Like migrant birds, my relatives from Shillong home in to Delhi's balmier (by comparison) climes when winter is at its height. And so, instead of hibernating -- like most sensible people during the Capital's chilly nights -- we end up partying.
Since my cousins and their parents are on holiday, they want to live it up, even though we have to attend to more mundane things like office, or school. Winters weigh heavily on us; lightly on them.
This year, though, having decided that instead of being constrained by a lack of cars (like most Delhi families we have only two) my aunt suggested the solution might lie in buying one of their own to use for the two months they spend in Delhi.
That made sense, but buying a new car didn't -- after all, it wouldn't be in use for 10 months in the year -- so my uncle, who is practical about these matters, rang from Shillong to request I find him a decent second-hand car, perhaps a WagonR. "No sweat," I promised, heart sinking since the only thing I know about cars is how to drive them.
But help was at hand when a colleague suggested I contact Maruti's True Value service for second-hand cars that came with maintenance warranties.
Over the next days I did my share of due diligence: prodding beneath bonnets, checking out papers, freezing to death as I tested the air-conditioning, approved colours, sniffed the upholstery (don't ask me why), and generally did the sort of things prospective car buyers are supposed to do.
"True Value," exploded my uncle, long distance, "bet they'll be more expensive. Why don't you get me a car directly from your service engineer?" "We hardly get any WagonRs," said the garage owner where one of my cars goes for servicing.
"But I could show you some other cars instead." "That's fine," said my aunt, who was in Delhi by now with her brood -- her husband was to join them a couple of weeks later.
So I test-drove a Zen, checked out an Indica, looked at a couple of entry-level Maruti 800s, even some Santros, reporting faithfully to my aunt about their condition and price, the commission chargeable, the possibility of negotiation, and my limited but nevertheless expert comments. My uncle, in his wisdom, rejected every one of them.
There was a small break when my cousins realised I was looking for a car for their parents. "We're not interested in a small car," the littler one represented, "you must find us one that suits our status."
According to them the Honda City passed muster -- besides, it was what their mother drove back home -- but what they'd really like was a Skoda Octavia or a Toyota Camry.
"Well, okay," said their mother indulgently, "why don't you check them?" "Do you have the budget?" asked the agent at the car bazaar I found myself at, which provoked me into steering more cars than I've ever sat in -- Ford Ikons and Fiat Palios included.
"Actually," said my aunt, "wouldn't an SUV be better?"
My next batch of trials included the Qualis, the Endeavour, the Scorpio and the Tavera. "I think you're on to a good deal," I told my uncle two weeks later, "with the Scorpio. It's almost new, hasn't been in an accident that I can tell, and the owner wants to sell immediately.""Are you out of your mind," barked my uncle, "who asked you to look for a large car?" "Your wife suggested you might need to travel a bit," I explained lamely. "Hmm, she might be right," he mused, "but I don't want to spend so much money, so would you mind looking out for an Omni van for me?"