Little Big Things in South Asia part 2—Tata’s Nano and what the 1W is missing


Back in the day when I used to read Adbusters, I remember they had a video that depicted the United States as a pig trying to squirm its way out of the map. It was supposed to represent how North America uses 25% of the world’s resources despite having only 4% of the world’s population. That was in, like, 1998. A decade later, i thought the message would have gotten so old it’d be a disgusting cliche, but NO. Euro-American selfishness REFUSES TO DIE.

My beef isn’t with consumption—that’s the oldest saw on the planet. My beef is with ENVIRONMENTALISTS, the selfish, narcissistic, whiny, self-righteous ass-clowns who have the NERVE to bitch about the Tata Nano, the most eagerly awaited consumer product to hit India since Nokia.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS fear that the explosive popularity of the Nano (which middle class Indians have been saving for months to buy) will increase the demand for fossil fuels and drive up air pollution. They blame Tata for not making the “world’s cheapest car” ™  a clean energy vehicle. If you think that’s absurd, its because it is absurd. And/or you don’t yet understand that the laws that apply to Western environmentalists and those that apply to middle class Delhites, Mumbaikars, Hyderbadies, Kolkatans and Bangalories are totally different.


There is a valid environmental concern. Namely, that a bunch of people who used to drive pollution spewing motorbikes will now start driving gas guzzling cars. And they won’t do it a few hundred thousand at a time—Indians are going to switch by the tens of millions. If it could have produced a cheap clean energy vehicle for the Indian middle class, it would have been a boon for the earth.

The question is—why does that responsibility fall on Tata’s shoulders? Why does every article about the Nano in the mainstream western press play lip service to the idea that this is fair when it’s ridiculous? Have you ever even been on the Delhi Metro? It’s like being crushed to death. Ride the Mumbai Local much? Even a crosstown trip in an auto-rickshaw (surely more polluting than the new Nano) is enough to make you want to wash your hair.

To be fair,  I think it’s hard for those who haven’t seen it firsthand to even imagine Indian traffic, and how most middle class Indians commute to work. In my sister’s neighborhood in Delhi, the road was choked with cars, buses, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, bullock carts, donkeys, horses and, in the morning, elephants. The Indian middle class rides motorcycles, often husband and wife and all their children together, including a babies in their barf-orange Delhi hats.  If you think you can imagine it, multiply whatever you’re thinking about by an order of magnitude, and that’s how many families you can see from your seat in the back of an autorickshaw in the middle of Delhi rush hour. Now multiply that by monsoons, heatwaves and frost, and your getting close to how shitty it is.

Now, take into account that 121 people were killed last year alone by Delhi’s Blue Line commuter bus. Now, factor in the 14 people who die every day getting on and off the Mumbai Local. And then stand up and tell me I can’t have  a Nano because it will make your sky look gray.

Listen. America  has had the Hyndai Accent for years, and nobody’s screaming at the Koreans. (Hyndai Accent:American Middle Class::Nano:Indian Middle Class). Times reader Vishal Bhatia of Mumbai does a much better job than I of classifying exactly why this is so ridiculous, but this is an argument I’ve been advancing on different stories with readers and friends for years. Basically, we have no right to tell other people around the world what they may and may not manufacture, buy and operate. To do so would not only be superlatively chauvinistic, it would be downright unAmerican.


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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, India, it's a small world, MUMBAI

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