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On a vintage drive with Lady Mountbatten
- Down Memory Lane

Kalimpong, Aug. 14: A few days before the stroke of midnight ushering in 1947 and Indian independence, a stroke of good fortune visited a young driver-cum-owner of this hill town. He got to drive Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of the last Indian viceroy Lord Mountbatten, and their daughter Pamela in his 1935 vintage Ford V8 Tourer car.

Sixty years later, Harka Bahadur Diyali, now 83, still remembers those days vividly, though the dates escape him. A framed photograph showing the then 23-year-old Diyali on the wheel of his car with Edwina and Pamela standing next to it has pride of place in his house at 10th Mile.

“It was sometime in the first half of August before Independence that we had gone to receive the Lady and her daughter at the Bagdogra airport,” recalled Diyali. “We” meant a group of drivers from Kalimpong, who went down to Bagdogra in their cars under instructions from the administration, which wanted a full convoy.

“I had bought my car from a man in Kishanganj about two years earlier for Rs 3,000. I used it as a taxi, plying between Kalimpong and Siliguri. At the airport, the Ford V8 Tourer was almost at the end of the queue, but to my surprise the lady and her daughter opted to ride in my old car instead of all the new cars that were there at their disposal,” Diyali remembered fondly.

However, the demands of protocol almost deprived Diyali the privilege of driving the Mountbattens.

“The aide-de-camp of the lady handed me a small Union Jack and asked me to fix it on my car. Now, my car did not have the provision to fix a flag. However, I rummaged through my toolbox and found a steel rod and a bit of wire. I quickly hung the flag to the rod and used the wire to tie it to the V8 logo in the front,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

That done, Edwina and Pamela hopped into the open-hooded car and drove up to Kalimpong at the head of a convoy of four or five vehicles. During the two-hour drive, the two refused to pull the hood even when it started drizzling at Tarkhola. “Instead, they nonchalantly opened their umbrellas and we carried on,” said Diyali.

During the three days the Mountbattens stayed at Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong, it was Diyali who drove them around. “From here they went to Sikkim, and it was I who drove them up to Rangpo. On their return from Sikkim, I again brought them back from Rangpo. Then they went to Darjeeling and I dropped them at the Teesta bridge from where they got into one of the cars waiting for them on the other side of the bridge,” said the 83-year-old.

At the Teesta bridge, Edwina asked him if he wanted anything, but Diyali did not know English and only nodded his head. “It was the police inspector present at the spot who later told me about the offer the lady had made,” said a smiling Diyali, his face betraying no trace of regret.

And why should he' After all, the ladies did actually shake his hand, an honour that even the English-speaking police officer did not have!

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