Goan Zest



Her scream from inside the car on any other day would have caused a scarecrow three miles away to jump in fear. Or so it seemed to me. I was at the wheel of a TATA Zest.

Its was a small road. A cowherd and his set of buffaloes were walking towards us, on our lane. I had steered the car to stay a safe distance away from the buffaloes. As we crosses them, one buffalo, on a whim moved to the centre of the road and swung his tail to hit the rear view mirror on the left. A couple of feet from where Nandita is sitting.  The sound was deceptively deafening. No collateral damage to the car. The last I saw the buffalo, there seemed to be none there either.

I could have sworn the bloody thing was premeditated. For as we passed the cowherd, his more than mischievous smile was on ineffable display. Nandita, fresh from the scream, expressed some rather pleasant thoughts she had for the cowherd and his buffalo. I spotted the cowherd’s trudge on the rear view mirror. He seemed to be on a song, while I was shaken.

The three of us, Nandita, Neha were the trio that was testing out the TATA Zest. Some more context and details are here.  This is my second and final post that I had promised. A review of a car(or for that matter, any product) on the blog, is something that I have never done and I barely have knowledge of automobiles as a nursery kid would have of the constitution. Or any other fat book, for that matter.  Earlier today, I asked myself how I wanted this blogpost to read. I wrote ‘precise, honest and flowing’. And then, I don’t know what got me to write ‘Clarkson’.

Car reviews with a soul, bring the visage of Jeremy Clarkson to my mind. None else. .

For several years, Top Gear was my favourite program on BBC. On all of TV, for that matter. Jeremy Clarkson James May and Richard Hammond, held attention in a rather unbridled sort of a way that escaped adjectives. Gripping drama and dripping quaint British humour, they had me tune in regularly. Clarkson was irreverent and had a deep resourcefulness to source a capacious assortment of adjectives. I write in past tense, for I dont watch much TV these days. But am sure (and I hear) they continue to be their usual selves to date. Every other auto show host since then, has looked like someone still recovering from a very intense combination of jaundice and constipation. As the buffalo swung his tail to catch the rear view mirror, that was my Jeremy Clarkson moment. My gripping drama. That was that.

Let me for a minute talk of P.Chidambaram. Now, Jeremy Clarkson and P.Chidambaram sitting on adjacent paragraphs must be enough for you to call an ambulance to ferry me to an asylum. No, all is well. Thank you. I have a reason to bring P.Chidambaram into the picture.

Who would believe if I told you that PC and his babus spawned an entirely new ‘genre’ of cars?  From my preliminary reading, they do seem to have worked on it and I am open to standing corrected here.  Well, as finance minister in 2006, he announced an 8% reduction in any car less than 4 meters in length for cars housing a 1.2L petrol or a 1.4 L diesel. He didn’t care to add, if the car could have a boot or otherwise. They just had to be less than 4 meters. An entire class of cars arrived : trimmed down versions of a hatchback with an appended boot as an afterthought that had no way of concealing how pronounced afterthought appeared! If there was a lousier evidence of mass production of ‘cut & paste’ technology, hmm, well, well..I am not sure how I should end that sentence.

The TATA Indigo was the first amongst a set of ugly, ‘cut and paste’ cars. If that was the worst one could have imagine seeing, Maruti Suzuki came up with Swift Dzire. An even more bizarre appendage of a boot to a wonderful car called Swift. One of the greatest ironies was to call this ‘cut & paste’ assortment of metal, ‘Dzire’!

A buffalo. Jeremy Clarkson. P.Chidambaram.  Hmm. What an assorted spray paint of a start to what was supposed to be a precise review. Sigh. Ok. Quick, let me add some zest!

First off, the TATA Zest is different. When designers sat on the table, their brief was to build this as a sub 4 meter car. It is not a ‘cut & paste’ car and It shows. The lines are bold and it has a rather ‘wanting to move forward’ kind of agile look. Maybe thats what pissed the sedentary buffallo and its wayward ways.

The car handled like a charm taking to the small roads of Goa almost with a familiar shrug of the shoulder. The Zest provides ample leg room with élan that clearly makes it inviting. Especially so for Indian families and their small extended ties. Of course, we know how small our extended ties are!

Now, let me get some petty things off my mind. Stuff thats been humming in there. Like a rattling fan. First off, the petrol engine. Wonder why they call it 3-in-1. Its an automobile engine. Not a dishwashing liquid.  ‘Three engines in one’ as a primary brand proposition requires a large dose of courage and a generous degree of audacity. Or so I think. Although am sure there must be reams of research to back it up. But then, thats that. Second, the engine operates in three modes to operate which TATA Motors have chosen to call : ‘City’. ‘Eco’ and ‘Sport’. Wonder if any one else thought of the Honda City and the Ford Ecosport, every time the three modes were spoken of! Maybe its just me and my cynical ways.  Sorry.

Nevertheless the engine did well and everyone said ‘peppy’. If you expect that car to turn into some kind of a ‘Batmobile’ at the press of a button as you move from ‘city’ mode to ‘sport’ mode, well, you will end up a poor sucker like me. So much for marketing.  Truth be told, overall the car handles well, for its class.

Goan cyclist

We clicked a few pictures shifted speed, accelerated, paused, stopped and got a few locals on the road driven to their wits end, as we tested out the horn. It seemed that the horn was placed by a campaigner against ‘noise pollution’. To get it going required the full supply of calories from a heavy breakfast. All the same, it was good for verdant Goa. Goa is a place where life happens in slow motion. Even rain seemed to be taking its time. People have a relaxed tonality to life that will inject you with allure or paralyse you in silly awe.

If you met the great Achilles himself and asked him to point towards the better example of his much famed heel, he could well point in the direction of Service standards of TATA Motors.  The TATA folks tell me, that story is changing. And that they have moved from 13th place to 7th on the JD Power rankings for service. Hopefully, that translates to something useful and differentiating.  I stay stubbornly hopeful that the new thinking of being a ‘design lead’ thinking versus being a ‘engineering lead’ company will take the car and the company a good distance.

The moment you switch topics and talk about the diesel car and the Automated Manual Transmission, you will catch me smiling far more.  In the middle of a rather fetching highway after manoeuvring to a position where no vehicle was in sight and after checking with the ladies if they had their seat belts on, I put some speed to the dial of the diesel Zest. It responded like a famished lion that spotted prey. It didn’t quite feel like diesel, had brilliant auto transmission and the noise reduction inside the cabin was near perfect.

More buffaloes dotted the greenery of Goan fields besides the highway. I stayed careful. Neha and Nandita took to the wheel with a matter-of-fact ease that didn’t surprise the car as much as it surprised them, I would think. They seamlessly wove through recalcitrant traffic and some indecisive rain which stayed troubled deciding if it should pour down or hold back.  While the windscreen wipers laboured with ease, I clicked a picture of what the windscreen held. Some remnants of what the clouds held a few moments ago. Pretty good picture I thought even as coherent happiness continued its elusive streak.


Back to the car. There are 3,75,369 reviews of the car now detailing the specs of Torque, displacement, head lamps with LED lights and some three zillion other categories where TATA Motors claims to be ‘segment first’. Please look them on up on the net.  The car is a neat package. And when TATA Motors will ‘price it for volumes’, as offline conversations threw in hushed tones, well, it will get many nods of approval.

Considering all of this, you may ask, with your head tilted to one side, “would buy the car?”. The answer clearly, is a ‘No’. End of story.

Except, that its not quite the end of the story. I am not in the market for car in this segment. If I were, this will get to my top three cars for consideration for sure. For those that are looking for a car in this segment, I reckon TATA Motors will be out to redefine ‘value for money’.

Good design and features that adorn higher segments sit pretty here. Maintenance doesn’t seem like (am hoping like hell here) it will take a generous stab at the bank account. It looks good. Drives good and has ample space all around. Plus, did I tell you about the Harmon Kardon audio system that besides playing music and all that, was said to take voice commands and do a slew of things just stopping short of ‘change my complexion’.

So there! Look at it for sure. Buy it if it fits you. Thats about the Zest. End of story.

Oh wait. The story has another element. While the Zest is just another car in the TATA stable, what it has more than convincingly done is this : forcing the TATA brand into consideration set of cars, that I will consider in the future. That is an even more important ask than just selling one car. But, that’s just me and I tell it with no qualms. I am no Jeremy Clarkson and there is no swarm of people who will do my bidding. Finally, its officially, end of story.

Ah, there is one more thing. Jeremy Clarkson once said, “Column writing is like gas. It fills in available space”. I stop right there. The end.

Drive Through

It’s a gingerly walk. You would be well within reason to assume that I was walking over shred glass if you saw my gingerly tread. Around me, an assorted bunch of bloggers are busy, blogging away. Peering into the keyboard with a precision that would befit a scientist launching a satellite to a planet beyond Pluto. I walk up to where Harish from Blogadda is standing. I tell him with my head held down in shame : ‘I cant… I cant blog like them, I cant blog at their speed’. He stares at me in silence. I keep my eyes trained on the carpet and ask for more time. He tells me, “The bus leaves at 2.00 PM”.    

“I will write. I promise”, I tell him. He remains silent. “God Promise” I say, hoping to infuse some humour. I think I see his jaws clench behind his generous cheeks that mirror a far more generous heart, while he says ‘Ok’. My shame redoubles. He walks away.

Road ahead

You see, Blogadda invited me to a preview of a new car TATA Zest. I sweated buckets. Part out of excitement but more out of trepidation. Excitement at the prospect of ‘Goa’ again in the monsoon. (I love the monsoons every year. And Goa, at all times). Plus the prospect of meeting bloggers from different walks of life was akin to a lavish buffet for a famished glutton whose appetite for stories spans the universe.

The trepidation came from someplace else. A large dose of a lazy outlook combined with a philosophy of ‘writing for writings sake’ (and not for rewards and contests) masquerades as righteous nonchalance for ‘brands’ and product reviews. I laid out my condition with a missionary zeal : I would write what I want to write. No censoring. No interference.

“Of course”. They said. Matching the righteous tone in more than good measure. I wondered why the good people at Blogadda humoured me and people like me. But God was in his heaven and all was well with the world. So.

The TATA Motors’ proposition was not only novel, it was bold and it appealed. It was to assemble a set of bloggers from walks of life that are as divergent as spaces between continents, to review and talk about the car they were launching. Now, I have the amount of knowledge about automobiles that you would expect Manmohan Singh to have about Punk music. (But the difference was, he could ride on reputation and keep quiet about it. Here I was to write two blog posts) The idea was to get the Zest experience reach different bloggers and their audience groups. Food bloggers. Fashion bloggers. General interest bloggers. That was more than merely good thinking.

Brilliant thinking, you could think. So did I. Soon, I flew into Goa. Goa is always brilliant. Trading a precious weekend with the family and looking forward to the prospect of meeting people from different genres and getting to know their blogs. Accompanied by a firm relief, plastered all over my mind, that there were going to be no experts in automobiles.

As luck would have it,the first gentleman I met was a Formula One enthusiast, who spoke about cars and races as though he relishes clutch plates for lunch and grease filled engine oil for dessert! If not for his friendly, calm demeanour and were he speaking about ‘ religion’ instead of cars, Obama and his drones would have taken our bus down. That kind of passion and a studied opinion of automobiles. My heart sank. I reckoned that taping my mouth, acting worldly wise with a smile now and then, backed by knowledgeable nods were my last resorts to escape the ignominy of being a frog in a flower basket.

But God was in his heaven and better things were due. There were people in the room who had other interests. Like jalebis, for example. A sigh that could be heard in Singapore, escaped my lips. As it turned out awesome things were due.

The hospitality of TATA Motors and the Blogadda teams was immaculate. I sat listening to stories of journeys from fellow bloggers. Some images remain etched. Like the widening of eyes of the bird watcher as he explained his exploits including one where he walked miles in Ladakh to spot one single bird. The wanderlust in another that is set to take him across the country on his bike for two months. Riding for two months and going to Nepal on a bike is awesome-crazy enough. But making it sound like he was going to the corner grocery store, had the head reeling.

My jaw hit the carpet and seemed intent on going all the way to the basement, when I heard yet another story of walking away from Corporate life and setting up a business model around blogs and blogging. Fixing the jaw, was unnecessary, for it soon was going to drop at the intensity and the nonchalant narration from every other fellow blogger’s story that wafted through the monsoon drenched Goan air.

TATA Motors is in the business of selling cars. Higher order pursuits like getting bloggers to exchange their stories falls in a vacuous place that the P&L statement will not like! But of course! But of course! Very soon, we were in what was called a ‘Masterclass’. A clutch of people from the design, engineering and Corporate Communications teams from TATA Motors presented facts, figures and data about the TATA Zest. Now, in my line of work, being subjected to legions of presentations and shiny corporate films with plasticky claims (and returning the favour in good measure), is common place. So, when the TATA Motors folks rolled out the same, the jaw returned to its place and stuck still as it normally does at the sight of pedestrian stuff.

The masterclass made as much of an impression as a weather report on TV, when you are expecting your favourite movie to turn up.  The masterstroke however was in the opportunity to interact with their designers and engineers over dinner. I am a sucker for stories and hearing them in first person was an experience to cherish. The TATA Motors folks wove magic for the rest of the evening.

I recall talking to a TATA Motors’ designer who designed the audio system. Sporting a trim, white beard, a black turtle neck T-shirt and a blue jeans, if you haven’t guessed who came to my mind, let me add that he also wore round glasses just like Steve Jobs. If not for the thick Bengali accent you would be in your rightful mind to think that TATA Motors resurrected the master of design himself.  As he spoke of his design of the audio systems, the twinkle in his eyes could have powered all of the hotel’s electricity.

I didn’t quite get the constraints until he explained them. One of which, was the ‘The two second test’. A design of the front end of the audio system that would be approved only if a tester were to make sense of it in two seconds, because two seconds was just about the time one could take the eyes off the wheel, while changing music. Some constraint, that! The pride in having done something awesome shimmered and rose far above the turtle neck.

Similar chats with different people ensued. Another that stays in the mind is the chat with the car designer from Vizag who spoke of straight lines, proportions, shapes and figures with an incredulous everlasting smile. Of course, I didn’t utter a word about how I loathed the geometry box and didn’t think of lines as anything beyond a scratch on a paper, back in school. But to meet someone who made a happy living out of doing this, required deep reflection of where I went wrong, I told myself. And hoped to forget about it.

The TATA Motors folks that I saw that evening, seemed to have passion oozing from every pore, were helpful to a fault, knowledgeable beyond measure and inspired a certain confidence in very good cars that we were to drive the next day morning. One thing was clear, TATA Motors was giving this car its best shot ever and it showed.

That night,as monsoon showers hit the Goan seashore in seamless ever-on kind of mode, conversations flowered. Cars. Passions. Blogs. Bloggers. Comments. Events. Readers. Twitter. Negative comments. Paid posts. Sick people. Beautiful people. Genres. Writers. And the like. There are surprises in store for me too. A few bloggers met and told me in that they read my blogs. I mumbled a few ‘Thank you’s and meant if much more than I said it. A couple of them kept silent after I said thank you. I have an odd feeling that they expected to be more generously compensated than a mere ‘thank you’, for reading the stuff that I churn out. If I would be them, I would! 🙂

The morning seemed to emerge in a hurry. The cars were readied. 20 odd cars. Fifty bloggers.

I was to join two very popular food bloggers who knew each other well.. First they knew each other, lived close by and blogged about food. Celebrity stuff. The swarm of anxiety riddled butterflies that lined my stomach wall at the prospect of meeting them soon melted into oblivion when I indeed got driving with the ladies. They were delightful people who accepted my ordinary fumbling ways like a phone would accept a random SMS, marketing an insurance policy!


We took turns at the wheel. Clicked some pictures while the other drove. Connected our phones to the audio device in the car. Changed channels. Commented on stuff.  Switched cars to drive the Petrol and Diesel variants. For a couple of hours! To do all of this on good cars that are yet to be launched in the company of wonderful people, indicated good Karma or at least, a feeling that I couldn’t have been all that bad in my past lives!



I cant afford to miss mentioning the GoPro cameras that were placed on the windshield, with three tonnes of adhesive tape,  ‘to capture expressions, as the car is being driven’. My tryst with cameras span decades. Over the last several decades, there are reams of snaps that seem to capture me at the exact moment when am least prepared or doing something ranging from incredulous to mildly preposterous. Like seeming to wag my tongue at the chief guest while receiving an award, when I could have sworn to God that all I was saying was ‘thank you’. Or eyelids closed. Unkempt shirt. Hands mysteriously coming in the way of the face. Etc! But this was supposed to be GoPro and all that. God help the editor, I thought!

Driving through an apology of a highway and picturesque narrow lanes filled with quaint houses in bright colours that would tear through monsoon induced green cover soothed the soul and the calf muscle that suffer Kurla’s whims. At every fork in the road, a TATA Motors gent with a bunch of curious locals in tow, would hold a board giving directions. At every pit stop, a handy bunch would give the car a rub and a shine making me wonder if I should attempt a smile and a wave of the hand befitting Queen Elizabeth.

That was that. After all the driving, we now are to ‘Live blog’ the event. That is a tall ask. After a few paragraphs of furious typing later I realise I am lost like a marathoner who went in the wrong direction, in a foreign land. I realise this is a lost cause. Words stutter and the keyboard crackle refuses to produce anything that can remotely be called ‘coherent’, on the screen.

It’s a gingerly walk. You would be well within reason to assume that I was walking over shred glass if you saw my tread. Around me an assorted bunch of bloggers are busy, blogging away. Peering into the keyboard with a precision that would befit a scientist launching a satellite to a planet beyond Pluto. I walk up to where Harish from Blogadda is standing. I tell him with my head held down in shame : ‘I cant… I cant blog like them, I cant blog at their speed’. He stares at me in silence. I keep my eyes trained on the carpet and ask for more time. He tells me, “The bus leaves at 2.00 PM”.

“I will write. I promise”, I tell him. He remains silent. “God Promise” I say, hoping to infuse some humour. I think I see his jaws clench behind his generous cheeks, while he says ‘Ok’. My shame redoubles. He walks away.

The days after the event is a whirlwind of sorts at work and home. Work piles up. My computer crashes. Mr.Murphy decides to do his visits. A few days after the event, I call up Harish. He is in better spirits. I tell him, I have a post that will go live soon. I gather he knows me well.  Between laughs and banter he asks me, “I hope it is about the car and the experience and not some…?” His voice trails.

I tell him, ‘Harish, the post about the car will be done too, but this one begins and ends with you’. Silence reigns on the other side. I think I hear his facepalm as I hit the publish button.


A chap and his cycle

It was an ordinary day. With incredible heat, a ton of sweat and a generous supply of dust that every passing car would kick up. It was a road side joint, that gave the tired passerby or the bored office goer some reprieve. It had an assortment of knick knacks, cigarettes and a host of items that would seek to be a valid excuse to take a break. Or sometimes, just to provide space for a conversation.

Out of nowhere, the refills for the day arrived. A chap and his cycle. Rather a chap on his cycle. Every conceivable part of the bicycle held some article that fuelled a supply chain of sorts.


Two plastic bags on either side of the front handlebar. Two on either side of the rear. One huge crate that occupied the ‘carrier’. When he removed that, a seat with strong spring coils became visible. The cycle in itself appeared as ancient as the man. Rusted and a tad beaten down. But arrived without making a fuss and departed without making any.

Out of curiosity and the general liberty that people take with perfect strangers I checked out the cycle. Regarding it as an object of interest like an art curator would. Walking around it and tapping on the e rims with two bent fingers. Like a coconut vendor checking out his coconuts to let you know his had two litres of water in them!

The tapping hurt my nails. This was no pushover aluminium. This was hard steel. Solid metal. If one of these fancy modern day cars rammed into this cycle, well, God save the car. That kind of hard steel. The cycle in itself was heavy and it was clear that riding it must be an ask.


It was when the man was all set to leave that I spotted the branding. ‘Professor’ by an outfit called “Chowdhri & Co”. This more dated than me. I remembered Hercules. Atlas and Rallis as the conservative bicycle variety and the BSA SLR with Kapil Dev promoting it, as the upstart challenger. But Professor? No idea.

Some things stay. Don’t they. As much as they are a function of what they are made of, it is also because of how dearly they are held. How important they are.

I wonder how this bicycle survived the elements. Which is when, a thought struck that it may not about the survival of the bicycle. Perhaps it is about the flourishing of the family and the bicycle just being a means to it. Whichever way, the bicycle stories that were left untold, seemed to knock on me to look beyond the obvious.

Maybe a memory that the worn out chap that drives it, wants to preserve. I didn’t ask. He was tired and more importantly in a hurry.
For some strange reason the old rusted bicycle left an impression on me, even as the chap pedalled away into the next road with the Sun beating down on him. I wonder why.

That night, as I was reflecting on the day, I wondered if our daily work was as resolute and as worthy, as the bicycle that I saw. The ‘Professor’(s) that made me, seemed to give me a nudge. To dive into the next day with gusto.

Here’s to a glorious week people.