Wheels of Glory

Arguably country's first woman who participated in a scooter rally,76-year-old Prabha Nene shares her fascination for vintage automobiles

Written by Prajakta Hebbar | Published: August 26, 2013 12:50 am

For the residents of Prabhat road and Bhandarkar road,a petite woman dressed in a yellow jacket and cap,directing and controlling the traffic near the Symbiosis school,is a common figure. 76-year-old,Prabha Nene,has been manning the traffic at two junctions in the area for over ten years now. “Being an auto-enthusiast myself,it is very hard for me to stand unruly driving,” says Nene.

Nene has had a passion for all things automotive since she was a little girl. Showing us a collection of Wilco matchboxes with antique car pictures on them,Nene says,“I used to collect them when I was a little girl. I loved cars,” she says with a smile. Her hobby grew into passion when she acquired her first scooter – a second-hand Italian Vespa. Nene was arguably one of the first woman scooter rally participant in the country. “My first rally was in 1970,when I rode all the way from Nagpur to (former) Bombay. It was around 900 kms,” says Nene proudly. “A friend saw an advertisement for the rally in a newspaper and — since I used to drive almost 15 kms everyday to work — suggested jokingly that I take part in it,” she says with a smile. “I had to convince the rally organisers to let me participate — since I was the only woman contender,” she says,showing us a series of trophies.

Nene then went on to acquire a vintage 1934 Austin 7,an iconic British small car,fondly known as Baby Austin. The deep blue Tourer,which she purchased from an acquaintance for a mere Rs 5,000 is Nene’s prized possession till date. She even drove the car to Hyderabad in the year 1980 with her sister,for a function organised by the Andhra Pradesh tourism department. “It was sort of a fancy dress cum vintage car rally,where the participants were to dress according to the style in the year their car was made in. We dressed as Maharashtrian zamindars from the ’30s — my sister wore a nau-wari sari with thick gold jewelery and I wore a white kurta and a bushy mustache,” she says,laughing. Nene even celebrated her Baby Austin’s 75th birthday in 2009 with her friends and neighbours.

Nene has since taken part in scores of car and scooter rallies and now is a part of the Fiat Classic Car Club of India — she possesses a vintage Fiat and a Bajaj M50 scooter.

Nene moved to Pune with her parents and two siblings in the early ’40s from Rangoon,where her father worked in the civil services. “Things were very tumultuous during the World War II. We had to move from Rangoon in haste. I must have been around five years old then,but I still remember hitchhiking our way through Assam,Calcutta,Delhi and finally to Pune,” she says.

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