Broken Chariots: Peugeot drives away with Ambassador, leaving behind a ghost townshiphttps://indianexpress.com/photos/lifestyle-gallery/ambassador-peugeot-hindustan-motors-4542768/

Broken Chariots: Peugeot drives away with Ambassador, leaving behind a ghost township

It was at Uttarpura, a municipal town on the banks of Hooghly river, that the Ambassador was first launched by Hindustan Motors in 1957 and remained in production till 2014.

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Hindustan Motors that once manufactured it at Uttarpura, a municipal town on the banks of Hooghly river, announced the sale of the brand to French manufacturer Peugeot for Rs 80 crore recently. Although you will still find a few hundred of the iconic yellow Ambassador taxis on Kolkata roads, the city now finds itself at a deserted crossroad. The factory stopped production in 2014 and now, the 2,400 workers it then had on its payrolls and the families who live within the township, go to Kolkata to work as taxi drivers or in call centers. But there are probably a lot of minds occupied with the same question that a government official of CITU-affiliated HM Workers' Union raised — "With the city on its last legs, people choose Kolkata for work. But there are only so many jobs. What will people do?”

The yellow sturdy ambassador cars, which for decades made its iconic presence felt on Kolkata's streets, are now fading into oblivion. Hindustan Motors suspended its production from May 25, 2014 in the Uttarpara factory in West Bengal. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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It was at Uttarpura, a municipal town on the banks of Hooghly river, that the Ambassador was first launched by Hindustan Motors in 1957 and remained in production till 2014.

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But the factory, and consequently, the township, came up as early as 1948. Proximity to Kolkata — Uttarpara is 22 km from the state capital — and river connectivity had made it an ideal location for the BM Birla-owned Hindustan Motors to pioneer an Indian automobile experiment. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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The result wasn't just a car modelled on the British Morris Oxford, but also a city that grew around the legend of the “king of roads”. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Thousands of families flocked to Uttarpara from Bihar and other parts of Bengal, not just to find work, but to also be a part of the car's journey. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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“It was like magic. It's hard to explain now, when everybody has a car. An Ambassador was a status symbol... like having the royal crown," said Amandas Kothari, a retired government worker, who lives outside the gates of Hind Motor, in an adjacent colony. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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"We could hear its horn from a kilometre and we would all run to see the car. My elder brother worked in the factory. As a teen, I left my family in Bihar to come live with him, just so that I could see the cars every day,” said Kothari. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Kothari, like many others, didn't leave Hind Motors when the factory shut and doesn't plan to either. He has no illusions that the Ambassador will be back on the roads, but, as he puts it, “This is home. I like walking through the factory. There is an old temple inside. That, they haven't closed and anyone can go pray.” (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Officials said Hind Motors had a population of around 30,000 in 2011; now, it's one-third of that. When the factory stopped production in 2014, it had an estimated 2,400 workers on its payrolls. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Now, most families who live within the township and the colonies around it, go to Kolkata to work as taxi drivers or in call centers. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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A few others work in Titagarh Wagons Limited, a private railway wagon manufacturing entity spread over 741 acres within the township. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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A little over two years after the factory shut, the locked main gate is guarded by a security guard, who admits their crew of about 15 is “very understaffed” for the “amount of area we cover”. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Inside the factory are training barracks for security staff and a lake, besides a temple and a school — the only functioning establishments. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Rusted gates, staff quarters overgrown with vines and walls with political graffiti from a time when the Left was still a force in the area — it is apparent that decay has set in and it is impossible to set the clock back. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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To the east of the factory complex is the Hind Motors station, which falls on the Howrah-Bandel line. Located a few stations before the arterial Howrah station, at least 17 trains pass through the Hind Motors station daily. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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“What will happen to us? They've sold the brand to a French company? Will the new company come to Hind Motors,” asks Subir Mishra, a rickshaw driver, sitting outside the station. The question bore the air of one that is often asked but rarely answered. This time though, Subhashish Dutta, a 23-year-old student, the son of a retired HM manager, waiting for his train to Kolkata, answered: “No, very unlikely.” (Source: Express Photo by Partha Paul)

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In Kolkata, it is easy to forget that the Ambassador has ceased production. A few hundreds of them, mostly the iconic yellow taxis, still rule the roads.(Express photo by Partha Paul)

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But it's the question of paying former employees their dues that’s now occupying conversations here.(Express photo by Partha Paul)

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Ajit Chakraborty, general secretary of the HM Employees' Union, affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress, said: “it’s disappointing that the management sold the brand” while workers’dues were pending. He said that about 600 of the 2,400 workers hadn’t availed of the VRS scheme offered in 2014 and were suffering. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

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“Those who opted for the scheme haven't realised their gratuity yet," he said. Manindra Chakraborty of the CITU-affiliated HM Workers' Union, said they moved the Kolkata HC, “protesting the various moves of the management”.(Express photo by Partha Paul)

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A government official of the financial department said, “The problem is that of the industry. As long as Hindustan Motors was running, Hind Motors ran too. With the city on its last legs, people choose Kolkata for work. But there are only so many jobs. What will people do?" (Express photo by Partha Paul)