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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sidhusaaheb at the Auto Expo 2008

It appears almost surreal now. For all of a hundred and twelve rupees, a nearly destitute, sometimes-employed man like me could go and take a close look at some of the loveliest automobiles in the world. Twelve rupees, incidentally, was the to and fro fare for the train ride between home and the venue of the exposition i.e. Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, with the rest being the entry fee.

Apart from the current range of products that each manufacturer participating in the show sells in the country, a number of other vehicles had also been displayed. Among all of these, there were some that especially caught my eye.

The highlight of the trip was coming face to face with the small general-purpose vehicle that has, arguably, the best off-road capabilities, available to the civilian population of the world i.e. the Hummer. The H2 on display at the General Motors pavilion was maroon in colour and, needless to add, looked absolutely stunning. Strangely enough, none of the Auto Expo-related coverage in the newspapers had alerted me in advance to the fact that it was being shown there.

At the Maruti-Suzuki pavilion, I was glad to note that the small hatch-back Splash, which is meant to replace the Wagon R, in fact, looks a lot more like a car should, than the Wagon R (the reasons for the sales of which I have never been able to fathom so far and which closely resembles a match-box in shape). Prospective buyers can expect to have a choice between versions with the 1 litre engine being driven by manual and automatic transmissions. The A-star concept that is also supposed to be releasing soon does not look bad at all, except for the pink turn-indicators, but appears to be rather too low slung to be practicable on Indian roads. The SX4 on display was a hatch-back, as against the saloon version being sold here, and done up like a World Rally Championship car, though I am not sure if it had actually taken part in the WRC. The photograph posted above is of a Suzuki concept that looked absolutely fabulous!

FIAT had displayed the new Linea, which has a grill with a very naughty, toothy grin, almost like Garfield the cat! The new FIAT 500 that has retro-styling quite akin to its ancester with the same name, but has a much more powerful engine, was also parked nearby.

The Tata Nano does look like a toy car from the land of Noddy and friends, but still appeared quite capable of comfortably seating four adults, at least two of whom could be up to six feet tall. However, I do not think that it is capable of doing more than 75-80 kilometres an hour, with that kind of a load, despite the claimed top-speed of 105.

So, here is a suggestion I have for Tata Motors. They should bring out a hybrid version of the car with an electric motor and a set of batteries accomodated in the boot. Contrary to popular perception, this would be to enhance the car's performance, more than anything else. A mechanism to charge the batteries by harnessing the motion of the wheels could be devised and installed in the car. Even after the wheel bearings are replaced with those of a better quality, in order to cope with a higher top-speed (an electronically limited 120 kilometres an hour or so, perhaps), I suppose the variant could still be priced somewhere around the current price of a standard Maruti 800. I leave it to the technicians to decide whether the brakes and the suspension would have to be worked upon as well.

Meanwhile, I am quite impressed with all that the company has done with the styling and design of the latest avatar of the Sumo i.e. the Grande. However, it remains to be seen whether the brand will be able to recover from the boxes-welded-together kind of image that, I believe, has largely been responsible for the Sumo being mainly used as a commercial vehicle so far. So, the changes might actually have come rather too late in the day for it to gain respectability in the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) or Multi Utility Vehicle (MUV) market now.

The Xenon appears to have been derived from what once used to be the Tatamobile, and looked a bit tacky, upon closer examination.

Skoda, BMW and Volvo had a number of gorgeous vehicles on display. These included Skoda's hatch-back Fabia, Volvo's SUV XC90, besides the cabriolets Volvo C70 and the BMW 650i.

Honda were showing the Jazz, which is being already sold as the Honda Fit in some other countries and is the soon-to-be-launched hatch-back version of its popular City model, besides the fuel-cell car FCX, even though it appeared somewhat larger and different from the FCX that I remembered having seen in advertisements earlier.

I also had a look at DC's Ambierod, the much-hyped Rs.400,00,000 Indian-made luxury car. I suppose the only use that any one can have for it in this country is to drive from an airport lounge to a waiting aircraft and vice versa. Otherwise, the front bumper is so low that it could hardly ever clear any of the speed-breakers of the sort that are almost omnipresent on the roads of cities like Delhi, for instance.

Among the motorcycle manufacturers, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda had all brought along a number of bikes with engine capacities upwards of 500 cubic centimetres, like the Yamaha R1 and those from the Kawasaki Ninja and the Honda CBR series. Apparently, they have heard of underground racing circuits like the one that uses the Greater Noida expressway for a track and the number of suberbikes that are being imported by those who are not racing enthusiasts, as well, from which it is evident that a niche market exists for such cycles.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Auction the Bharat Ratna!

Over the past few days, the government of India has been receiving missives from various political parties, recommending various politicians, who are either dead or retired or soon to retire or in a state of semi-retirement, for the nation's highest civilian honour i.e. the Bharat Ratna.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has recommended Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Bahujan Samaj Party has recommended the late Mr. Kanshi Ram, the communists are supposed to have been peddling the name of Mr. Jyoti Basu, whereas the Akalis are now supposed to have joined the race with Mr. Parkash Singh Badal as their candidate and the Telugu Desam Party is not far behind with their demand for the award to go to the late Mr. N. T. Rama Rao.

More parties could, possibly, join the fray as the 'race' continues to heat up.

All of this reminds me of the kind of fervour that securing a 'V. I. P.' registration number for their vehicles evokes among people, who used to employ every trick in the book, including getting recommendation letters from 'influential' people, in order to be able to get a number of their choice, until the respective state governments began to openly auction such numbers.

In view of the above, it would probably be best if the central government decides to go for an open auction of the Bharat Ratna, as well. The various political parties can then bid for the award (which would, of course, stop being an honour, thereafter), for a candidate of their choice. This could be a 'win-win' situation for the politicians as well as the ordinary people, since some of the ill-gotten wealth of the politicians can be transferred to the exchequer in this manner and, hopefully, used for the common good, even as the politicians can hope to impress the electorate in a more effective manner in subsequent elections, by citing the instance of the Bharat Ratna having been awarded to one of their party members.

Additionally, the committee that decides upon whom to bestow the Bharat Ratna, at the moment, can then be disbanded and the resources that it has at its disposal can be put to other uses, including finding ways and means for further enhancement of the public image of the party that wins the bid.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


It has been a year now.

This photograph was taken much earlier, of course, when the little one decided to take a nap one afternoon, using the edge of my slipper as a pillow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Wish fulfilment and a strange co-incidence

A few blog-posts ago, Raza Rumi had left a comment stating that he likes going for long walks, just like me, to which I had replied that perhaps we should go for a walk together some time in the near future.

Well, it just so happened that Raza came visiting friends in Delhi and also invited me to accompany him and some of his other local friends on a long walk. It was the eve of Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib's birth anniversary and a candle-light march was being organised to mark the occasion.

Earlier, Raza and I had exchanged mobile telephone numbers through email and, subsequently, traded text messages, as well as having spoken to each other to explore the possibility of arranging a meeting.

It was really good when we met, even though I eventually decided not to accompany him for the march, since it appeared that it could mean that I would have to ride my motorbike over the 30 odd kilometres from his host's house to my own rather late at night, which would have meant cold weather and traffic constituted mainly by heavily-laden trucks.

As we spoke to each other in our common mother tongue i.e. Punjabi, we discovered that both of us had maternal grandfathers who had migrated from across the border in 1947. His had been a businessman in Amritsar and mine a medical practitioner in Rawalpindi, before partition.

He was also able to satisfy my curiosity, to a certain extent, regarding the status of the Punjabi language in Pakistan as well as some of the 'Islamisation' that has taken place in the country, over the past few years. For instance, the holy month of Ramzan is now known as Ramadan over there and people say Allah Haafiz to bid farewell, instead of Khuda Haafiz. These changes, he explained, had come about while General Zia-ul-Haq was at the helm of affairs of the Islamic Republic.

There was, however, a very strange co-incidence related to our meeting that is likely to remain well-entrenched in my mind for a long time. When Raza had called me to provide the name and address of his host, his voice had been somewhat garbled, probably on account of network congestion or fluctuation in the strength of the mobile telephone's signal. So, I heard the last name of his host as Benazir and wrote it down as such on the piece of paper on which I had noted down the address.

Later on, after I had learnt that the actual name was different, I struck out the name Benazir with the same pencil that I had used to write it down. Within twenty-four hours of that event, I was watching television coverage related to former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto's assassination! The piece of paper lies on my table even as I write this.