India Today - - LEISURE - —Rahul Noronha

The quin­tes­sen­tial jeep was, and con­tin­ues to be, a life­style thing in Bhopal. Not al­ways con­nected to the brand, a Bhopali ‘jeep’ could be a Ford GPW, a low bon­net Willys MB, a Willys M606, an M38 A1 or even a later Mahin­dra equipped with jho­las— one at­tached at the back and a smaller one near the dash­board. Bhopali jeeps are of­ten un­painted, or only have a coat of primer, and con­tinue to find pa­trons, with own­ers never hav­ing to think about re­sale val­ues.

Ar­riv­ing in Bhopal as the wheels of choice for Nawab Hamidul­lah Khan, the early jeeps were mainly used in shikaar. Wealthy farm­ers also used them to ferry them­selves to and from their farms. The jhola at the back car­ried any­thing from dead game to beat­ers to gunny bags, while the smaller jhola mostly held chaalia (the Bhopali word for su­pari) and paan.

“With shikaar gone and farm hold­ings shrink­ing, the jeep lost some of its im­por­tance, but con­tin­ues to be a util­ity thing here,” says Bhopal-based au­to­mo­bile en­thu­si­ast and re­storer Ra­jan Deb. “In Bhopal, there are those who use the jeep for work and then there are those who col­lect orig­i­nal Fords and Willys,” he adds.

The jeeps have sur­vived the decades thanks mainly due to ‘doc­tors’—me­chan­ics who keep them go­ing us­ing ju­gaad. “The work is not what it used to be but I am happy with what I have done,” says Mo­hammed Zameer, who uses the takhal­lus ‘Ni­rale’ and is one of the bet­ter known jeep me­chan­ics in Bhopal. Ni­rale’s grand­fa­ther opened a garage in 1946. Ni­rale ap­pren- ticed with him be­fore start­ing his own shop in 1967. “You learnt ev­ery­thing on the job; there was no op­tion for train­ing or get­ting a de­gree,” he says, adding that the work is still com­mer­cially vi­able. “Bhopali jeeps have great de­mand. One of my old jeeps is in Canada with a col­lec­tor,” he says. Prices for orig­i­nal Ford GPWs and Willys MBs range from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 15 lakh.

In the Lal Masjid quar­ter of Bhopal, more than a dozen garages thrive. Pyare Bhai, one of the own­ers, says that modern SUVs have taken a toll, but the jeep craze re­mains. “There are peo­ple who spend the en­tire day with us, see­ing how jeeps are re­paired,” he says. Ex­pert me­chan­ics have come from the ranks of jeep own­ers as well. One of the sons of a fam­ily of Pathans liv­ing at Khan­dera—Pud­hiya—was re­ferred to as an ‘hon­orary en­gi­neer’. Many jeeps bore a ‘de­signed by en­gi­neer Pud­hiya’ mes­sage on the reg­is­tra­tion plates. And to­day, jeeps are no longer an all-male pre­serve. “Driv­ing a jeep is all about slow­ing down in life, to ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing that you could miss in a fast car,” says So­nia Rashid, who is mar­ried into the erst­while Bhopal royal fam­ily and is the proud owner of a Willys jeep.

Just as Ni­rale is about to close his garage for the day, a cus­tomer walks in and ad­mires a parked Ford GPW. In­quir­ing about the price, he is taken aback at the quote. “Why is it so ex­pen­sive?” he asks. “Nut, nut par Ford likha hai, miyan (Ev­ery­thing is orig­i­nal—even the nuts and bolts have the Ford ‘F’ em­bla­zoned on them),” replies Ni­rale.

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