A while back, my friend Edward mentioned the idea of going to India, purchasing the newly-launched Tata Nano, and taking off in a whirlwind road trip through the South Asian subcontinent*. And that is some exciting shit. For one thing, the Tata Nano is unbelievably cheap, hailed as the world’s most affordable car (1 lakh rupees or approx. $2,000 USD). For another, it would allow for more flexible access to regions perhaps not accessible by other means. I also think it would make for very good fun to experience the Nano fervor that’s right now sweeping India.
While of course the trip would be about many other things, the Nano itself would be an important piece. To back up a bit, the Nano is nothing short of revolutionary for India’s burgeoning middle class. For years, its cities have been dominated by scooters and motorcycles, thus the prospect of a car made available to the masses is likely to mobilize the Indian middle class on some ridiculous scale. As reported by the Times of India, the Nano’s launch could expand the Indian car market by 65%. Its effect could be comparable to that of other “people’s cars” such as the Ford Model T, Volkswagen Beetle, Citroën 2CV, and Fiat 500, which is to say that it could dramatically push forward the vitality and confidence of India’s middle class. Because what could be a more perfect thing on which to write the cultural moment of a country than with a product whose very utility is mobility. So in this sense, I think it would be great to experience these new conditions of mobility alongside hundreds of thousands of Indians.
Admittedly, this is a fairly US-minded approach to travel – the car as the primary locus of experience – but there is still an undeniable allure to this trip. I do have some concerns, though. Driving might preclude us from those aspects of travel that I think are important to mind as a subject of a first world nation, such as isolation and the maintenance of private space as opposed to sharing in and having to deal with a collective space. Additionally, I think driving would privilege our set of experiences in such a way that compresses space and time along the matrices of the West (i.e. the ability to traverse regions in hours rather than days). But as the Nano comes into popularity, it seems to me that with this trip we would in a small way begin to locate India’s emergent car culture.
*This is actually a revision of an earlier plan to buy a Yugo (or a Lada) and travel through the Balkans, which, I think, would be even more fun because the wretched car would test the limits of our resourcefulness, mechanical know-how, determination, and probably our friendship.