Archive for July, 2011

When someone asked me if I wanted to drive the Nano, my first reaction, in typical Eddie Murphy style, was ‘Get The F*** outta here’. Why would anyone want to drive THAT car, was my line of thinking. However, after some thought, I relented. I guess my curiosity got the better if me, because it had been rubbished and complimented in equal measure and I just had to find out for myself. I’m no expert (not yet anyway!) on the subject of cars, but at least I’d know if it was the letdown that people made it out to be.

So there I was next morning, strapped down, and all set to drive the Nano. From the outside, this ‘small wonder’ is among the cutest small cars that has travelled the roads in the country. At 1652 mm it’s taller than a Maruti 800 and my 5’11” frame got in quite comfortably. Neither did I knock my head on the door-frame and nor did my head touch the roof. Though it’s smaller in length than the Alto, there is enough seating space for the two in front, with enough leg room and just about adequate for the ones at the rear. The interiors are bare and the feeling, as a friend put it was one of ‘hollowness’! The glove compartment is absent, and in it’s place is just a cavernous space. The seats are a little hard but not uncomfortable. There wasn’t much storage space up front in place where the engine should have been, just one outer rear view mirror on the right (which spells danger in a city like Pune where everyone from two-wheelers to four-wheelers overtakes from the left), and one wiper, which could create a few problems during a heavy downpour.

The ignition took a little searching, hidden as it was on the right, low, behind the steering wheel. The engine cranked noisily, but since the windows were up and the AC on, one didn’t realise till much later that it made a soft thump-thump sound much like a six-seater auto-rickshaw. It slid away from the parking quite smoothly and the sound of the engine didn’t seem to grate on the nerves. The vehicle had air-conditioning that cooled the interiors pretty quickly. Heck, driving in comfort, even to the shortest point is what matters, and since I don’t like driving without the AC on, I ticked off one more positive for the Nano!

The two-spoke steering wasn’t very hard, so I didn’t feel the absence of power steering. But that could have been because it was a new car. I also noticed that the fuel tank was half empty so somewhere along the highway we would be ‘tanking up’ its 15- litre tank. Isn’t 15 litres too little for a four-wheeler, you might ask. Remember, however, that the Nano is mostly meant for the city and a tank with that capacity can last a while. Also, remember, that a two-cylinder 623 cc car like this one is not really ideal for off-roading or long distance travel – not even a trip down the expressway – even though people have done it. However, Indians, over-enthusiastic as we are, always look to achieve the impossible, so there’s no saying where they’ll take this car! I dread to think what the feeling must be for the occupants inside a Nano, if two Volvo buses doing 120 kmph pass it by simultaneously from either side on the e-way.

As we cleared the city traffic and veered off towards the Mumbai-Bangalore Highway the car was travelling nicely. The stories I had heard about the Nano’s wobble and roll seemed to be an exaggeration. I guess people who drive those big, powerful cars tended to thumb their nose at the Nano. Being the owner of a hatchback myself, I notice the condescending looks of other motorists in bigger cars who sail past me on the highway, and it p—-s me off no end!

Entering the Bangalore Highway, my foot pressed on the accelerator and the speedometer needle went from 60 to 100 quite effortlessly. No (rock ‘n)roll, yet, at least not the kind that one would find disturbing, although some people I know, had spoken about it. In the rear view I noticed a speck in the distance catching up fast. It turned out to be a Honda CBR 250R and as it roared past, the helmeted rider gave me a thumbs down as if to say ‘250 versus 600? Huh!’

As we turned off the Bangalore Highway towards Bhor, the road condition also deteriorated. That’s when the Nano wasn’t a very comfortable ride. The car began to wobble scarily every time we went over a bump and into even the smallest depression on the road. Around even the tiniest bend, I had to slow down to sub-30 kph, because the car started to roll. I guess that’s where a bigger car makes that vital difference in terms of safety, so that won’t get the feeling that it could topple over any minute. And since the engine’s at the back, the lack of protection in front is worrying in the event of a collision. On even a minor gradient I had to change to first gear to climb. Any other car – even the Maruti 800 – would have raced up. Going off the bumpy road onto a muddy path towards a lake, the Nano mapped the rough terrain quite easily, though the suspension began to squeak. I drove the car all the way down to the lake near Bhor, over rocky ground and it went there comfortably. It also took very little space while taking a U-turn on a narrow road.

It hadn’t been a bad drive in a car that has been getting a lot of negative press lately. In a city like Pune, where one had to manoeuvre through the maddening traffic snarls at speeds which rarely exceeded 40 kmph, and travel from point A to point B, the Nano seemed to be the kind of vehicle for someone graduating from a standard two-wheeler. Oh, and it didn’t catch fire and nothing fell off or out.


Read an interesting report in ToI the other day about parking trends in Ahmedabad where the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), talks about, among other things, how motorists should be made to pay if they park on the road. The study is looking at three cities – Ahmedabad, Chennai and our own Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation.

The study also talks about getting free parking spaces and the need to control carbon emission and create a better traffic system which would make the city a better place to live in. Interesting observations, and had I been living in Chandigarh or even Ahmedabad I would have been delighted, because the administration there would have implemented such a system. But in Pune? I don’t know if there is any hope of improving the traffic situation here.

It’s not about finding parking spaces or charging motorists who park on the road. Frankly, it’s not even the burgeoning number of vehicles – two-, three and four wheelers – that worry me inasmuch as the people who use them and those who devise and implement traffic laws. If I was a diligent driver and knew that parking on a street that is two-lane, is an inconvenience to other motorists, would I stop my vehicle there? Has any thought been given to streamlining the system which issues licenses? Learners’ licenses are given without the mandatory tests. Drivers do not even know the basic traffic rules. If they did, 80 per cent of the problems that exist today won’t be there. The fact that a huge number of drivers are either ignorant of traffic rules and therefore lack driving sense, and many others wilfully break the rules, speaks of a deeper malaise that can’t be tackled with studies.

As for the problems of parking in Pune, I don’t think people have a problem when it comes to paying at parking lots, as long as their vehicles are safe. And why would they park on the road anyway, if there’s a place to park? The problem lies elsewhere. Instead of finding a solution to a vexing problem and help to improve the city’s infrastructure, politicians and their cronies devise new ways to make money. I find it hard to believe that the traffic problems that exist in Pune today could not have been envisioned by the city fathers years ago, and can’t be tackled by a conscientious bunch of corporators, MLAs and MPs today.

For example, very little thinking has gone into evolving a traffic system that will help the road user. Most traffic systems are implemented without taking into account the long-term impact – the BRTS is a ‘shining’ example of this. No one seems to have given it too much thought before it was implemented. BRT systems exist in cities all over the world, but nowhere is it more chaotic than in Pune. In the first place where was the need for a BRTS if it didn’t ease the burden on the existing traffic system? The dedicated track is used by every kind of vehicle from two-wheeler to four-wheeler. Here’s a report on the ITP site which makes interesting reading.

It was supposed to be a faster system of travel between two points, but is as slow as the PMPL buses. It’s pretty clear that it is nothing but an extension of the existing ramshackle public transport system – where 80 per cent of the buses are in state of disrepair and those that are there, are for people who use it for lack of other credible options. And the civic body knows that too. That is why they don’t care to improve it. If Pune had a better public transport system we would neither require a BRTS and nor would people use their vehicles. I travelled by one such ‘AC’ bus on the BRTS route one day for a short distance and swore never to get onto it again. If this is comfortable travel, according to the PMC, I don’t want any part of it. We (my son and I) were forced to disembark because we were getting suffocated by the oppressive heat inside. Someone somewhere bulldozed this plan through under the very noses of the city fathers and made a lot of money.

Take that ubiquitous traffic light at the intersection. Little thought has been given to the waiting time at numerous signals. At some very crowded traffic junctions, 15 seconds is given to traffic in one lane. Unless we are all driving Lambos, Ferraris and Beemers, by the time we even put the car into gear, five seconds have already elapsed. So by the time you reach the intersection, the other 10 seconds have elapsed and only around 7-8 vehicles have crossed. So you wait, and behind you the queue gets longer, until in desperation to cut waiting time, drivers start to make a third lane and a fourth. And when the lights yellow the chaos unfolds. And this is the scene at EVERY traffic intersection in the city, every day. It’s just like the roads. They were constructed to withstand a certain number of vehicles 20 years ago. Today, the number has gone up threefold. And I don’t even want to start on the condition of the roads!

The entire traffic management system of Pune is like an injured horse. You either send it to the hospital for immediate surgery or put it to sleep and get another horse. It’s no use prescribing first aid and painkillers. Things have progressed much beyond that point. Do any of the officials or politicians have the will to shoot the horse?