The car had a serious negative social consequence for me.—Photo by author
The car had a serious negative social consequence for me.—Photo by author

The year is 1968 and I am getting a haircut at the Ideal Hair Dressing Salon, main market, Satellite Town, Rawalpindi. A Mercedes Benz drives by. The barber looks admiringly at the car and comments, “What a car the (expletive) Germans have created! You can put a dog in it and he would look like a prince!”

I am an impressionable 14-year-old and the seeds of desire for a Mercedes have just been sown.

Twenty years go by. I am driving with a friend in Karachi when he notices a lovely blonde head in the back seat of a Mercedes. Blondes being a rarity, this is a viewing opportunity not to be missed. My friend accelerates to come at level with the car and turns his head to get a good view of the blonde beauty.

To his utter embarrassment, it is a well-heeled dog with golden tresses!

Mr Ideal Hairdresser’s prophetic observation comes back to me and my resolve to buy a Mercedes is further strengthened.

See: An unusual collection of classic cars in Syria

My dream to own a Mercedes finally comes true when I am a ripe 50-years-old. I am in Islamabad while my wife is still in Canada, and I have money in my pocket. Such an alignment of stars happens rarely, so I grab the opportunity to finally look like a prince.

After much running around, I find a suitable candidate looking resplendent in maroon. At the used car dealership, a young man named Afridi shows me all the fine features of the car. He is particularly proud of the retractable cup holder that works with a switch.

“Sir, this is a COMPLETE Mercedes!” he declares emphatically a number of times. I am left wondering what an incomplete Mercedes would be like: one without an engine or a gearshift?

The ownership of the car is a mystery. Initially, Afridi claims that the car belongs to a wealthy cousin of his who is actually more like a brother. Later, he confidentially mentions that the car is currently being used by a Tehsildar of Kalar Kahar, in Punjab, but is actually owned by a doctor in the UK. The plot thickens further when the car registration book reveals that the car is registered in a name that belongs neither to the Tehsildar nor to the Doctor.

That's not all.

When the time comes to pay the commission, there is now utter confusion as to who even the real car-dealer is. The best I can figure out is that the young man called Afridi is a sub to a sub-car broker who is in turn a middle-man between the owner and the original broker ... or something like that.

After a complex process in which another car dealer gets involved, I sign a few papers and am told that I am the proud owner of the car. I am left with a lingering feeling that I just bought a stolen or a smuggled car and as soon as I drive out I will be arrested and the car impounded.

Nothing of the sort happened, though. It seems that the system of buying a used car, although entirely opaque and convoluted, actually works.

Also read: Three former PMs using government bulletproof cars

In the evening, as I am reversing the car out of my rather narrow driveway, I manage to crash its tail into the gate. This is truly a baptism by fire. Next day, my driver is devastated. He shakes his head sadly, then looks at me accusingly and declares:

“This happened because you did not give Sadqa [offering] as soon as you bought the car!”

A month later, my niece comes over for a visit. She is not used to cars with automatic transmission and as she reverses, she presses the accelerator thinking it is the clutch. The car shoots like a bullet and hits the raised pavement with a loud bang. The damage incurred is a destroyed tire and the wheel bearing.

But for my driver, the worst thing to happen is when someone steals the Mercedes Silver Star logo from the hood.

He is livid and declares, “Sir, the car is now a big zero. But do not worry, I will get one for you.”

“And where will you get it from?” I ask.

“I will steal it from some other car. It is only fair.”

I have to summon all my powers of persuasion to stop him from this criminal act. A month later, when I am going for a visit to Canada, he pries out a promise from me that I will get him a genuine replacement. I do so and the car is rendered “complete” again.

The Mercedes with my typically well-dressed driver.—Photo by author
The Mercedes with my typically well-dressed driver.—Photo by author

Then, there is this little problem of finding the “right” mechanic. Going to the snotty Mercedes dealership is like committing financial suicide, and I have to seek less costly options.

“Go to Pappu mechanic, and tell him I sent you. You will find him near Peshawar morr”, advises a relative who owns one working and four un-working Mercedes Benzes. The directions to Pappu's workshop are simplicity itself:

“Just take a left at the petrol pump, then a right on a small street that has an advertisement for Dentonic tooth powder, go into the lane where they sell spare parts, then finally turn right again and ask anyone for Pappu the Mercedes mechanic.”

I am foolish enough to try; I return two hours later after having made acquaintance with a Pappu who is a Honda specialist, a Pappu who is a whiz with BMWs and a simple Pappu who runs a bicycle ship; but not Pappu the Mercedes guru. I hear murmurs that he has packed up and left for Dubai.

Explore: Hot wheels: Karachi's car wizard brings 1965 Mustang back to life

In general, the car does not suit me. Being more casually dressed than my well-turned up driver (who looks great in the fake Ralph Lauren shirt I have bought for him from China), I am often taken for the driver and the driver for the boss. The fact that I often stop at a roadside dhaba to order a doodh patti further erodes my image as the owner of a Mercedes.

The car has a serious negative social consequence for me. I am denounced roundly by my socialist friends for joining the bourgeoisie, even though the used Mercedes has not cost me any more than a new Honda Civic.

There is one advantage though: I am never stopped by a policeman. I am waved along high security zones when all the 'lesser' cars are stopped and checked.

After spending a year with the car, crashing it one more time in the driveway; my brother breaking the axle as he hits a raised road barrier; the car overheating and stalling when my sister and brother-in-law take it for a joy ride to Murree; and paying rather large amounts of money for fuel and maintenance, I decide that the complete Mercedes is a complete nuisance.

Thus died my dream of looking like a prince sitting in my Mercedes. They say “every dog has his day”, but alas, it was not to be so in my case.

I have since moved to Karachi, the kidnapping and carjacking capital of the country. And I anyway cannot afford the ransom that will be demanded of the owner of a Mercedes.

So, I promptly return to my white collar roots and buy an anonymous Honda Civic in grey.


Related:

Opinion

Rule by law

Rule by law

‘The rule of law’ is being weaponised, taking on whatever meaning that fits the political objectives of those invoking it.

Editorial

Isfahan strikes
Updated 20 Apr, 2024

Isfahan strikes

True de-escalation means Israel must start behaving like a normal state, not a rogue nation that threatens the entire region.
President’s speech
20 Apr, 2024

President’s speech

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari seems to have managed to hit all the right notes in his address to the joint sitting of...
Karachi terror
20 Apr, 2024

Karachi terror

IS urban terrorism returning to Karachi? Yesterday’s deplorable suicide bombing attack on a van carrying five...
X post facto
Updated 19 Apr, 2024

X post facto

Our decision-makers should realise the harm they are causing.
Insufficient inquiry
19 Apr, 2024

Insufficient inquiry

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies....
Melting glaciers
19 Apr, 2024

Melting glaciers

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into...