My cousins and I grew up at the close of the last century in a Lucknow that clutched hard at its heritage. Our school was a fort, complete with drawbridge and moat, the main market was housed in a lane of ancient buildings with filigreed balconies, and school picnics took place either on the lawns of Mughal-era mausoleums or colonial relics. McDonald’s was still a decade away, as were the high-rises that now dot the city. We would walk past elephants and performing bears on the streets without blinking an eye. We were culture-weary kids and not easy to please. But on one cold January day each year, we were as excited as children our age should be. That was the day of the Annual Vintage Car Rally.
Frog-eyed headlamps, doors that opened the wrong way, rubber-bulb horns, and a shiny mix of brassy knobs, switches, and dials—it was enough to make the most jaded children giddy with excitement. We would gape at the cars or touch them furtively, but the ultimate triumph was snaring a ride. We’d sit in wide-eyed awe as the cars made their stately advance through crowds of cheering adults. Being in one of them was the closest you could get to feeling like a rock star.
There was an inscrutable aura to the cars. They would materialise overnight—hulking shapes lurking in the mist, the polished chrome winking in the weak sun—only to disappear soon after. They sure beat the dull Ambassadors and Padminis we saw every day.
This annual affair roused such passions that even as an adult, I could instantly identify with the children scrambling to grab a seat in an antique beauty. It was January 2012, and I was visiting Lucknow after many years of being away. A couple of years ago, the Oudh Heritage Car Club and INTACH reinvented the car rally as a heritage drive to revive the flagging interest in the city’s heritage among school children. Now, the children are invited to travel aboard the old beauties as the cavalcade rolls through the city, stopping at important historical sites so the passengers can be told interesting anecdotes. The initiative has been a big success, as I saw during my visit when I accompanied my father in his classic 1974 sky-blue Land Rover. I played host to the children he ferried, proudly pointing out interesting historical features (with a hint of condescension, I must admit).
The drive culminated at the grounds of La Martiniere College, a part Gothic-style architectural masterpiece, and the brother school of my alma mater. As the children participated in a hotly contested Heritage Quiz, I walked among my old flames—a black Plymouth, a red Mercedes, a silverblue Pontiac, a green Volkswagen Beetle, an Austin here, a Jaguar there. They were the same, but this time I knew all their names.
The event combined all the well-loved elements of Lucknow for me—vintage cars, the bonhomie of family and friends, beautiful old buildings, and sunny, chilly winter mornings. I’m sure the children enjoyed it as much as I did—even if they were made to write an essay about it in school afterwards.
Updated in January 2017.
When: The Vintage Heritage Car Drive will take place on Sun 12 February 2017.
Where: The rally will start in Lucknow and end at the Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary.
Information: Oudh Heritage Car Club (Kanak Rekha Chouhan at 09335502000).