• Sathya Saran

Six Rounds in a Rolls Royce

Living my dream !

It was nowhere close to my image of a Rolls. Except for the perfectly poised lady with her flying cape, of course. That was a perfect reproduction.

But the Rolls in my mind was a vintage car from the early ‘40s, perhaps, with open top and spoked wheels , and place for liveried servants to stand on…. It was a sepia picture that hung on the portico wall of my granduncle’s house in Madras, and though I had never seen it in the iron and leather of its reality, the car fascinated me.

Perhaps it was more the lady who so gracefully balanced in front, defying the wind, and gravity in one sweeping gesture of poised disdain who really attracted me more than the car itself, but thanks to that photo, the Rolls was a special name in my mind.

Part family history, part luxury, unaffordable. Part of the mythology that surrounded my granduncle’s well known career.

And here I was stepping into the driver’s seat of one. The Phantom, to be exact.

The shining deep blue car stood waiting. I felt like a queen preparing to ride away on a flying horse... But Pegasus knew his way around the skies while I had to steer this one, not through the empty firmament, but through the 6 o clock returning-from-work crowded streets of this always crowded city.

Caution won over eagerness.

I sat letting my feet luxuriate on the rich fur of the carpeting (shoes were fine, the material was triple protected from stains) and watched my ‘guide’ drive the car through the throngs that literally seemed to jump out of the way, then stand and stare.

On to the Worli sea face, to get a feel of the beast firsthand.

I have taken in the wonderfully perfect finish of the wood-worked dashboard, and the soft luxury of the leather seats and surroundings. I am told as I run my hand along the leather upholstery that the entire leather-work is a composite of 450 individual parts, cut to precision by laser before being hand stitched for a perfect fit.

As for the wood, almost 43 wood parts are used in each car created. Each wood part is constructed from 28 or less layers of wood that is interspersed with thin aluminium sheets that will save occupants from splinters, should there ever be a collision.

Now in the driver’s seat, it is time to take charge. I take a moment to take in the long nose of the car that stretches beyond the wide screen to end in my favourite steel lady, ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’, and feel close to that emotion myself. Then, I try the steering wheel. Deceptively slim, it is able to easily control the car as I put the vehicle into drive mode.

The engine could have been a python gliding though grass in its silence, but its power was a coiled cobra waiting to spring at the least provocation. I eased in the accelerator, and the car moved … glided on the road, and the taut being on the seat next to me relaxed and sighed softly with relief. For one moment, I thought, he must have thought, I would take off like an arrow or come to a shameful, shuddering halt… the mark of a nervous driver. And only expectedly too: for the Phantom can go from 0 to 100 km p h in 5.7 seconds.

But here I was going smoothly along, hoping like mad that the crowds would part, Red Sea like, to give me right of way.

The sea link was to be inaugurated the next morning…and, you name it, and it was there on what was supposed to be an empty stretch of road: my ‘ personal’ test drive patch had barricades, police vans, hawkers, parked vehicles… but we survived, the car and I, and were fast approaching the first U turn.

Take it wide, I was told, and swung the car obediently as if it was a BEST bus. If the beast felt any indignation, it was too well bred to remonstrate… it turned obligingly around and headed in the direction it had come.

By round two, I was in charge. The Phantom has an amazingly small turning circle, and taking the u turns was as easy as if I was driving a Maruti 800! Here then was a perfect car for the city for women drivers I thought. If only the roads were broader and less congested! Confidence flooded in, at the ease of the drive. I would have soared along.

But a car worth the price of a penthouse in New York is not to be taken for granted among a populace known for its suicidal tendencies, and especially if the car is not your own, so I kept my head and drove on, as comfortably as we could, given the circumstances.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. There was no great joy in playing merry- go-round with a dream machine that should be flying across on the Pune expressway, and I gave up the wheel.

The drive back gave me more facts about the car. That I could if I wished order one to suit my individual taste, that Bespoke Phantoms could change the colour and grain of the wood panels, the upholstery, the body colour and even have The spirit of ecstasy in gold plated finish. Embroidery on the interior leather, fitting a set of fountain pens into the glove compartment, as well as a leather writing surface in the rear picnic tables, extending the boot for those addicted to frequent getaways, drinks cabinets in the rear doors or a safe in the boot … in fact just about anything one could think of was possible in a bespoke Phantom order.

And of course there were the very thoughtfully provided umbrellas tucked inside the door frames, and the individual tv sets in the back seats, so there would be no fight over the remote among the occupants….

Not that any of that mattered to me. As far as I was concerned the car as it ran, was perfect.

Anything else was quibbling.

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