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Small car, big leap

The Nano is now more than a car; it is the meeting point between two Indias — of aspiration and affluence, and the realisation of a dream for many of its new owners, cutting across classes and geographies. Vanshika Sahni explores...

india Updated: Aug 30, 2009 01:28 IST
Vanshika Sahni

Cash ‘n’ carry

In the village of Baghpat, where over six per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, Imran Ali’s sky blue Nano is the first car owned by a resident. It also holds the honour of being the first Nano in Baghpat district.
Imran Ali, 32

Entrepreneur, Baghpat/Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

Ali (32) distributed 25 kg of laddoos among excited villagers to mark the event and his car even made it to the pages of the local newspaper. "It’s not just my car — it belongs to the entire village," he says happily.

Originally a farmer, Ali divides his time between Baghpat (where his family lives) and Ghaziabad, where he lives in a small house with his two cousins and runs a cellphone repair shop.

Ali is living out his dream — he has gone from cycling around his fields to living in a town, running a business of his own, and becoming the proud owner of a car, which he paid for in hard cash.

“It was not such a big amount,” he grins, referring to the booking amount. But adds, “I would not have been able to buy this car without my cousins Sajid (25) and Feroz (20), who help me in my business.”

In true Indian tradition, this has been a family effort.

Children’s car

Ankita Atriwal’s grandfather rode to his office every day on a bicycle. During his last days, when he was struggling with cancer, the family used to borrow a car to take him to hospital. And the late Mangal Singh often wished the family had its own car.

A few years after his death, the wish was fulfilled when his grandchildren Ankita (19), Arpita (16) and Labhansh (14) pooled their pocket money to buy the ‘champagne gold Nano’ as the brochure describes it.
Ankita, 19; Arpita, 16; and Labhansh Atriwal, 14 Students, New Delhi

The trio first contributed Rs 3,000 each for the booking amount and then chipped in for the monthly EMIs. While Arpita had put aside some pocket money earlier, Ankita saved some of the money she earned from giving tuitions.

“It was entirely the children’s initiative,” says their father Kuldeep Kumar (47), who believes that it was their prayers that got the family their Nano. “God always listens to children and he didn’t want to waste the money they had contributed,” he adds.

Before the car arrived, the siblings often fought over which one of them would sit behind their parents on the scooter for family outings. “We often had to skip weddings or celebrations because we didn’t have a car,” says their mother Bharti (43). “Now, they squabble about who is going to learn how to drive,” laughs their father.

He is currently giving Ankita her driving lessons — every day at 4 am. “It is very early, but she is always ready. And she is very confident,” he says.

This middle-class household, living in Delhi’s Palam Vihar Extension, is all praise for Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata. “Other companies should follow his example and think about the middle class and the ‘middle-minus’ class,” says Kuldeep.

Nano under the neem tree

Off the neglected, serpentine roads of Nakhrola village in Gurgaon district sits Satish Kumar’s home. Around it lie his five acres of lush fields sown with til (sesame), arhar (lentils) and bajra (millets). His two cows and their calves, tied to a post behind his house, yawn occasionally as they chomp on a pile of straw. And beneath the old neem tree in Satish Kumar’s compound rests his gleaming silver Nano, the first to hit the road in north India.

Satish Kumar

35, Farmer, Nakhrola village, Haryana

In Nakhrola, Kumar is known simply as ‘the man with the Nano’. On July 18, the day his Nano was delivered, it was celebration all the way. “There were drums and dancing all around, all night long,” remembers Kumar’s wife Saroj (33). His mother Indira Devi (55) tells of how the rest of the village collected outside their home and everyone wanted to drive the car.

In a district where 33 per cent of the population is illiterate, Kumar became a celebrity overnight. Journalists from India and abroad descended on Nakhrola, followed the family all the way from the car showroom and spent the day with them. Some Japanese reporters even camped for two days in his two-bedroom house. And, says Saroj, “When we drove to our temple in Manesar, the whole village followed us.”

“I’ve always wanted to own a car. It was just luck that we became the first Nano owners in north India,” says Kumar. However, the car is too precious for everyday use. So he usually parks it safely in a shed specially constructed for it and drives his 15-year old Bajaj Chetak scooter. “ Fizool kharchi thodi na karni hai. Inna budget nahi hai,” (I can’t splurge… don’t have the budget for it) he explains.

But he does let his friends borrow the car. “Every day, someone or the other comes and asks for the keys,” he says. “Everyone here loves the Nano.”

The new ladies’ special

Suhasini Dhar (45) has been driving around in Delhi’s chaotic traffic for six years now. But a few days ago, she was terrified when a car overtook hers and swerved to stop in the middle of the road.

"They just wanted to check out my Nano!" she laughs, as she weaves through the traffic, now adept at dealing with the extra attention and honking that the car attracts.

Suhasini Dhar

45, Exporter, New Delhi

In Srinagar, where Dhar grew up, she was driven around by a chauffeur. In Delhi, weary of the local buses and with no one to ferry her about, she took to driving a Maruti 800. Now, of course, it is her silver Nano.

Dhar, director of a company that exports artificial jewellery, believes the car will be particularly popular among the ladies. “Women will like this car. It is so easy to drive and manoeuvre,” she says.

Her son Sparsh (18) approves too. “I find it much more spacious than other small cars,” he notes.

As for the neighbourhood, “they’re more excited about the car than us”, says Dhar. She should know: ever since it arrived, she’s been lending her Nano to friends for a quick spin.

A piece of history

Virender Kapoor retired two years ago from Indian Airlines as general manager, lives in a lavish house in the suburbs, and has two cars at his disposal.

But he and wife Adarsh (55) decided they could do with a Nano as well. "It is a good car for running around town," Kapoor (60) explains.

The Kapoor family

New Delhi

Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a chance to drive it too often. His son Viren (31) explains: “Every night, there’s a debate over who will drive the Nano the next day, and the person who loses has to settle for the bigger car!”

Virender’s grandson Veer (3) loves the bright yellow Nano as well, and wants to be driven to his playschool in it. And the extended Kapoor family is ecstatic that they got this “beautiful car at this rate”.

“This car was not about what we could afford, but what we wanted,” says Viren, who believes the Nano will be a big hit globally. Besides, he laughs, “it’s fun to own a piece of history”.