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The shelter of the dancing robots

world Updated: Nov 16, 2010 00:28 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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A day after British university students rioted in London, I headed for Birmingham. The violence at the headquarters of the ruling Conservative party, sparked by plans to hike tuition fees, took police unawares.

For much of the day they fumbled.

A fire burned amid strewn shards of glass from the smashed front door. Smoke bellowed when the students threw their placards into the fire. Missiles flew around, slamming against the shields of police. Under the helmets, faces bled.

Inside the building, students smashed chairs into whatever was in sight. Wearing police helmets they danced on tables. Some threw down a fire extinguisher from the roof.

On the morning after the lawless night, I caught the train to Birmingham to join a group of 40 small and medium businessmen from India. Brimming with ideas, these men in dark suits blended in easily with the historic, wood-panelled chambers of Birmingham’s city council.

At the Jaguar Land Rover factory in Castle Bromwich, now part of the Tata empire, they looked on in pride and astonishment as dozens of robots moved about gracefully, putting together the Jaguar XJ car sheet by aluminium sheet.

The factory is home to 110 Japanese and Swedish robots — worth their weight in gold (price: £100,000 each) for the number of uncomplaining years they put in. These giant gleaming arms forge Jaguar’s famed models with the smooth, choreographed elegance of a troupe of metal Nijinskys. It is pure industrial theatre.

I returned to London late in the evening to learn of a bunch of Muslim youngsters who had burnt a large replica poppy flower – symbol of eternal sleep and the fallen soldier. It was a protest against the Afghan war. Somehow, the underground train to my home had taken longer than the 190 km-journey from Birmingham to London. The city seemed to be throbbing. I needed to lie down, and dream of splendid shiny robots.