THE MAGAZINE M11
tions of daily life, for the large part unobserved. It’s an
excellent medium for travel that showed me a whole other
side of India outside of the tourist coaches and trains.
How has driving in India changed you — as a person and
as a driver?
It’s furnished me with a bit more ‘Yes I can!’ (attitude)
Which is always nice.
You’ve visited some Indian cities earlier
too. In what way do you believe have they
From a visitor’s perspective, there are some
small details that have changed a lot in the
last decade: when I first came to India, cell
phones were a rarity.
To make a phone call you had to go to a
public phone; to write an email you had to
spend about an hour at an internet cafe,
cursing the slow connection.
Now everyone, literally hundreds of millions of people at all social levels, have cell
phones, if not tablets and laptops.
Infrastructure has visibly improved: the
roads and their feeder service stations are
fast modernizing and it’s great to see such a
well-functioning Metro in Delhi, and the
likes of efficient dedicated bus lanes in
I also visited a private hospital in Kolkata
and was blown away by the standard of service and technology there. These are all quite
superficial observations, but they point to
the fact that improved connectivity and
communication between people can reap
Which is the worst (and the best) city to drive around in?
For me, Bangalore was probably the easiest city to navigate, but that might be because so many of the road names
are in English!
Mumbai was the most confounding and the place where
I most easily seemed to get jammed up in small streets and
one-way systems the minute I steered off my favourite
road, Marine Drive.
In fact, if it wasn’t for the GPS that fished me out of many
a sticky navigational situation, I think I’d still be lost in the
backstreets of the Fort neighborhood.
When did you think of converting your travel diaries
into a book?
About halfway through the trip, when I saw that enthusiasm for the blog was mounting.
You’ve taken road trips in other countries too. How
would you compare your experiences?
Nothing compares with driving in India. When
Americans and Europeans go to Rome, for example, they
think the traffic there is unruly and hectic. I lived in
Istanbul and Mexico City, where people said the same. But
nowhere in the world rivals India for the pure scope of
experience and variety of road users and their vehicles.
Forget climbing mountains and tiger safaris: the true
adventure for a foreigner in India is to steer a car through
rush hour traffic, or along a busy state highway.
Which is the other country you’d like to undertake a similar trip?
China and the states of the former Yugoslavia.
What has been your greatest learning from this trip?
Trust your instinct and use your horn.
For the benefit of our readers, could you describe your
experience of meeting Ratan Tata?
He is a true gentleman, which is a very rare quality in
How different will the United Kingdom and United
States editions be from the Indian one?
Quite different. Since the international audience is not so
invested in the story of the Nano itself, the UK and US editions will contain a stronger personal slant.
Could you tell us what you are up to now?
I’m plotting my next dastardly move. Mum’s the word! ;
‘S**t!’ What to do now? I figured that if I kept moving
forward, I would inevitably draw out the scratch even
further. Going backwards seemed a much more sensible
option, so I put Abhilasha in reverse and tried to extricate her from her concrete clinch.
Another hideous rasping noise. It seemed that my
attempts at retracting my imbecilic action had piled stupidity on foolishness. We were back where we started,
except that Abhilasha now had two enormous scrapes
along her right rear haunch.
I looked down at Ganesha who was as indifferent as the
He gave me no clues where to go next. I was shattered:
why had this happened? Weren’t we supposed to be protected? Irony didn’t begin to encapsulate what had just
occurred. The heat-withered marigolds still hung from
the rear-view mirror, the sindoor continued to cling to
the steering wheel and bits of lime were still freshly
wedged between the rubber grooves of Abhilasha’s tyres:
here we were, four hours after our blessing (our 50-blim-
min-rupee blessing, I inwardly snapped) and we were in
the midst of our first accident of the whole trip.
And what an accident. This was not one to rile audi-
ences with; it was hardly the stuff Hollywood car crashes
were made of. There had been no errant rickshaws cross-
ing my path; no buses swerving ferociously into my lane;
no drunken lorry drivers falling asleep at the wheel and
taking the Nano head on. It was a bright and sunny day, I
had been driving on an empty road at 10 kmph, and the
only extenuating factor in the entire incident was my
own stupidity. I had scraped the lamppost with all the
composure and grace of a pissed vagrant falling against a
wall. And then I had reversed for more. The laundry guy
was still staring at me. He hadn’t moved a muscle. I mentally willed him to get back to his ironing as his proximity
to the accident and the fact that he was the sole human
witness of my injudicious manoeuvre put him first in line
for unfair retribution.
I swung Abhilasha’s wheel hard to the left and managed with only a small additional scrape to free her from
the lamppost’s clutches.
I pulled her up outside the laundry man’s porch and got
out to inspect the damage. It was as bad as I imagined:
there was a series of thin wavy lines stretching from
Abhilasha’s taillight all the way to the hinge of the passenger door that had scraped away the paintwork and
exposed the grey metal underneath.
I turned to face the laundry man, who continued in
his wordless contemplation of the scene. I put my best
anger management skills into action as every ounce of
my being was channelled into the act of politely asking
him for my washing back, and not for the chance to
furnish him with a knuckle sandwich. He reached for a
pile of familiar folded clothes that had been placed on
a stack of newspapers behind his ironing table. He
then quoted a price that was Rs30 more than I had
previously agreed to with his wife that morning. My
blood pressure rose to mass-murder levels, and the
man seemed to instantly recognize the killer instinct in
my eyes. I handed over the agreed price and he accept-
ed without a word. Without looking twice at
Abhilasha’s mangled haunch, I got back in the driver’s
seat, ripped the marigolds from the mirror and sped
away from the laundry-wallah’s house. ;
Excerpted from The Nanologues by Vanessa Able with
kind permission from Hachette India, (Rs 399)
With a maharajah and his daughter Rajeshwari in Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh.
On her return to Mumbai Vanessa Able
stole a few minutes with Ratan Tata at the