Nation on the March

Nation on the March
Nation on the March

Nov 22, 2009

How far a 81 year Old man and his 16 year old car can go ?

The iconic “Fill it. Shut it. Forget it” advt. that launched Hero Honda more than 20 years ago. The Forget it part – after filling and shutting the petrol tank lid was best evident in a recent news item.

It was not Hero Honda bike but a 16-year old Hyundai Lantra car and the location was Australia.

The 81 year old gentlemen driving it “forgot” something remarkable . To return back to his wife !

Let us first read this Australian news report

Wed Nov 18, 2009


CANBERRA - An elderly man who went out to fetch a morning newspaper ended up driving nearly 400 miles (640 km) after getting lost and taking a wrong turn onto a major Australian highway, police said on Wednesday. The man, 81-year-old Eric Steward, eventually stopped and asked for directions after driving for nine hours, from the New South Wales country town of Yass to Geelong in the southern Victoria state.

Steward, who did not know where he was, eventually approached a policeman at a petrol station and asked for help late Wednesday.

"This little old man came up to me saying he was lost. He handed me his mobile and asked if I could speak to his wife," said Victorian Police Senior Constable Clayton Smith.

Steward, who was reunited with his family on Wednesday, said he took the wrong turn and just kept on going.

"I just went out on the road to have a drive, a nice peaceful drive," he told reporters, adding he did not need a satellite navigation device as he'd only been lost once.
(Reporting by James Grubel, editing by Miral Fahmy for Reuters)

 When I consulted Google Maps to provide me driving directions to Geelong VIC, Australia to repeat this feat of great grand-fatherly Mr. Eric Steward,    I almost re-lived what he did that day.

A suggested route  from Yaas to Geelong is quite long : Distance : 666 km . Travelling Time:   7 hours 35 min .
Will you believe  that in search of one newspaper, Eric  went on three long stretches of 263, km, 310 km and  48 km. apart from 12 other smaller  roads or sections ?.  He turned left and right and entered and exited the roads with great vigour, confidence and missionary zeal.
The press  report is silent about whether he stopped for a rest room or an eatery for a sandwich or a  large glass of Foster beer ( although this route is famous for serving Sydney rock oysters, Hunter Valley wines, Balmain Bugs, Illabo milk-fed lamb, Gippsland beef, Meredith lamb, Malle squab, corn-fed chicken, etc if Eric had some time on this rather long drive).

Ironically, his family name Steward – among other meanings – also stands for somebody who is a custodian, keeper,  defender, guardian, protector, shielder , caretaker,  conservator, curator, etc. hence the chances of his getting lost himself adds a twist to the story, lightly speaking.

The admirable part is that at the age of eighty plus, he had the enthusiasm to out in a car and buy a newspaper, had a car (1993 Hyundai Lantra.) which will not trouble him, had a health that permits him to forget the hunger, thirst and fatigue ( he had slight dementia – no pun intended – but who does not have?). He said he stopped for petrol!

Again, he did not much bother about his wife ( and vice versa – at least for first few hours ) sounded very confident and somewhat self-effacing – which is truly admirable . Thanks to his long married life – the couple seems to have very deepest level of mutual affection and understanding  and the little bit of forgiving bend of mind. If it had been a modern day young couple , a good number  of spouses generally become demanding , less tolerant and fussy – to an extent of becoming nagging. Often mountains are created from mole hills. But when it comes to a great grand ma and a great grand pa, things are entirely different.

This also indicates , that inspite of some  degree of  forgetfulness  (dementia) – very  pardonable at this great-grand-fatherly age -, he had the mental strength of not suffering from  Amaxophobia - Fear of riding in a car, Autophobia - Fear of being alone, or Catagelophobia - Fear of being ridiculed., Anthropophobia - Fear of people or society , Chronomentrophobia - Fear of clocks, Claustrophobia - Fear of confined spaces or Dystychiphobia - Fear of accidents. But the he went ahead undeterred. But he certainly seemed to have a trace  of Androphobia - Fear of men, Ecophobia - Fear of the home and Xenophobia - Fear of strangers or foreigners. That explains why he went on and on , without talking to any one, away from home.

But this can not  happen in India. With our city roads full of pot holes, cattle, unruly traffic, wrongly parked vehicles, diversions, encroachment on both sides by hawkers and shop-keepers and the harassment by traffic police once they get interested in stopping you , it is unimaginable that a man of sound body and mind, able and alert, of youthful disposition , with best of the car can get away from the home so far and so fast. In fact, if he is trying to run away from home, the traffic conditions may be, without his knowledge or intent, bring him back to his own apartment! ( Let mention one exception: in my town there is a very respectable old lady , an educationist and social worker. She is past 80 and has robust health - lives alone and drives her Maruti 800 car with grace and gusto. Long live the praiseworth  Pushpaben)

But the effervescent spirit, his enthusiasm, vivacity , buoyancy, ebullience, excitedness, excitement, exhilaration, exuberance, gaiety, happiness, high spirits, joy, liveliness, vim, vitality, volatility &  zing that takes the cake was amply visible when  Mr. Steward shrugged off suggestions that he better invest in a Global Positioning System (GPS)  for his car. "Why would you want one of those? You can't get lost. There is no fun in that," he said.

Some one has mentioned that the Guinness Book of Records has the story of a couple on a one  day trip to Boulogne (Boulogne is a popular destination for people from the UK who want to make a day-trip to do some shopping in France) . They walked so far away from the town centre that they decided to catch a train back. Unfortunately the train took them to Paris. Wishing to return they boarded a train to BOLOGNA, ITALY. They eventually got back to England after some weeks but not before they had had to get jobs to earn some money. I am yet to find it out for myself and till that time, it suits to believe so.

All said and done, no one can beat our Lone Ranger great grand pa Eric. And that is why, any noble French person will shout with joy and a salute :    ”Vive l'arrière grand-père Eric” ! 

We too can join him in chorus, shouting : Long live great –grandfather Eric !

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