So, we’ve bought a car

June 15th, 20111:33 pm @


Ready to take on the Delhi traffic. © GM Corp.

Delhi’s relentless summer heat, the prospect of moving about via rickshaw in the monsoon and the money we’ve been haemorrhaging on taxis mean it really makes sense to have our own transport. Not only that, but a car of our own means we can head to the hills on  a whim to escape the heat. Of course, buying a car in India – like doing anything – is not a straightforward matter.

Our first stop was a second-hand car “dealership” in one of the less salubrious parts of Delhi (the need for quote marks will become apparent) on a brutally hot summer day. We’d found it via a web search for the model car we were looking for.

The three of us – my wife, myself and our taxi driver, who was now our interpreter – squeezed ourselves into the small, but mercifully air conditioned office. Behind what was a somewhat unnecessarily large desk given the dimensions of the office sat The Car Dealer. A large man, he was squeezed in behind the desk – why not buy a smaller desk? – and sat beneath a cavalcade of gold-coloured statues of various Hindu deities. The repository of all knowledge in the modern world, aka Wikipedia, says there are some 330 million such deities. It was difficult to name the three that were not present in the room with us. Beside him stood his assistant, who was probably not standing out of respect, but because he was occupying the few vacant inches left in the office.

We mentioned to The Car Dealer the model that we’d seen on the website and were interested in taking a look at it, and any others he may have that were a similar make and/or price. This may be a West is West-type thing, but it seemed a perfectly straightforward proposition: we want to buy a car; you have a car to sell; ergo, let’s go look at the car. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that this is India, he failed to see things quite this way.

After sucking on his teeth for a bit and jabbing at his face with a plastic pen, he leaned back in his chair – such as he could, given the confines of the room and the surfeit of gods and the assistant – and said: “We have such a car. We will bring it here and you will give me a deposit.”

I looked at my wife, she looked at me, we both looked at our taxi driver/interpreter. He looked at us with an expression of “Yes?” – which wasn’t really the role I expected him to play in this farce. “Well, we’ll take a look at the car, and if we like it we’ll get our mechanic to look at it and if it all works out and the price is right then we’ll give you a deposit.”

Shaking his head and doing that little “tsk” that irritates the faeces out of me, he said: “That is not how we do things here, the car may be sold by the time all that happens.” We pointed out to him that my wife had called about the car a week ago. If it was still available for sale today, then we’d be happy taking a bet that it would be available in a few days’ time. Anyway, we’d like to see more than one car: “So let’s go see what else you’ve got.”

Again, the head shake and the patronising “tsk”. “We have no cars here. We must call the owners, who will bring the cars. They will only bring the cars if they are going to be sold.” At this point, suffice to say, we lost it and after questioning his sanity in many and varied ways we got up and left The Car Dealer in his tiny office, no doubt shaking his head and saying to his assistant: “Foreigners. Tsk.”

Once outside, the taxi driver/not-really-much-of-an-interpreter turned to us and said to us: “This area is not a very good place to buy cars, these people are all crooks.” I bit my tongue and decided against asking why he didn’t bother mentioning this small, but rather vital, piece of information earlier.

And so it went, following dead leads and even contemplating buying a brand new car just so we could get something. But if it wasn’t a lemon it was out of our budget until one Saturday after yet another fruitless search, we visited a small dealer near our house whose cars were a touch outside out budget but we thought were worth a look, just in case.

“Here are our cars,” said the sales assistant, handing us a folder with the details of every car they had for sale, along with mileage and, handily, the asking price. And a bonus, all the cars were parked outside their rather spacious office (with a modest collection of deities). We could look before we bought! A couple of the cars we wanted to see were in our price range but weren’t outside.

“No, they’re at our other car yard,” said our friendly assistant. “Not a problem, we’ll bring them to your house.” True to their word, a Chevrolet pulled up outside our house that evening and we all took a test drive. And so they got our cash, after we’d brought our former part-time driver, Balbir, and his mechanic to look it over and give us their opinion. When we all pulled up at the car yard the next day we figured it was a good sign when the pair of them started cooing over our potential car.

I’d always assumed Balbir was a fairly slow driver, but I now know that’s just because he’s driving his own vehicle. Taking this one for a test drive, he was a man transformed. When the mechanic said we should turn back, Balbir was having none of it, gunned the engine and took us speeding onto the expressway.

That was all the confirmation we needed that it was the car for us.

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