In April 2019, my better half Beas suggested we travel to Malaysia and Singapore. It would be the first trip outside of India for our then three-year-old. While it was of interest to me, I did not pay much heed to it since I reckoned Beas would probably change her mind. However, as the days passed, she began looking up places of interest and inexpensive place to stay. I was sold on the idea when she suggested we should drive ourselves for the initial three days of the trip.
At the time, a close friend of mine was Kuala Lumpur based. But as it happened, his workplace sent him off to Bucharest in Romania just two months before we were to visit. Co-incidentally, when I was speaking to Aamil about how best to plan a few days in Malaysia, he too suggested we should drive. The roads, he said, were fabulous. And then came the best part. Aamil shared that we could use his car; it was parked at a friend’s place. He suggested we take a taxi from the airport to a certain mall in the city where his friend would come and give us the car.
Dining options aplenty
Fast forward to July 2019. Beas, Zarah and I were on an AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur from Kolkata. Although we’d landed in the wee hours of the morning, my attention was immediately held by the numerous dining options. And after many years, I’d caught sight of a Nando’s. I must mention here that I’ve always been a huge fan of their peri-peri chicken. Following a few minutes spent purchasing a local SIM card, we decided to begin the holiday with a grand breakfast. En route Nando’s, we came across a large sign declaring “the only vegetarian spot in KLIA2” — KLIA being Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2.
I tried to make the best use of my time while waiting for breakfast to arrive. Aamil had informed me that the Uber or Ola equivalent there was Grab. And using the airport’s free, albeit slow wi-fi network, I tried unsuccessfully to book a Grab taxi. When I was still unable to avail Grab’s services after breakfast, we decided to walk towards the exit gate and flag down a passing taxi.
However, just as we were about to exit, a young man with a pleasant smile walked up to us. He asked if we were looking for a taxi. We said we were and enquired how much it would cost. As Beas converted the price in INR terms and calculated the distance, he whipped out his phone and said, “Let me show you my car.”
The “racing car”
At the time, I worked on customising vehicles for a fair share of my ‘bread and butter’. That he should use his car as his unique selling point was almost like telepathy. And this gentleman’s car was tastefully done, finished in a bright shade of blue. A little bargaining later, we were walking to the parking lot. When we actually came upon the vehicle, our daughter Zarah was as much delighted as her father was.
She exclaimed, “racing car”. It sure looked like one with a sizeable spoiler on its boot lid. Spoilers are used in high performance vehicles to ensure there is adequate downforce on the rear end. Otherwise, at high speeds, the rear of a vehicle has a tendency to lift. In most regular cars, spoilers are added only as an aesthetic feature.
When he fired up the engine, I was all smiles. It had a loud angry roar, as if it could manage a 0-100 kmph in 3 seconds. Personally, I am not a fan of loud exhausts but the cheekiness of both driver and vehicle had me change my mind temporarily. Once we exited, I realised this humble Perodua Bezza even had a carbon fibre bonnet.
Carbon fibre is an extremely tough material but it also very light. Perdoua, meanwhile, is a Malaysian automaker. Much like Maruti Suzuki of India, Perdouas hold sizeable market share in Malaysia. No sooner was he on the highway than our man zipped through traffic. Only later did we realise that he’d charged us almost double. But in my books, it was a small contribution towards his car modification fund.
We were at the designated meeting point in no more than 30 minutes. Aamil’s friend Swapnil was already there waiting for us. The car was a well-aged Hyundai Elantra. He also gave us a ‘Touch-n-Go’ card — the equivalent of RFID tags that we must now mandatorily affix on all four-wheelers in India. Across Malaysia’s highways, there are toll collection centres at more frequent intervals than is the norm in India. In addition, all toll booths in Malaysia were fully automated — meaning there was no human presence at all.