British writer Vanessa Able was editing Time OutIstanbul before she headed to India and bought a Tata Nano, the car that promised to fulfil middle-class India’s dream of owning a car. The Nanologues, Able’s first book, published in May, is a witty account of riding the Nano over 10,000km across India, braving dust and grime, risking accidents and flouting driving rules. Able spoke to us about the Nano’s symbolic potential, and why India is her favourite country to travel to. Edited excerpts:
You have backpacked around India before. What was it like coming here for the first time? What was the most challenging part of your trip in the Nano? Which experiences count as your favourites?
The most challenging part of the trip was the psychological element of being on the northern plains in the summer heat. It really began to shake my resolve after a while. My favourite parts of the trip were the small moments of surprise. I loved exploring Orissa and Kolkata for the first time and despite the heat, I loved Kolkata.
I’d done it before, but I think the early morning boat trip on the Ganges in Varanasi is something everyone should experience once in their lives. Further up the river, I loved seeing the big Ganga aarti ceremony in Rishikesh.
Your book hinged heavily on a brand. Were you worried about marketing it as an honest travelogue?
Yes, I was worried. But Tata Motors and I have kept a very polite distance from one another throughout the whole project. I didn’t want to be under any pressure and I knew it was important to be objective about a car that’s stirred up a lot of controversy in India.
You have written that driving on Indian roads qualified you as bona-fide Indian driver. Who’s that?
Someone who shoots from the gut. I think that Indian drivers are very instinctive in the way they operate. They can often be quite impatient too, which gives rise to some of the crazy manoeuvres and overtaking that I witnessed.