Driving the box

A new acquisition has Raj Warrior thinking of Jane Austen and Ratan Tata, albeit for different reasons.

I’ve just interrupted a vacation to get back to the desk. Work commitments can be taxing as well as a welcome change from the various joys of taking your annual break. But I haven’t come empty handed – because I bring with me a tale that I never thought I would tell.

I’ve just bought a Nano in India. It’s less of a statement, more like a rebellious yell to all and sundry that I haven’t lost my senses. Because that’s what I’ve been getting from most of the people who know me. “Why would you buy a Nano?” is the single measure of a multitude of questions and with this comes the baggage of India’s progress over the past few years, a deep under-current of consumerism and the expectation that a seasoned car journalist would be breaking new ground in trying to keep up with the Joneses (or Shah’s in my locality).

But to give you some context, India isn’t Oman.

And Mumbai is by a huge measure different from Muscat. If you have read your Shantaram, it’s worse. From the crowds on the roads, the sheer variety in vehicle types and the utter lack of any traffic sense, all that is negative about Indian tarmac seems to have hit Mumbai. What’s even worse is the acne on the road called potholes. I’ve heard tales of the size and types of indentations on the roads around the world. At one stage, we have even tested on a California road (which to a Korean meant ‘bad’ surface at the test ground). But absolutely nothing matches the frequency, size, depth and sheer cussedness of the potholes on roads around India and especially close to its financial capital.

This time the monsoon also added its two bits. Raining incessantly for a month, it seems romantic only if you aren’t actually going out anywhere. I’ve managed for more than ten years to transport myself around Mumbai in my irregular visits on an old step through scooter I’ve had parked there. This year, the monsoons, potholes and dying scooter brought about the move into the Nano. Launched a few years ago with the tag of the world’s cheapest car, it hasn’t actually lived up its expectations. To the professional observer, there are many lessons to be learned on what not to do in selling a car. No one really wants to buy a car that carries the cheapest label. What they want is the best car, best mileage, most volume, best performance, best styling and best value at the price point they can afford. It’s a question of both sense and sensibility. Admittedly the prime architect of the Nano, Tata group patriarch Ratan Tata, saw it as a dream and a responsibility to get the Indian family off the dangerous scooter into a safer car. He went so far as to promise that it would be sold for 100,000 rupees (around RO 1,000 in those days). At launch, despite cost over runs and issues with setting up the factory, the most basic version sold for that price, allowing him to say the famous words, “a promise is a promise”.

Ratan Tata’s dream is my reality. No I am not the typical Indian consumer and could afford a lot more, but it makes no sense spending big money on a car that I’ll use maybe 45 days in a year. No, I have no intention of getting soaked to the bone riding a scooter in the future in the monsoons. And the Nano meets my sensibilities, it’s voluminous, high on utility, has actually accommodated six people, offers air-conditioning, power features, central locking and a good sound system and the frugality that its 600cc two-cylinder engine offers. Oh yes, it also has alloy wheels. I have owned a smart for-two in the past and the Nano is not quite a smart – lacking airbags, ABS and the like, but it makes for a hell of a four-wheeled bike.

In my defense I can say that I haven’t bought the world’s cheapest car. Even with today’s atrocious exchange rate for the Rupee, my car still costs more than RO 1,800. But then I bought an old 750cc bike here in Oman for more than that. So, I am not mad. I have succumbed to the allure of sense over consumerism.

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