Saturday, July 6, 2013

A kaleidoscopic view from Nano’s rearview mirror


Randeep Wadehra

The Nanologues by Vanessa Able
Hachette. Pages: 323. Price: Rs. 399/-

When the Tatas announced Nano’s arrival, the world had wondered at the possibility of such a car surviving – much like an underweight newborn, whose frailty causes concern. But, contrary to all predictions, and despite the assorted birth pangs, Nano is doing reasonably well. Of course, not as well as the various experts had predicted in the columns/slots of such internationally respected media brands as the USA Today, Time, Financial Times, Newsweek, and, of course BBC, who had showered superlatives in praise of Nano, describing it as a harbinger of revolution in road transport. Nevertheless, Nano has been able to attract quite a few committed acolytes. Apparently, the author is one of them who showed enough confidence in this miniscule four-wheeler to drive it on an amazing journey through India – about 10,000 kilometers of it! This says something for the driver’s nerves and the car’s resilience.

The narrative starts on a thrilling, nightmarish note that is tinged with dark terse humor, punctuated with imagery that lasts long after you have finished reading the book. I quote from the first chapter, “I was straining up a steep incline… wedged in between an unknown bushy darkness to my left on the edge of the road, a doddery truck up-front, and another truck to my right who was attempting to overtake us by accelerating his lard-a*se up the hill… I was inches, seconds, decibels away from death by unpleasant squishing… a quick glance in my rearview mirror… the incandescent yellow glare reflected there told of an angry corpus of vehicles on my tail, salivating at the prospect of taking a punt at my posterior.”

If you are wondering about why Vanessa, a Briton, was driving Nano on the chaotic Indian roads, then you will have to read this thrilling book that charms you with its narrative style and leaves you coping with a gamut of emotions – mirth not excluded. However, here one can reveal only this much that she was trying to beat the post-heartbreak blues and found Nano’s charms alluring enough to ignite a romantic passion that would have given blushes to even Yash Chopra. Of course, it helped that Nano’s price was equal to that of “two iPhones.” Moreover, she wanted to escape the English climate and thought that a sojourn in the “the most simultaneously exhilarating and exasperating country on earth” could prove to be the right medicine.

As usual with everything relating to India, she did not find it easy to acquire Nano off the shelf while sitting in Jersey.  Even on arrival, she found it almost impossible to buy Nano. Not even a request to Ratan Tata helped. Her friend in India too was not keen on her driving Nano on India’s highways on long journeys. He suggested bigger and sturdier cars. Nonetheless, she got Nano eventually and went on a rollicking journey through India. Her insights into the traffic sense in various parts of the country are not the only element of this narrative, though. You get a Briton’s take on the unique characters of such variegated places as Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Kochi, Kanyakumari, Puducherry, Hyderabad, Delhi, Amritsar etc.

Vanessa has an eye for the quirky and the colorful among the various characters she either meets or just espies on her cross-country adventure in the word’s cheapest and, arguably, smallest car. Witty and thoughtful, perceptive and poignant, her observations present a kaleidoscopic view of India that is changing fast even as it retains its hoary symbols, traditions and characters.

Published in The Financial World dated July 06, 2013


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