Sunday, 26 April 2009

Rains, garam chai and masala dosa...

19th of April 2009 was not the first rain of the season nevertheless it has brought out a much needed relief in the hearts on the millions of Bangaloreans.

Over the evening the dark clouds had gathered but a strong wind was blowing, which made me feel that a heavy downpour was not happening. Of course I was wrong. It was sudden… it was impressive… it brought down the mercury… but most important of all was the fact that I enjoyed myself. I did not realize the transformation from 27 years to 7 years…the rains made me forget 20 years.

I am sure everyone enjoys the gradual approach as we get close to a heavy rainfall:
-the gathering of dark grey clouds overhead
-the wind with the smell of fresh wet soil from nearby lands
-the sudden chill and the freshness in the air
-the gradual rumbling in the clouds
And then after some moments, big uneven drops make it to the earth. Over the next few seconds the frequency of the rain drops keeps increasing at an exponential rate and before we know, its all set for a heavy heavy downpour. Moreover, within 15 minutes of this we’d have fresh streams of rainwater making it to lower ground.

I have always loved the rains, though I do not exactly know what pulls me to the rains –is it the smell in the soil? Is it the cool breeze after a hot day in the sun? Is it the feeling of being under a huge shower of cool water where ever you go? Is it the promise of garam garam chai and pakode at home while it’s raining outside? Or is it the long hours of being in bed under the rug and watching the rain water fall on the greenery around? As a kid I remember getting wet [deliberately] while coming home from school. There would not be a single puddle that I would have left untouched on my way. And if it happens that I am at home while its raining, my mom has been kind enough to allow me to join the neighbours’ kids and get drenched… Skating, skidding and doing all sorts of crazy stuff in the rains. Of course a warm water bath and good food followed.

As the years passed by some of my companions preferred to enjoy the rains from the confines of their offices or homes while I was still fully ballistic under the rains. I sometimes wonder –What keeps us away from enjoying the things that we used to enjoy as kids? Try to answer that and keep it for yourself.

Later as the years passed, I was allowed to have a bicycle for my movements within the city –school, sports and tuition and this gave me a much needed freedom. Be it coming back from school or on the ground we never shunned the rains. The long stretch from school through the Refinery and IPCL townships with water on the roads used to be paradise. We used to deliberately ride through the water and sprinkle it on others. We were wild, we were free and we loved the rains… I still do.

I also remember playing cricket in the rains. Try it once… the rains had brought in a newfound passion for the game in all of us.

Similarly when I got a scooter, when in college the rains again, as usual, never stopped me…and my companion. It was kind of risky, but I loved driving in the rains. Who would want to deny a long drive with no traffic just after it’s rained? The cool fresh air would pump in life back in us…

Then over the past 5 years I do not distinctly remember getting wet by choice except for once. I thought times have changed… I preferred enjoying it from the confines of my room. But is it any close to being in the rain? No, not at all.

Come 19th of April… I was out doing some house setup shopping when the Rain Gods thought of playing a prank…and I had my time. I loved the cool air on my face, the rain in my eyes, the chill in the air… while I drove my Pulsar. I drove through the waters, sprinkling water or sometimes dipping my feet in the cold water while I was crossing a new stream on the roads…

I was free… I was wild… and I was savouring the rains, when I stopped near a Sukh Sagar [restaurant]. I didn’t even think twice and ordered for a Masala Dosa and a garam chai.

I had thought that over the years, times had changed. But I was wrong.
I had thought that over the years, I had changed… again I was wrong. The fun I had when out in the rains brought in the same adrenalin as it did when I was 15 years old.

But probably what has changed was from “Rains, garam chai, pakode” to “Rains, garam chai, masala dosa”. But that’s kind of acceptable… so much so for a change in geography. Try it once… it went well with the cool breeze and the chill in the air, while I wait for another shower.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Nano, A gift to the nation

If I am not wrong, the year was 2001. Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata Group of companies was having a business meeting on his way from Pune to Mumbai over the Expressway.

As the rains slashed on the window of his car, he felt warm and cozy to be safe. But not all on the Expressway were as fortunate. A family of four apparently was also on the same way but on a two wheeler. The kid in the front along with his father took the wrath of the rains while the mom at the backseat tried her best to protect the younger one. A typical Indian middle class family believing in the saying –Hum do humare do. A car [gadi] is still a thing of luxury in our country and not all can afford it.

That sight is supposed to have moved Ratan Tata. And he, as the Chairman of Tata Motors asked himself –What can I do for them? What can Tata Sons –as the biggest conglomerate of the nation- do for the nation? And Nano [‘small’ in Gujarati, the language of the founders of the Tata Group] was born.

Apart from the designing constraints one of the biggest challenges was the cost factor. A car for the Aam Aadmi [common man] needs to be affordable by the common man. And as time as taught us –cutting costs happens with innovation. Exactly 100 years back, Henry Ford used the assembly line to produce the Model T in 1908 which brought down the cost of car building. The question facing Ratan Tata was can The Nano with technology innovations bring it within the grasp of the Indian Aam Aadmi?

The development of the car finally kicked off in 2003 with design inputs from IDEA, Italy. To achieve its cost and design constraints Tata had simplified the manufacturing process, sought new design approaches from the suppliers [Bosch, Germany] and emphasized innovation. Such was the shock at building a car at so low cost that there were thoughts that Tata Motors should patent the technology being used in Nano. But Ratan Tata pointed out that none of these is revolutionary or represents earth-shaking technology and most relate to rather mundane items such as the two-cylinder engine’s balance shaft, and how the gears were cut in the transmission. The innovation however is the utilization of compressed air as fuel.

The introduction of Nano received huge media coverage due to its targeted low price. The most common question [even I remember to have asked this] was –“Is it really possible to build a car that low in cost?”

The Financial Times reported –“If ever there were a symbol of India’s ambitions to become a modern nation, it would surely be the Nano, a tiny car with an even tinier price tag. A triumph of homegrown engineering, the Nano captures the dreams of millions of Indian groping for a shot at urban prosperity.”

But not all was hunky dory for the Nano. The earlier identified site of Singur in West Bengal went through a lot of controversies and finally amidst a lot of drama, the Tatas pulled out of Singur and went to the land of dreams, where visions are shaped into realities –Gujarat. Within five days of Tata’s decision of pulling out it was announced on the 7th of October, 2008 that the Chief Minister of Gujarat has signed a MOU with Tata Motors for allocating land for the Nano factory in Sananda, Gujarat.

Tata Motors has commercially launched the Nano on the 23rd of March 2009 with bookings from the 9th to the 25th of April 2009 and sales from July 2009 onwards. Finally the Indian middle class will have an affordable car[gadi] of their own.

Ratan Tata, a shy man who rarely features in the social gatherings has lived for years in the book crammed, dog filled bachelor flat in Mumbai’s Colaba area. JRD Tata built Tata. Now his grandson builds Tata Nano. The Tata group of companies with their extremely high standards of ethics has played a huge role in creating the modern India. Air India was founded by JRD Tata in the year 1932 as Tata Airlines, which was later acquired by the Govt. of India. I’m sure a lot of us were not aware of this.

Tata Steel is the cheapest producer of steel in the whole world. It was not possible to reach such heights without an eye for innovation that is so much a part of the Tata Group. With Corus in their kitty, they’re the 5th largest steel producer of the world.

Tata Consultancy Services is the largest IT exporter of the nation with unbelievable profit margins.

And now Tata Motors joins the bandwagon with Nano.

Apparently Tata Steel, Tata Motors and TCS forms the largest contributor the profits of Tata Sons in the conglomerate that has 100 companies. Yes you heard it right, The Taj Group of Hotels, Tata Tea, Tata Communication, WestSide, Tanishq…. Phew!!!

Ratan Tata has definitely brought us one step closure to comfort. Over the next few years, when Ratan Tata conducts meetings enroute over the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, he might not be any lesser glad.

Do not be surprised if next time you’re behind a truck on a highway and read “Hum do humare do aur Nano” being written. By the way, try to look at the make of the truck, chances are it might be TATA.