The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cruise control

Whenever 28-year old Haimanti Ghosh Chaudhury nee Poddar meets her mother Dipali Poddar, they have no time for gossip. Rather, they talk animatedly about cars, speed control and tulip charts. Ditto for Saswati, an air hostess with Indian Airlines, and her entrepreneur husband Subhas Nag Choudhury. The couple loves to nitpick about who lost control where and who gave the wrong direction. A car rally is the driving force for all these families.

Saswati, however, got into rallying by chance. Says she, “When we were newly married, my husband would only discuss cars, speed and distance with his friends. At that time, it seemed quite absurd. But a chance participation in an all-ladies rally in 1995 turned me into a rally addict.” Ever since, there has been no looking back. The husband-wife duo won several national rallies and has participated in international rallies as well. Likewise, Haimanti took driving lessons from her father and a chance participation with her mother in a treasure hunt competition five years back converted her into a rally enthusiast.

Getting behind the wheel can give one a high, but it isn’t only that factor which has families hooked on to the sport. Explains Nag Choudhury, “On the face of it, it appears simple. In any rally, there is a driver and a navigator. A navigator guides the driver with the help of a road map that is etched out for them in a tulip chart, while the driver drives.” Ghosh Chaudhury adds, a navigator also calculates the time and speed and advises the driver on the basis of that. In case of the Nag Choudhurys, the husband and wife take it in turns to play the navigator.

That’s what makes the experience thrilling. “It isn’t just anybody but your spouse who acts as your partner in the sport. And when you are in it together, working in tandem, it helps strengthen ties. That, in turn, helps in times of difficulty.” In case of the Poddars, it’s invariably the daughter who plays navigator while the mother gets behind the wheel. Both warn that it is not an easy task but in the same breath add, “We love it.”

Nag Choudhury says that on several occasions when he is in the driver’s seat and his wife asks him to slow down on a smooth road or speed up on a broken surface, he assumes she is misreading the chart. “I yell and ask her to re-read the chart and then accuse her of not reading it properly.” His wife, Saswati, also has similar tales to recount when she is behind the wheel. She explains, “Since it is a race of speed, every second counts. So getting into tiffs is only natural, especially when you are looking for a win.”

But not all families fight. Sohini Saha and Subhas Saha, a father-daughter pair, is a case in point. Says Sohini, “I share a very good rapport with my dad and even in a race if I am driving, it is he who helps me come out of tough situations .”

All these families have participated in several rallies. The Nag Choudhurys, for one, have participated in the Kobiguru rally, Kalinga rally and rallies organised by the Motoring Sports Federation which is an annual ritual. The Poddars too have taken part in national rallies and rallies which are organised for a social cause. The Nag Choudhurys have gone beyond borders, literally. They took part in the 8,000 km Asian rally which started from New Delhi and took them all the way to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, among other places.

But none of them has undergone any special training. As Saswati says, driving is the only practice required.

Most agree that a family member as a partner helps while racing. Says Haimanti, “Since we are related, we understand each other far better. So we know exactly what the other person feels.” The Nag Choudhurys agree. Going down memory lane, they recount a time when their car had broken down right in the middle of the Simlipal forest near Orissa. “We had to push the car all the way to Cuttack at night,” they say, smiling. On another occasion, they had a narrow escape when they met with an accident in Kanpur.

But instead of acting as deterrants, such circumstances have only served to strengthen their resolve.

These are families that sleep, eat and dream car rallies. They root for their favourites ' be it Sebastian or Michael Schumacher. The Poddar pair dreams of crisscrossing countries together while the Nag Choudhurys would love to compete at the international level. Their friends and families might find them queer, but they couldn’t care less. As Ghosh Chaudhury points out, “Rallying gives us a chance to dabble in adventure, it provides a break from the daily grind and fosters ties.” Reason enough to drive on without a break.

If you wish to join in with your family, get in touch with Bengal Motor Sports Club on 11/A, Apurba Mitra Road, (Phone: 24633818) or The Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI), Krishna Towers-1, VI Floor, Sardar Patel Road, Chennai ' 600113 (Phone: 044-22352673) to get an update on the racing events.

need to know

• Official papers are very important if you take part in a rally. Apart from the necessary car papers, one needs rally cover insurance which differs from race to race, a competition rally licence, blood certificates and a doctor’s certificate too.

• One should travel light while rallying cross country.

• One is free to use any car one has, but rallyists vote for the Maruti Esteem because it is light and doesn’t skid much.

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