It’s been a crazy few days for this blog. The announcement by Tata of the launch of its Nano, the Rs. 1 lakh ($2,500) “People’s Car” designed to bring automobile ownership to India’s masses, gave my old essay, India: Going Nowhere Fast, a new currency; and this blog has received more than 1,300 hits in the last three days.
When I first read of the Tata Nano unveiling, I shot off a letter to the Editor of the New York Times, as follows:
Tata is proud of engineering a $2,500 car (“Four Wheels for the Masses,” 8 January 2008); but the “People’s Car” is a symbol of India’s backward thinking, not its progressiveness. The last thing India’s choked roads need is more cars on them. India ignores the considerable advantages of its belated development: it enjoys up-to-the-minute technology and more than a half-century of hindsight on the successes and failures of other industrialized societies. Instead of creating a new vision, India is content to copy mid-20th Century Western patterns of unplanned, unsustainable, highly consumptive development – even though these proved deeply flawed long ago. Even if India succeeds brilliantly, its retrograde mindset ensures that it will remain second-rate.
I wrote this letter on 8 January, and spent the next two days traveling from Pondicherry to San Francisco. Imagine my surprise, when I finally checked my email before bed on 10 January, to find the following message in my inbox from the folks at the Times: “Your letter is being considered for publication.” What was needed, they said, was my prompt reply to their standard, follow-up questions. Having seen not a trace of my letter in either the printed newspaper or on the web, we can safely assume that “prompt” means something a bit more rapid than two days. Oh well.
Things have a way of coming around full circle. I commenced this blog with all the mock-resentment and faux-indignation I could muster about the New York Times not printing my not-so-infrequent Letters to the Editor submissions. The events of the last several days have demonstrated that having a blog readership isn’t a bad consolation prize.
The Times actually published my letter on 15 January 2008!