The world according to Nano

Maverick: The world according to Nano
by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, Jan. 15, 2008

I am not people. Sitting in the lobby of the Taj Mahal Hotel after a light lunch of a bunch of things stuffed between two slices of organic bread, I read about Nano, the Tata group’s new ‘people’s car’ that was unveiled at an auto exhibition. There were no luscious models posing like serpents curled over its hood; that was for cars meant for not-people.

If you drive a BMW, then it makes you not-people. You have read enough about the car, so let me tell you about people.

One commentator has said that the elite do not want the less privileged to aspire for the good things in life and are, therefore, complaining about such cars clogging the roads. I think it is quite the opposite.

It is a way of pointing fingers and saying, look, there goes the Nano, there goes the poor guy. Nothing can be more dehumanising. It isn’t the car; the person buying it has become the product.

Short memories work well in relationships but can have a rather disastrous effect on social understanding. The old Maruti 800 was in fact designed as a people’s car, but it was born at a time when you were not sold seven-day miracles in 30 second ad slots, Indian leaders weren’t made on television by votes of those who use satellite dishes, and you could still call each other monkeys because Darwin had not yet begun to pose a threat to god.

The human as product is a commercialised entity. We have tabloid front page pictures of young farmers playing with onions because a stock-broker has bailed them out of debts when they wrote to the President asking for permission to commit suicide. I am sorry, the newspaper may gloat about ‘impact’ but there is something vicious about such ‘stories’ churned out by the urban fabulist. It transforms the Dalal Street man from a mutual fund dalal into a philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous. There will be the usual round of hurrahs about how this blighted city has a heart.

Take this scene. A girl trots playfully with her mother towards a large house in the outskirts of a village. There is something in her hand that she hides behind her. While her domestic help mother gets busy with work, she goes into a room and stands before the airconditioner.

Then she brings out her hidden trick – a bottle. She opens the lid and places it before the AC and quickly covers it after capturing the cool air.

The camera pans as she runs along the road towards the fields. A man is toiling, sweating. She drags him beneath the shade of a tree. He sits down, wipes his face with the edge of the turban. She opens the bottle. A blast of air wafts towards him.

It is an advertisement for an air-conditioner and it speaks about “dil India ka”.

When I first saw it I found it beautiful, emotional and simple. It hit me later that this was in fact an insult to the poor. The little girl is seeing her mother slog, her father work hard; she does not have good clothes, probably does not go to school. She sees this big house, the room with antique-looking furniture. And she takes away bottled air.

Does it mean that the needy need the munificence of the rich even for the basics of life that nature has provided?

The flipside is that the privileged class too has become a product. The electronic media thrives on this. Debates are not about individual sentiments but prototypes. You are the creation of the ‘manufacturing company’; we politely call it ethos. It may include the calendar with beach babes, the yacht parties, the cocktail sarees.

It isn’t people who are passing judgements. It is again the ‘not-people’ reaching this conclusive fact. Facts have a limited and limiting framework and deter both fluidity and rigidity.

I am sick of the selling of India as a pluralistic society. Mythifying inclusiveness beyond the bounds of disparate perceptions would be excluding. Anyone can be a part of the closed as well as the open normal social discourse. A ghetto is inclusive because it is an identity support system. Its exclusivity arises from others giving it that identity, and therefore those others become a part of the idea of that ghetto.

The protests at Singur where the Tata car plant is located were not merely about violence but a result of the desperate attempts to make it a mirror version of the Establishment. Dissent was sought to be co-opted.

We need a people’s tractor, a people’s movement that is not dictated by elitist diktats that romanticise the 70 per cent who live in the villages. Rural India is about poverty but it is also about a specific regional culture; it is urban India that has to deal with streams of religious or parochial realities. I can say this because I have lived all my life in urban India, seen disturbances and been fairly acquainted with Indian villages. There is, no doubt, an element of superciliousness regarding rural superstitions, and that gulf cannot be bridged with the arrival of chic tarot card readers and quick-fix cures.

Regarding the free market, it can hardly be construed as breaking the barriers. If anything, it is most elitist. It is a thoroughly ‘Show me the money’ scenario and individualism prevails. Two brothers from a business family separate to realise their individual dreams and their success levels increase.

It is a nano world where the insatiability of not-people keeps the wheels lubricated.


  1. This isn't such a huge point but may be the AC ad wasn't made with that intent, other than that, I totally agree with how the Nano will start dividing people into segments like cars are classified.

    I really like the people/not-people thing. It's very well thought.

  2. Hey FV
    I have BMW...Will you still consider me people or No people?

    I also have a small two door minicooper...Will you consider me people or no people?

  3. SM:

    The job of a good ad is to make you believe in its 'lies'...I do find the message revolting.


    Forget people or not-people, you just drive me around whenever I am in your part of the world, wherever that is!

  4. FV
    Oh, Ya I'll take you there....song
    Promise, promise, promise...
    My part of the world'll be waiting for you to drive you around my lil world.....

  5. ..and will you drive me round in circles? :)


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