'Let me get this straight: you’re planning to drive all the way around India in a Tata Nano?’ Naresh Fernandes, editor of Time Out Mumbai, asked me in a voice that sounded like disappointment. ‘Are you going to be planting lots of trees in your wake to compensate for the emissions?’
It was not the reaction I had hoped for. I sat across from him in his office, pathologically thumbing the retractor button of my biro and thinking of something witty to dredge me out of the mire of his opinion.
‘Umm, not exactly. No trees. But it is a fuel-efficient car, so I doubt it’ll cause too much... damage...’
‘Oh. Is it electric?’
'No. But it goes a fair distance per litre.’
Folding under the pressure of the interrogation, my brain knocked random numbers around before drawing a blank and retreating with a whimper into the dank warren of its own inadequacy.
‘I’m not sure exactly,’ I said, trying to mask my inner dullard with an unconvincing veneer of cockiness, ‘but I know it’s a lot.’
‘What’s your route?’ ‘A big circle around the country. Going south first. 10,000 kilometres.’
‘Um. It’s a challenge?’
The chat was not going as planned.
I had come to Time Out Mumbai as part of a media out- reach strategy intended to generate a level of hype and enthu- siasm among the press similar to the one aroused in my loyal circle of support (namely my mum and my two best friends). I didn’t exactly imagine being drowned by a press tsunami, but I thought at least a little corporate nepotism might come into play with Naresh, given that I was a former Time Out editor myself. But this particular fish wasn’t in the least impressed by my plan and was most certainly not biting.
What I was too embarrassed to tell Naresh was that what had really drawn me to the Nano was one of my less virtuous traits, namely my limitless capacity for being motivated by a bargain. The car recently launched by Tata Motors – the com- pany that had bought Jaguar Land Rover in 2008 – was officially the world’s cheapest, and as such it had me at first sight: a hopeless sucker for marketing campaigns aimed at hopeless suckers bent on expanding their collection of easy electronic comestibles, I immediately added the vehicle (four doors, two cylinders and 624 cc of oomph, which, I was vaguely aware, was tantamount to a motorbike with a roof) to the tally of delecta- ble gadgets that were within reach of my credit card limit. It was the first time a new car had ever featured on that list, an event that inspired in me the warm rush of consumer anticipation.
‘What’s that, a Smart Car?’ asked my mum, squinting into the screen of my laptop.
‘Actually, Mum, it’s a Tata Nano. It’s the cheapest car in the world.’
‘I haven’t seen any about.’
‘That’s because we don’t have them here in Jersey.’
‘So where are they, then?’
This was the other part of the story. Although Tata had plans for releasing the Nano globally at some point in the future, for now the only place one could buy a model was in India. I was gutted: it had never occurred to me that, unlike laptops and phones, cars were not altogether international products.
‘So, yeah. I’m thinking of going over there to get one. Drive it around a bit.’
My mother didn’t flinch. In the last few weeks she had become accustomed to my reactionary rhetoric, a horrible regression in behaviour that followed my move back home after the sticky end of a four-year relationship.
‘Haven’t you been to India enough? What about getting a job instead?’
With the vexation of a vilified teen, I inhaled and slowly reeled off the same speech I had been laying on my parents for the last decade, namely that freelance travel writing was a job and a noble one at that. If she had the impression that my time was not sufficiently consumed by the pursuit, it was only because the publishing world was currently in crisis and work was thin on the ground. I had come here to my childhood home – nay, refuge – on the Channel Island of Jersey as an interim measure, to consider my future in the light of the cur- rent global climate and to decide what to do next. And what- ever that was, I indignantly assured her, it would certainly not involve any job of the nine-to-five variety. I was a free soul, a wanderer; a leaf that floated in the breeze and submitted hotel and restaurant reviews to paying publications. My wings might have been clipped, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.
‘Anyway, it’s about to be my Jesus Year,’ I reminded my mother.
‘My Jesus Year. Thirty-three. It’s when you make things happen in your life. When you make decisions and change things.’
‘Why not make it the year you decide to finally enter a legit- imate workforce?’
I opted not to comment.
‘Besides, Jesus died when he was thirty-three. That’s so morbid.’