, Rajasthan.
But the journey for the vintage marvel seemed almost over in 2014 as the devastating flood drowned everything in its wake, including the car. As the water levels receded, the car appeared to be a ghost of its former self, mud coated, damp and oozing from every part.
“After the floods,” Humayun recollects, “my car was in a bad shape and I tried many mechanics but no one could fix it. Then I got to know that Safdar Sahib, my grandfather’s mechanic, is still around. I went and requested him to have a look at the car. Though he was in great demand those days, as the number of vehicles ruined by the floods bundled up, he spared some time for old times’ sake. Within twenty minutes he got the car up and running.”
Then the mechanic took it with him and fixed it in two days and since then it’s been running perfectly. “After we got the electrical repairs done, we purchased new seats, got it painted and it was all set to rule the road,” he says.
Claiming that motoring is in their blood, the youngster credits his love for cars to the erstwhile family driver, Ghulam Nabi.
“Ghulam Nabi Sahib was an inspiration for me and I owe my passion for cars to him,” says the car aficionado, who is a resident of Boulevard area of Dalgate. “When he passed away in 2014 it broke my heart. Before dying he had told us that the other cars might not be salvaged, but this Morris will definitely bounce back.”
The car is presently stationed at the family owned petrol pump, Emjay Motors near Kashmir Golf Club. The car might be the envy of spectators who consider the family lucky to be in possession of such a magnificent car, but it sure is not easy to maintain, since this is no ordinary vehicle.
“Maintaining the car is quite a herculean task, but when you’re fully determined to keep the car in good shape, one finds a way,” Humayun explains. “We trust only a few expert mechanics with the car and I have been able to maintain the car only due to their indefatigable efforts. Else, nowadays, such cars are very few in number and there are not many people left who can repair them.”
The car enthusiast rues that across the globe, governments support initiatives for conservation of vintage cars, but in the Valley, the government does not provide adequate support for the upkeep of such cars, despite considering them as national heritage.
“The government policy is also not very supportive. Many times policemen have threatened me to seize the car because it’s more than fifteen years old. So if it’s such a hassle to keep these cars, why would anyone want to keep them? That is one very annoying part,” Humayun says.
The car was recently displayed at an event titled “Evolution – An Exclusive Exhibition of Cars Through Time”, conducted by Kashmir Off-Road, an adventure and motor-sport group based in Srinagar.
It showcased an elaborate range of cars – 1930’s vintage, to modern cars, off-roaders and sports cars, besides vintage bikes, scooters and recreational vehicles.
“The car took part in the event last year and didn’t win any awards because it was not in a functional condition but this year it got two awards for Best vintage car of the year and the longest owned car of Kashmir,” says the young owner, in a jubilant tone.
Such events create a platform for car enthusiasts of Kashmir, believes Farah Zaidi, the co-founder and PR director of Kashmir Off-Road.
“The idea of organizing such events is to promote car culture in Kashmir,” Zaidi says. “Our event is called ‘Evolution – An Exhibition of cars over time’. So it is just not the vintage and classic cars and bikes on display but modern cars and bikes as well.”
Back home, Humayun’s companion is radiating with its classic brilliance and the childhood companionship is still going strong. And the bond is only ensuring the long ride for the car—whose tribe is no longer plying on Kashmir roads.
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