Cars…..the animated Hollywood Pixar studios movie was, as Paul Newman put it, simply irresistible. They made a stunning well-researched documentary of a real life route 66 in the US that has inspired a thousand “highway” songs. I was born in the hills where the nearest highway 53 is reached after a gruelling 3 hour drive, over the stony macadam hill-way, crossway brooks, and blackish muddy trails during the rains that tell stories of how tyres struggled a while ago.
This write is about the “world war inspired” – JEEP. This powerful petrol guzzler with a power packed engine will remain an iconic figure to rally the non-motorable rural hills till the 21st century.
Sold by the army in mass auctions after the Second World War, most were second hand jeeps and small bodied British “willys” that were later customized into the larger body shapes of SUV use. Those chrome finished bodies with low bonnets, radial tyres and dropped windshields are nowhere near to the jeep I decided to write a little about in deep awe of its contribution to my upbringing.
Women, men and children alike lift spine-breaking loads of hill products and walked 40-50 miles to sell at the nearest town, and it sadly remains a familiar sight for survival.
The jeep was the trader’s dream-come-true. With it’s rear-end stripped and enforced with bamboo, wood and other environmental support, it could pack thousands of oranges or bananas to become the “hill-men’s camel with a fuel hump.”
The first jeep of the village, like great social reformers of the century, should be Madame Tussauded in stone, at least. It ferried expecting women, the sick and elderly to town and respectfully took back coffins on its way back. To put it in medical terms, an ambulance, in philanthropic sense, a life giver and spiritually for the dead, one ultimate ride.
The jeep gave highway 53 its tributary road. It inspired and challenged buses, trucks, modern day SUV’s and motorbikes to drive the road less travelled.
The petrol hump needed to change into a cheaper fodder horse. Discoveries and inventions all had their share of mistakes. LPG cylinder driven jeeps became an instant hit, but like illegal Chinese products, left a foul impact on the environment. Its stench taught villagers about the mechanism of feeding the right fodder to their cattle or say, eating the right kind of food, to simplify things.
The diesel versions, mostly sold in Burma and Thailand, with 2000-3000 cc Isuzu engines and 5-6 gearshifts became the answer. Though much costlier than the petrol engine, its Moto-rally engine gave the old horse its horsepower.
Like loyal horse breeders, most old workshops with credibility are still jeep lovers. Back then, they had developed wooden steering adjustments, plywood seats, tinned-fish can shims and as patched-up stitches on their pants had retreaded tyres till it was absolutely required to buy a new pair. And if an old customer comes with a well maintained jeep, they have to change their customer service tone. It’s as good as saying, that customer is a well to-do conservative, have-seen-it-all, don’t mess with me hillbilly.
Some chrome flashy jeeps in towns put miniature shovels, spades, fuel can, et cetera as add ons. For the hardworking hill traders, it’s absolutely vain make up on their wives.
Education, economy, communication, health, and even religion have felt its impact. Now, God’s missionaries need to travel with Jesus.
The list could go on. But the lesser said about living legends, and emulating their influence would serve its purpose.
To conclude in spirit, let me just remind you of how customs interfere with development, the world over. One of my community’s customary duties is to render selfless services when the in-laws require. Like for instances of marriage in my mother’s paternal household. Before, it used to be services rendered within the intra-village bride and groom.
When the jeep came, inter-village alliances tripled, and so the groom’s men had to literally travel hours and hours to get the bride “on the horse”.
My respect to those who endlessly jeep……to wake my hill-country.