A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Who owns my car? May 1, 2008

After a long wait, I purchased a car last year. Though unpretentious, I love it for the opportunity it provided to travel new places.

I also drive it to office and park along the kerb. And this is becoming a source of amusement. Like every nook and corner of my country, there are stray dogs in the locality where my office is. The resident stray bitch gave a litter some months ago and the pups are now grown up. They have taken after their mother – shiny smooth brown coat, thin slender body and a laid back attitude towards life. It takes a lot to unruffle them.

Since summer is here, the pack is constantly on the lookout for shade to lie down and take a nap. For some inexplicable reason they have adopted the ground beneath my car as their residence. Initially, they would occupy that space when I am not around and scamper away the moment I reached close to my car. But that is fast changing.

The first change was they stopped scampering away until I started the engine. No sir, the whole act of getting in and closing doors was not enough signal for them to move out. It was MY responsibility to ensure they have enough warning and are not harmed when I start the engine and drive away. On more than one occasion, I had to talk to them and announce my presence. You should have seen the look they give me when I do that. I have to hold on tightly to self-esteem.

However, the saving grace remained that their ‘entry’ showed some respect for me; that is they occupied the space after I have parked and walked a certain distance away from the vehicle.

But that was then. Now, they stand up when they see me approaching the slot where I park. And they are already beneath the car before I have stopped the engine, let alone come out or walked away!! Come on guys, give me some space?

Thank God they cannot drive. Had that been the case, they might have as well kicked me out and taken complete possession of the vehicle. They leave no opportunity go by to give me the message that I am nothing but a caretaker who must keep the vehicle clean and ensure it is parked and ready for them before the sun is overhead.

I wonder what opinion they have of me. I doubt they consider me a threat whatsoever. I do hope that does not mean they do not respect me. And I pray that they love me.


ps: a few months ago, when the weather was more pleasant and the sun welcome, they had taken a fancy to the roof of my car.


The Art and Nomenclature of potholes on India’s roads September 6, 2007

Filed under: Automobiles,India — gurdas @ :

Driving on Indian roads presents a unique unsurpassable joy – courtesy potholes. No, this is no sarcastic remark. Once you have adjusted to the idea of potholes, the whole thing suddenly metamorphoses into a game. And our clever road department has potholes for all levels of ‘players’. Infact, I am pretty much sure, though I am yet to verify this, we have a Special Purpose Task Force (STF) for potholes in India. This group works within the larger framework of road transport ministry. But lest you think otherwise, the pothole STF is not for greenhorns. Only the very best potheads get to work in it.

Below I present a handful of the many gems crafted by our industrious pothole STF.

First on the list is the easy to create and innocuous looking, but very naughty, ‘Jalapeno Miss Daisy’ pothole. It is found bang center of the fast lane and takes by surprise anyone new to the road. There is no way you can miss it unless you knew about its existence and changed lanes well in time. The formula is – create a pothole with diameter greater than the width of the widest production car and with lesser space on its sides than the width of the narrowest production car. Veterans NEED to be respected and this pothole gets you loads of respect from the rookie. Also, given the impossibility of missing it once you enter Daisy’s suction zone (like a black hole), this is also a great way of punishing the incorrigible honker. The idea is simple – keep the honker on your tail and have him getting so hot in the head that he is ready to carve a sunroof in his car. Then just before you enter the suction zone, sidestep into the slow lane and give the ‘please pass me’ sign. The honker, senseless with rage, will finally see victory and rush to fill the gap created by you; flooring the accelerator until he realises the trap. Too late. Plump Miss Daisy gives him a nice rap on the knuckle. To add insult to injury, if you are the violent types, look into the honker’s eyes (he will be looking at you) and smile as you cut back into the fast lane while he is still in the pothole. Justice delivered.

Then there is the ‘Scotch Bonnet Sandwiched One Tyre Passby’ pothole. Here you have two potholes so placed that the only way to avoid them is to put your tyre in the space between them. And the space between them is always equal to one tyre width (tread arc width for the technically inclined). For newbies this pothole is great fun. Because of the opportunity to learn steering precision control without too much punishment. The more your tyre overlaps the space, the less you feel the pothole. A perfect fit means you cheated the pothole of all its poison. It is not uncommon to see drivers pump their fists in jubilation when they do a perfect score on Scotch Bonnet. Now where in the world other than India do you get that kind of fun?

The next level is ‘Red Savina Sandwiched One Tyre With Swerve Passby’. Same as above, only that you cannot drive straight through the gap zone (gap refers to parts where the road exists!). Once you reach the periphery of the first pothole you need to swerve just enough to keep the tyre on the road and yet avoid one of your tyres (usually rear) entering the next pothole. Great fun! Who cares what happens to traffic on the other side? Maybe you just drove an old uncle into the pavement or worse, killed his chance of winning his own pothole battle. Don’t you fret one bit. Everyone’s a student on Indian roads because the potholes keep changing shape, size, location and number. I tell you, our roads department knew about road games before the word got coined. Are Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft listening?

Then there is the ‘Dorset Naga One Tyre Salsa Passby’. Derived from Red Savina but then you have three potholes and have to swerve twice to keep your car from getting dunked. Unless you are an expert on Red Savina, do not try this. Novices tend to overestimate their skills and jump into the Salsa action. Only to find their skills not matching the challenge and end up in one big mess at the third pothole (which is almost always the largest and deepest of all three). They either have to take their car to a garage or worse, take another road occupant to the hospital.

If you have mastered the above three types, welcome to the club of ‘front tyre masters’. Members of this club can put any one front tyre into any possible line. Even if most of them failed their colouring lessons in school because they could not keep the crayon inside the line. Infact most of them have failed art classes.

Next in line is the ‘Bhut Jolokia Front And Rear End Double Jiggle’ pothole. A deadly variation of above types but with the potholes spaced at distances less than the car wheelbase. Now when you swerve to keep your front tyre on the road, unless you keep within tolerance, your rear tyre will enter the pothole the front tyre just escaped. Not many front tyre masters realize the exponential challenge this represents until they have failed a couple of times. Power steering comes in handy here. And you really have to know how not to give a damn to other people right to the road. Basically, the rear end of your vehicle will twist such that Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie will look like an American cowboy practice session.

A unique kind is the ‘Capsaicin Meteorite Sucker’ pothole. Easiest to create – just dig up the whole road section. This is the mother of all potholes and will suck you in come what may. A true scorcher and amazing Zen teacher it is. There is no way you can avoid entering it unless your vehicle has an E.T. staring out over the dashboard. The only way to negotiate the Sucker is to enter slowly and exit slowly. Smart Alecs who come in fast, never leave. The Sucker is deep and dangerous and they take a day’s rest with broken axles, ankles and ego. Lately, I have seen some players managing to beat the Sucker. It is unfair outplay since they drive in the lane of the opposite direction traffic. But the road guys are catching up fast. Last Sunday, Mr. Patel, our local roadie (as we lovingly call our road planners), announced that the Sucker will now cover lanes in both directions. Take that.

Remember all this pothole fun is possible only when you have 4 lane roads with a divider to physically separate traffic into two opposite directions. In other words, potholes are signs of our growing infrastructure and justify our demand for a seat in the UN Security Council. Also, I wonder why we still do not have temples to pay homage to our roadies. Especially when they are responsible for so many people getting close, real close, to God.

Non-Indians will never understand how vital these potholes are to upholding democracy in India. Like when they decided to level all roads in the locality I live. It was mayhem on the roads. People accustomed to potholes went berserk, and started seeing imaginary potholes and drove their vehicle into the pavement, lamppost and what-not. A vote was held and people turned out in large numbers to vote for moonscape roads. The road department relented and came up with a new pothole plan. That has kept people busy and away from their frightening selves.

Last month, however, we were faced with a new challenge to our pothole democracy. Bajaj Tempo, the ultimate symbol of fast moving Indians, requested F1 central committee to give India a circuit and also introduce potholes to increase the excitement. Before a healthy debate could be had, the old boys (Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, Renault, etc.) shouted foul and the request was buried. Cowards! they knew that with potholes introduced they stood no chance against Bajaj Tempo’s 3-wheeler entry. Man, we learn how to handle potholes at the age of 7. Remember standing in the space between dad and the headlight of your Bajaj Chetak and driving (in your mind) as your dad did the pothole routine? So, while the Schumachers of this world were learning to tie their shoelaces, Srivastavs of this world were negotiating potholes at the speed of scooter.

I hope to have brought some respect to our potholes and help you realise they are works of art.

Feel free to let me know if you have more pothole types or pictures to add.
Or maybe you have a pothole story worth telling…..
– – – – –

Just in case you were wondering about all those fancy pothole names:


Parking my Ego September 5, 2007

Filed under: Automobiles,ego,women — gurdas @ :

As someone who has recently started driving around town, there is a certain joy in parking well. Like those instances when you park so bloody perfect that you wish someone would pull out a camera and take a picture of you for the next day’s front page story.

And the sense of achievement is heightened if the spot you parked into was one of those tight, zero tolerance spots which women do not even consider as ‘parkable’. Male ego never had it so good. Tyres straight, ample room to open the door and least possible chances of anyone hitting your vehicle because it protruded 3mm into the drive-by zone.


Jeh Jawan, Jeh Kissan, Jeh Aam Aadmi May 9, 2007

Filed under: Automobiles,Business Houses,India — gurdas @ :

So, Tata Motors is going to launch a Rs. One Lakh (1,00,000) car!
So, I don’t think it can be done.
So what even if it can be done?
So, it will be crap and nobody is going to buy it!


So much skepticism!! Typical statements you hear when the subject of discussion is the upcoming Rs. 1-lakh car from Tata Motors. And I remember hearing similar stuff when Tata Motors announced they will launch India’s first indigenously designed car – now known as Indica. But that was in 1998. The rest is history.


Indica is maybe still not very refined and the overall fit and finish looks like it needs some help. But, guess what, it is India’s second largest selling car model that happily has some 144,690  units rolling off every year! Which means, every single day close to 396 people in India buy an Indica. Some numbers, eh?


And the Tatas have learnt a few tricks from their experience with Indica. To me that means if anybody can pull off the 1-lakh car, it is the Tatas. A view held by many others. In an ongoing poll on more than 85% people say Yes to the question “Do you think Tata’s will keep their word in bringing out the 1 Lakh car in 3 years?” 


Before we talk of other stuff, here is what is more or less known about this ‘super’ car:
Engine: 600cc (to be very exact, 630cc), 2-cylinder, about 34bhp, rear fit.

Gearbox: Might have a CVT, i.e. no gear shifting required.
Capacity: 4 seater, and by India’s standards that automatically means 5-seater!
Looks: very cute
Price: Rs. 1,00,000/- ex-factory… boy oh boy!
Name: “Jeh”, after J.R.D. Tata. Might change. But I would love it be this.

So, what does that price mean? Let us consider an on-road price of Rs. 1,20,000/-.The down payment works out to just Rs. 18,000/-. The EMI for the remaining amount on a loan period of 7 years would come to less than Rs. 1700/-
Note: when you buy a second hand car, the loan duration is calculated as:
7 – years since manufacturing

For a Maruti 800 (in excellent condition), it must be model 2002 or before to be available at 1.2 Lakh. This means, at best a 2 year loan. And the interest rates for second hand cars are significantly higher than new vehicle rates.

Is this the kind of reasoning folks at Tata Motors would have fallen on to estimate the threat from Maruti 800. I do not know. Any caveats I left out? Please tell me. 

That said, the biggest threat to the market pie for this segment is likely to come from Suzuki, a company known for its superlative grasp of small car dynamics.    

Who is a potential customer? 

  1. I would say every two wheeler owner who is looking to buy a two-wheeler costing more than 48000/-
  2. Intra-city taxi services. This could be a surprise market. Never before have we had a car that is great economics for intra-city taxi services. With this car, your typical 8hr, 80km inside city slot might become available for 30% less than today’s rate. And for every 1 Indica, the taxi wallah can now buy 3 Jeh.
  3. The college going 20 year old whose parents earn 4+ Lakh/annum. You might see a sudden churning in gender based vehicle sales with rich parents wanting to give their daughters a car rather than a 2-wheeler.
  4. The ‘other’ vehicle in a family where one spouse travels more and has a bigger car, while the other spouse travels occasionally (or to short distances).

What the car MUST achieve to become a hit? 

  1. Cost close to 1Lakh for the entry version and below 1.2Lakh for the version with AC.
  2. Good fuel economy. If it gives 30kmpl, landslide sales are more or less guaranteed. Anything above 25kmpl will be acceptable. Fuel efficiency is the least known figure of this car and I believe will play an important role in deciding how much of a success it is.
  3. Cute looks. Remember the Volkswagen Beetle? Cute looks = Love. And when in love, people become blind to even obvious flaws. I have a strong hunch that the Beetle is the car the Tatas have in mind The 1955 ‘bug’ (the Beetle’s nickname) had a rear engine, top speed of 115kmph and 34 bhp engine. And if you were to say “that was in 1955”, just remember that the Maruti 800 even today produces only 37bhp.
  4. Should not be visibly compromised in safety and finish.
  5. An advertising campaign that forces home the utility of a car vis-à-vis a 2-wheeler. Like showing the pain of carrying home vegetables and grocery from the market. Or taking 2 kids and your wife to the movie. Or taking your old parents to the hospital in a rickshaw. Or struggling to save your precious documents from getting wet on a rainy day. Or desperately wanting a bath simply because the car ahead of you created a dust storm (while you were on the way to office). Or having your kid catch pneumonia because you’ll got wet on the way back from school. Unlike ever before, this car’s campaign must persuade the target customer to take on a small economic burden to offset the daily pain of not having a car. Spend no time comparing this car with other cars. Just pitch it against top-end 2-wheelers. And maybe low end second hand cars. 
  6. Partnership with finance agencies to deliver an innovative scheme which will minimise the economic burden of the 2-wheeler buyer migrating upwards.
  7. Give a “in your face” warranty – like say 3 years. Might not be feasible due to cost concerns. But if this can be done, it gives a subtle and yet full message that says “listen, this car is good quality”.

What does NOT matter

  1. Any technical wizardry. Like how many bit processor, fuel injection or carburettor, how many cylinders or valves per cylinder, bhp, cc. Who cares?
  2. Top speed figures. If the car touches 100kmph with 4 people seated, it is enough. Period.

Possible impact? 

  1. A major addition to vehicular pollution levels. I hope the Tatas have done their homework here.
  2. Space crunch on the roads. The government might have to take some drastic measures. At 8 million per annum, the 2-wheeler market is huge. If just 5% of that converts to Jeh, you have a figure of 4,00,000 –  that is nearly 2 times the total passenger vehicle sales from Tata Motors!!.
  3. A definite change in mindset. Remember, in India, the car is still associated with luxury. If the average Indian suddenly has a car parked in his house, he/she is going to feel important, and more worthwhile. Who knows we might see a revolution in the very approach to life in India.

I have purposefully taken some sweeping projections. I wanted to do that because it is important to estimate what is possible. Maybe Jeh does not achieve even half of this. Maybe it will do twice as more. But what really touches me and is the single biggest reason that makes me pray for its success is this – the average middle class Indian will be able to take his family of four for an outing without having to worry about safety, wind, sun or rain. I do not care much if the college going kid gets a car or the taxi wallah gets his taxis – they are just numbers. The real thing is that middle class Indian who deep inside his heart feels a pinch every time he gets onto his 2-wheeler, has his wife struggling to balance one kid on her lap while he perches the other kid on the petrol tank.In an interview that appeared in the English daily Telegraph, Mr. Ratan Tata voiced being inspired by a similar scene.


Mr. Tata, I love Jeh the visionary, I love you, and I am already in love with Jeh the 1-lakh car.

Bring it on!.


A quick background so that my piece is read with a pinch of salt. 

I was born and brought up in Jamshedpur – a city literally built by the Tatas. An amazing oasis in the desert of Bihar (now Jharkhand). And how wonderfully they have kept it! My father retired from Tata Motors after a stint of 39 years. And though I have never met any of the top brass at Tata Sons, my life and the lives of so many around me, have been touched by their corporate governance and social responsibility standards. One needs to visit Jamshedpur and its surrounding areas to see what the Tatas have achieved.

In India, they have no parallel.

To hear what Suhel Seth has to say about Jamshedpur and the Tatas, click 

Links that helped me gather information


The 1-lakh car (same article as above, easier to read) 


Car sales .

2-wheeler sales .

Just for fun – some other concepts