Two gritty little drives

Imagine someone driving around the Indian peninsula — from Mumbai to Mumbai via Kanyakumari, Kolkata and Nainital. The trip takes 90 days.

Now imagine that the person is a woman. Alone. In a Tata Nano.

Is it possible? The answer is yes. The woman in question is , an English journalist. Her gritty tale is documented in her monologue, titled .

So such a thing is not only possible, but you – and your Nano – can emerge practically unscathed from such an experience. Ergo, it is not just doable, but it is within anyone’s reach.

Well, only almost. You have to have the gumption to undertake such an expedition. Everything that you expect will happen does happen but, thanks presumably to Ganesha on the dashboard, ways and means spring out of adversity and the author thrives to tell the tale, having mainly suffered only extreme pangs of indignation. Her tale does include roads suddenly ending on the edge of a cliff, and wheels screeching to a halt in front of unexpected police barriers and trucks making a U-turn in the middle of the road, apart from cornea-searing headlamps and bottom-scraping potholes.

The story has two morals. First, the Nano is a gritty little car, whose misdemeanours through the 11,000-km ride added up to one misaligned steering wheel. The second moral is that an Englishwoman will have to do a little bit of unlearning and re-learning in order to drive around on South Asian highways, a point that Ms Able graciously concedes.

Ms Able’s writing is fluent and laced with, well, British-style humour. She dispenses with political correctness and is blunt about horns, headlights, hierarchies, stares, cops and toilets. There are also moments of awakening, such as: “The most important preconception to tackle was that horns always imply hostility”. She learns and acknowledges the complex language of highway honking  — something most car-driving Indians cannot claim to have done! Her story is smartly interjected with information about places, people and things.

Who should read the book? Ms Able’s target audience is mainly foreigners, especially those who want to drive in India. I would add to that people who have some lazy afternoons to spend, Tata Motors people and their competitors, PR people, and those concerned with transport, tourism or travel blogs. She promises entertainment, except for those occasional moments when she may get under your skin with the way she shrugs off the “Indian way”.  

If The Nanologues is written with half an eye on celebrity, then : India’s Green Gift to the World is written with both eyes bent on gaining acknowledgement. It is a chronicle in which the senior Maini recounts the long and difficult journey that led a precocious youngster toying with model airplanes to launch an Indian electric car on the world stage — among the first of its kind.

The Reva was not an accident. Unlike the Nano, it was not an after-thought; nor was it a child of impulse. The genesis of the Reva was slow but sure, a seed germinating on the shop floor of Maini Precision Products, and initially taking the form of a custom-built electric forklift, in 1984. Combined with the early germination of genius talent in the youngest Maini – Chetan – the idea of building an electric vehicle in and for India started taking shape in the mind of the Maini patriarch. The story of the Reva is as much a story about the Maini family,  of a dream nurtured and brought to life by Sudarshan Maini, in which each of his family members would have an acknowledged, if unequal, role.

It is easy to recount a journey after it has happened, especially if you live to tell the tale.  However, the journey before it has been made is a plunge into risky darkness, and that is true of both books under review. The journey of the Reva electric car was undertaken with a sense of destiny. The project was financed and supported by the Maini Group, allowing Chetan Maini to focus on – and pursue the dream of – a compact zero-emission city car that is made in India. This tale is, without doubt, a memorable one in the history of Indian enterprise.

Told in a quietly assertive tone, for which the credit must also go to the co-author Sandhya Mendonca, Reva EV is, title onwards, a simple and uncomplicated three-hour read. The story is sprinkled with best practices in Indian innovation and sustainability. Modular design, frugal innovation, partnership, persuasion, technology, design, public relations, public sentiment, values are all covered in the narrative. This little book is case study material for business schools, but should also be read in every Indian high school.


10,000 km Across India in the Worlds Cheapest Car

Vanessa Able

Hachette India; 323 pages; Rs 399


Indias Green Gift to the World

Random House India; 192 pages; Rs 299

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