Saturday, October 08, 2011

Sopat Ali

Sopat Ali, 2011

Sopat Ali is the best mechanic in Shillong, and perhaps the best mechanic in the whole of Meghalaya. He can take a Premiere Padmini apart down to the last screw, and put it back together without the help of a manual. My dad's 31 year old Padmini is still going strong thanks to Sopat Ali.

Sopat is about seventy-five now, but hardly looks more than sixty. Sopat tells my father many stories, some of which my father told me yesterday which I will recount in this post.

Sopat Ali's father was a bartender in Pinewood Hotel when the British were still in India, but in his lifetime, he never tasted a drop of alcohol. His father would bring empty bottles of liquor home. Sopat and his brothers would collect the lees in those bottles, mix them all together, sell the concoction and buy chana-choor with that money.

When the British left, they gifted his father a considerable amount of land. Sopat's brothers are all well established today. However, Sopat lives in a ramshackle wood-cabin. Sopat was employed as a foreman in the French Motor Works Company. When the company went bankrupt, Sopat was left unemployed. If Sopat had, then, opened his own garage, he would have been a rich man now, but Sopat was not very street-smart.

Sopat has been associated with our family since 1958. My uncle owned a Dodge bus, a Fiat taxi and a personal Chevrolet car. Sopat was always the man to turn to if anything went wrong.

Sopat is a very innovative person. The best masons and mechanics are always very innovative. If he had a better education, I have no doubt he would have been the pride of any research laboratory in India.

Once, Sopat was driving Dhiren Dutta, a lawyer and a family friend, from Itanagar to Shillong in his Standard 10 car. There was a puncture, and the spare wasn't in good shape. Sopat unscrewed the tyre, took the tube out, filled the tyre with twigs, leaves, branches and any other vegetation he could find, and then screwed it back. He drove the car with the same tyre for fourteen more kilometers till he could find a place where the tube could be repaired.

Another time, the same Standard 10 ran out of Mobil oil in the highway, and a garage was nowhere to be found. Sopat bought a small amount of mustard oil, and used it instead of Mobil oil till he reached the next garage.

Sopat was driving the same Standard 10 to Silchar once. He hit a pot-hole and badly damaged the engine oil pump. Sopat quickly realized that the pump will not be able to push Mobil oil into the engine, and decided to drown the engine in Mobil oil. Luckily, he was carrying a large supply of engine oil; he poured four litres of mobil oil into the engine. This work-around was enough to allow the car to be driven to a workshop in Silchar. The mechanic in Silchar was amazed at the ingenuity of the man.

The governor of Assam had a Buick 12 cylinder car which broke down once, and was taken to the French Motor Works at Assam. The mechanics there tried to fix it in vain. Finally, Sopat was summoned from Shillong at midnight. Sopat quickly spotted that the wiring of the twelve cylinders was incorrect, and fixed it. Sopat was given a baksheesh of one thousand rupees for fixing it. The sum was a big amount in the 1960s.

A couple of years ago, one of dad's friends was frustrated with his Maruti Omni. He had taken it to the workshop multiple times. The mechanics at the workshop changed various components, but still, it would not start. He told Sopat about his problems. Sopat tried to switch the engine on and immediately realized that the problem was a broken and blocked oil filter. He took out the oil filter out and discarded it. The engine responded. Dad's friend drove the car to the Maruti workshop to replace the oil filter. The mechanics at the workshop started telling him that the car would not start because there was no oil filter. Of course, he didn't buy their cock and bull story, and told them that the engine started because the oil filter was taken out, and the real problem was a blocked oil filter which the mechanics at the workshop could not figure out.

Sopat is a very honest man, honest and simple. He has simple desires. Now and then a cheap shirt, now and then a shoe. He is totally loyal to my father, and would leave everything aside to come to my father's aid if anything went wrong with his car. Sopat Ali reminds me of the poem by Henry Wotton called The Character of a Happy Life.

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