Thursday, February 10, 2011

Flat tyre on the Vashi highway

By Deepa Krishnan

We were returning from a wedding in Pune, when the car began to veer and drag a bit to the left. The front tyre had gone bust. We asked a truck driver where we could get it fixed, and he pointed to a repair shop about 500 metres away.

Vashi highway on a glorious sunny afternoon

The 'Puncher' Shop with its rubber tyre advertising

I was surprised at how long it had been since I had last visited a puncture shop. Ten years, I think! You know, this is what happens when you employ drivers, and stop taking the car out yourself. You kinda stop doing these little things, and before you know it, boom! you're sitting in a little ivory tower, and you don't know what's happening out there any more.

I discovered, for example, that there were now these new-fangled things called tubeless tyres. Don't laugh, dammit. I didn't know!! When I last looked, tyres were filled with thin rubber tubes, the tubes were full of air, and that's how cars worked. Now apparently, these tubes have disappeared. No longer can you turn a tyre inside out and wrest a skinny tube from its innards. No longer can you fill these tubes again with air; and send the car merrily along it's way.

Instead, you fix a flat tyre with an entirely different set of tools.

The first thing you need, is a strip of this deceptively simple looking stuff.

This is a tough, chewy rubbery-leathery thing that sticks to your fingers if you let it. It's basically a plug.

The next thing you need is this T-shaped tool, with a needle. And you need a tube of vulcanising fluid.

Now for the repair itself. Snip a small strip of the rubber plug, shove the needle through it; and then put this vulcanising fluid on it. Then you grab the handle with both hands, take a deep breath, and shove the strip it into the problem spot. See the guy in the photo below?

Our repair guy was around 16 years old.
There was an assistant as well, a little kid with a bandana.

So what happens - chemically speaking - is that the vulcanising fluid works on the strip, and converts it into a permanent hardened plug. (Or at least, that's what I think!). The little kid's job was to keep the air-pressure in the tube constant, so the plug would set well.

The Apprentice.
He took his job seriously.
There were other neighbourhood kids as well, watching.

Mom and Dad waited outside.
The neighbouring shop-owner kindly gave them space to sit.

Inside of our repair shop. I have *no* idea what most of these things are.

What I do know, though, is that these things are there for a reason. *Some* car, *some* day, will be rescued by some weird contraption that can only be found in this mess!

Seriously, why do cars have to be so complicated? :)

For example, what on EARTH are these belt-thingys?

More mysterious gizmos.

What is that U-shaped thing hanging from the ceiling? Or is it not U-shaped? Should I announce a prize for anyone who can actually name all these things?!!

Anyway - the whole repair thingy took about 15-20 minutes. I tried chatting to the 16-year old; but he was cagey. I'm from Calcutta, was all he would say. I let him be; there are a lot of illegal migrants from Bangladesh near the Vashi area, and I did not want to probe further. He was making a living in a tough world...I wished him well, and went on my way.


Haddock said...

Oh yes not doing the small things yourself takes its toll.
By the way the puncture repair on a tubeless is much costlier than a normal tube and tyre one. But it saves a lot of time when the actual work is done.

Aadil said...

Well, one always learns something new everyday, that is what life has taught me!!! Glad you came to know about the tubeless tyres now than later!!!

Mahesh Vijapurkar said...

This is intended to the writers who have dealt with Dharavi.

I find them touching - written with compassion and passion.

I'd like to get in touch with you by email on some aspects rather on this public platform. My email is, and am a former journalist with The Hindu.

Thank you.

Divya Shankar said...

Funny and informative as well :)
I am sure - you are the only one who can churn out an interesting post from a minor hiccup of your journey. Great one and pictures posted definitely form a Visual Quiz.

Caitlin said...

Thank you! Your blog is such a treat for this US midwesterner. I just discovered Hindi movies and have devoured a dozen in two weeks (all streaming on my laptop). One I've most enjoyed is Dhobi Ghat--not typical "bollywood," I understand, but such a beautiful evocation of Mumbai! It left me hungry for more senses of the city, and your blog is a buffet. I hope you still operate your tours by the time I can save enough $$ to visit.
BTW, I've also enjoyed a book about the Mumbai film industry by an anthropologist, Tejaswini Ganti, called Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema. She writes about films and filmmaking in social context, so I learned some general bits about history and culture along the way. Maybe you or your clients would enjoy it...
Please don't stop writing!