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Small Wonder the Authorised Story of the Making of the Nano By Philip Chacko, By Christabelle Noronha, By Sujata Agrawal, book reviewBengal’s relationship with the Nano has been an uneasy one ever since the days of the Singur agitation. The State’s sudden game of political dominoes forced Ratan Tata to order a plant that was almost set up to be removed piece by piece to Gujarat and set back production of the world’s first people’s car by several months. The Nano inspired hate mail, adulation and disbelief and it was obvious from the first that its case history deserved a book. Philip Chacko, Christabelle Noronha and Sujata Agrawal’s account is the Tata authorized version, a neat page turner that presents the facts and provides snippets of interesting trivia.

For example the story that the Nano was first doodled by Ratan Tata on a writing pad during a dull board meeting. Or the fact that Tata mulled over the usual set of agency name submissions like Mint, Nio, Inca, Mycar, ICar, Eon, Era and Atom before settling on Nano which was easy to pronounce and worked in Gujarati and Greek. And, oh yes, the font used for Nano is bahaus.

As would be expected from an official account certain factors, like Mamata Banerjee’s active aggression have been downplayed in the book, though the fact that protesters hammered on officials’ cars at Singur and assaulted practically every worker on the site has been pointed out. So has the fact that Singur because it was low lying, was a less than ideal location for the plant because it tended to flood after heavy rain.

Of course no story of the Nano can be complete without a portrait of Ratan Tata and his involvement in the project has been carefully detailed without going overboard – though we do have the very telling story of an overwhelmed Nano buyer who called Ratan Tata ‘a god’.

There are a few glitches in the proof checking, like Carlos Ghosh’s name which at point appears as ‘Carlos Ghosn’ and in the standardization of figures. Ravai Kant, Vice Chairman of Tata Motors mentions in his foreword that a thousand people were involved in the project – however, the book only numbers five hundred. There is also perhaps a little more emphasis on the high end Nano with its automatic transmission that the basic model which was the first to be launched.

The insider anecdotes are useful – the authors who belong to the Tata Corporate Communications team interviewed at least five hundred people before reducing all the information they received efficiently down to a ‘nano sized’ book.

What the book does is point out how different kinds of challenges can be handled by a determined team that included Girish Wagh, Ravi Kant, and Justin Norek, with a visionary leader at its head, which makes it very useful for students of management. As Ravi Kant said, “We faced huge challenges — the global meltdown, rising commodity prices, and, of course, the problems in West Bengal — but our young team rose to the occasion.”

Certainly when the car was finally launched it caused traffic jams all over the country. People could not wait to see whether what initially sounded like a glorified three wheeler could actually be driven and bought at that incredible price by families who had previously been confined to two wheelers. And of course it did and is becoming increasingly common on the Indian roads and presumably will soon be seen worldwide.

Small Wonder: The Making of the Nano by Philip Chacko, Christabelle Noronha and Sujata Agrawal
Published by Westland India, 2010

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Small Wonder: The Making of the Nano
by Philip Chacko, Christabelle Noronha and Sujata Agrawal

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Written by Anjana Basu