How to turn a Nani into a Nano


January 24, 2008

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By Bachi Karkaria

Apro Ratan has allowed the masses to have an ‘apri gaadi’. So we don’t need Meddling Mamata’s permission to continue the rah-rah, and explain why it caught everyone’s imagination so dramatically. The size-surprise did not come only from the Nano’s physical dimensions. What’s more amazing is the way this new chit of a car altered the age-old karma of the House of Tata. But let’s save that for later.

For starters, there was so much ‘Horn OK’ about the Nano because it was such a ‘feel-good’ story. Hugely expensive polls and freely given opinions alike keep telling the media that good news is what people want, and never seem to get. Readers/viewers/listeners are tired of the dished-out diet of gloom and doom, blame and shame, corruption, disruption and every other shun you can think of. Clearly, not just ‘Mirchi sunnewale’, but sab media consume -karnewale want to be always khush .

So, with one eye on customer-delight and the other on shareholder-drooling, media is continuously in goodwill hunting mode, desperately seeking the cheer rather than the jeer. From Day One of 2008, we had been bombarded with outrage and ‘in’ rage, when, suddenly, like an emission of fresh air, the Nano arrived, and handed us the Holy Grail on a glittering ramp. Naturally, we grabbed it with both hands, both legs and any other appendage not entangled in the scrum of TV cameras.

Secondly, the Nano became such an object of worship because, like all idols, it represented something far bigger than its physical form. For the aam-aurat and aadmi, it symbolized achievable aspiration. For the Davos Set, it was one more India Moment to flaunt before the disbelieving world. It’s a great feeling finally to be the shining gawkee rather than the shabby gawker at the show-window of the world.

The third reason for our being so Nano-fied was that it resurrected the corporate ethic. Did you notice that Ratan Tata’s simple statement got as much attention as his technological marvel? “A promise is a promise.” Every media highlighted this line, and every one else picked it up, and kept nodding in approval. Coming from him, it seemed the real thing, not a sound bite doctored by some Fellow of the Royal College of Spin.

Which brings me at last to that burden of legacy. The corporate world gets segmented in watertight silos: traditional or innovative, stolid dowager or cocky ‘chick’. We were so gob-smacked by the Nano because this tiny, new, nimble wonder emerged from a company that is perceived as exactly the opposite. It was not launched by Rock Star Anil Ambani. Not by Poster Boy Anand Mahindra. The man at the centre of the meltdown was Restrained Ratan. In one Nureyev arc, he achieved a cultural leap — but he didn’t junk his conventional corporate identity. He is both Tata Steel and Nano.

If you are a fresher like an IT-PYT, you don’t have a choice. If your past is history, a complete reinvention is your only chance of surviving in the Brash New World of business. But if you have a formidable inheritance and you sex it up with trendy new products, you can set your market cap at a jaunty angle, and step out in style. Like this Dowager of Bombay House. Or, before her, the once-Old Lady of Bori Bunder who turned into a slick and savvy Bom-babe.

Alec Smart said: “With a name like that, no wonder women Sar-cozy up to him.”