Tuesday, December 26, 2006

K's Honest Car Reviews Part 4 : Zen Estilo

When you get a free car, you learn that you should not crib, even if it is Pink! Now, while I am fairly confident about my sexuality, driving a Pink car (or using a Pink phone, for that matter) is a bit much. Pink is the new Blue, creative folks in advertising might argue (referring to Hutch, which might not remain Hutch for too much longer), but a Pink car is a bit too much even for me. Maruti countered, that it really isn’t pink, rather it’s a nice ‘Mauve’ or ‘Light Baingan’ (that’s what it is!) or as my friend Sam kindly put it, ‘Fushia’. I don’t care, any which way, it was Pink, not a glorious Baby Pink or a stunning Magenta, but still an affront to my masculinity. I think.But, that isn’t the point. The point is the new Zen Estilo. Honestly, can can dismiss the driving dynamics bit with the following words – ‘Remember the Alto 1.1?’ Because, underneath that it what this car is, the underpinnings of the Alto with Maruti’s 1063cc engine which is frugal, not terribly rev-happy, but it gets the job done, with a bit of harshness, but that could be put down to the fact that the car still hadn’t been broken in. On the whole, the old Zen was a far, far more involving car to drive.

My mother had one till she upgraded to a City, this was one of the first Zen’s off the line with the then new MPFi engines and my god, that car rocked. The new car, while not sharing the unsteadiness of the WagonR at speed, is not as much ‘fun’, but ‘fun’ is a subjective term here. The old car rocketed off the line, push it hard off the line and you could go with tyre smoke and throw it into a sharp bend , or throw it into a handbrake turn, it gave you its all and there was no better small car at that than the old Zen. I loved that little car and I was sad to see the thing go when it did. The new car, as I said, gets the job done, it can go fast if you mash the gears, maybe even contemplate 150k’s on the speedo, but it doesn’t feel like fun, like the old one did
However, the monovolume shape, which imparts the car a part-Matiz/part-Innova/part-Honda City look, doesn’t do much for me from the outside, however, the insides is where this car scores. Big time. Even though I used the top-of-the-line four lakhs or somewhere around thereabouts VXi model (without optional ABS or the driver-side airbag) and even though this seems to have borrowed liberally from the WagonR parts bin, the two-tone brown-beige interiors, with a not-so-bad silver touch to the centre console and unbelievably good plastics (for a small car!) it felt nice. Honestly, there were times I really didn’t care that half the people at the Zakir Hussain Marg red light were staring at this guy wearing a button-down shirt and tie driving a pink car!
The problem with the Estilo, even though it shares the WagonR’s platform, is that while interior space is better – luggage space included (best in class, maybe, I don’t have figures though!), the tapered shoulder of the car means that there is no way you’ll fit three grown men at the back. Three grown people is a bit of a stretch in a WagonR, but this car, like the Alto is a four-seater, even though Maruti markets it as a fiver.
This car will not compete with the Alto (which is cheaper) or the WagonR and Santro (which pretend to be family cars) but maybe puts more pressure on GM (if bad aftersales and a bleeding bottomline wasn’t bad enough) to market the Spark, because this car suddenly killed that car’s value proposition. It has also given a decent alternative, thanks to its ‘interesting’ colour choices for those of us who have alternative choices in life. And if you’re single and you don’t want a boxy tall-boy, you got this ‘monovolume’, which isn’t a family car, it isn’t a fun car, but as a city runabout and maybe on the small off-days with someone (not the whole jing-band) this felt sensible even.
Just don’t buy it in Pink if you're a guy!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

ToI's Edit Page

I'm not a member of the legions of desi bloggers whose sole purpose in life is to hate the Times of India. The cynical among you can say that this is because I'm an opportunistic idiot who lacks any moral code (who doesn't by the way?) or because of the fact that I know a lot of people who work there, which I do. Nope, I think the ToI is just as bad as the rest, and in fact when it comes to Metro reportage, most of its editions are far superior to the competition - in Delhi I think the ToI did a better job on the Anant Gupta kidnap, Jessica Lall murder trial and the sealing fiasco. In fact, there is no one ToI you can pillory and they make mistakes - a few too many one has to admit - but then again, I don't know, I can't quite do without the ToI every morning.
However, one page is common to the Times across all editions - and that is its Edit Page. Now, EchTee in its rebranding avatar has revamped its edit and oped pages and allows us to read more silly and pointless Arundhati Roy vitriol (like today), but Times' edit page has to be crowned winner in the peculiarity stakes. I must admit, I am not a regular Edit Page reader of any paper - most Edits are boring and throughly pointless and three days behind the news. But, sometimes there appears an article on Jug's page which catches your eye.
First there was a crazy 'Devil's Advocate' yesterday which said - no need to exercise, eat as much as you want. While, I personally almost follow the advice (even though I should not), this is not a Devil's Advocate piece - this is crazy writing. I might as well write that Safe Sex is a bad practice also. The second article is something I would never imagine I would ever see in the Times of India of all places and I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the paper. But, that doesn't mean I'm not flabbergasted at it!
I'll have the Zen Estilo review up by tomorrow, but for my initial opinions, I must admit it is a really nice car!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

K’s Honest Car Reviews Part 3 : The WagonR Duo

I haven’t written a car review on the blog in a while, so I’ll post two in rapid succession. This will help in two things – first I admit I’m a ‘hit whore’ so, writing car reviews get in a lot of hits as I discover on Google Analytics (as do references to jiggly-wiggly objects on Mallika Sherawat’s chest). Secondly, my post count has taken a tumble recently, so two quick posts on matters completely unrelated to the media should help.

I have spent a considerable amount of time in the past three months driving the boxy WagonR. I’ve never been fond of the WagonR’s dubious aesthetics, even though the new redesign has made it a wee bit more appealing. But the reason I happily drove a car I don’t like for so long was because of the sheer economics of it. This was the WagonR Duo, which ran on LPG – cooking gas to you and me by another name.
Now, everytime someone does a story on LPG you hear the sob story of how much the oil marketing companies lose subsidising it. Nobody writes about how restaurant owners have milked the government by taking huge numbers of multiple connections, but that isn’t the point. Even without the subsidy and actually with a slight profit margin, LPG costs Rs 25.44 a litre in Delhi. Even with the new petrol price hovering at Rs 46.50-something, that is cheap. (LPG actually cost Rs 29.16 at the pump till a month and a half ago). Anyway, you do the math, the WagonR gives a maximum of 14km to a litre of petrol. On LPG, it gave me an average of 11.5km per litre. Factor in the Rs 20 discount on the price of the fuel, and you’ll work out just how cheap it is. The LPG fitted WagonR costs Rs 24,000 more – so if you drive 18,000km a year, you’ll be breaking even in around the same time.
The downside to this economy? Maruti has detuned the engine by around 10 per cent making the car feel very sluggish at times lower down the revs and you find yourself mashing about the gears a lot more than you expected to – so instead of notching back to third, you end up on second, and if you hit a flyover not carrying enough momentum, you’ll have to go back to first. But then again, inside a city you rarely get a chance to open up, when you do, the car does take some time to deliver the power – so there is no surge, but it can go fast if you really want it to.
So the car is cheaper to run and because this is a factory-fit it might cost more but you do not void warranties, the chances of blowing up on the DND are much less – many of the cars going up in smoke – all of them Maruti vehicles coincidentally were running on do-it-yourself CNG kits.
The only problem is that the car has next to no luggage space. Because the LPG tank sits in the space meant for the spare wheel, the spare wheel has gone above the floor and that means half the already meager luggage space vanishes. And the car continues to look just as ugly. So, buying this as the primary vehicle is not a terribly good idea – because fitting a roof rack to the vehicle is not the smartest thing to do since centre of gravity moves even higher. This is a great vehicle as a daily commuter car – but read on because it does have one major failing and that isn’t the fact that it looks butt ugly. That said, the interiors, though dull, aren’t bad – I liked the new look to the speedo, and the inbuilt system though a bit too dhin-chak for my liking, go the job done sufficiently well.
The other major problem is LPG pumps – even though I read a story in BS I think it was that the government might allow the private companies to sell LPG at the pump – because it is not subsidised and they actually make money on it – it is available at very few IOCL pumps across Delhi (and almost none outside the metros) and the small tank that Maruti have fitted has meant range on a full tank of LPG is around 180-200km. Though you can switch over to running on petrol at the flick of a switch, meaning total range is an impressive 700km, that isn’t the point really, but even the 5km detour I had to make at least twice a week to fill gas still makes sense when you look at the price of fuel. Therefore, the WagonR Duo makes sense only in large metropolitan areas where there are LPG pumps – however if you live near an LPG pump, or one is on the path of your daily commute this cars makes immense sense. The LPG kit only gets fitted in the LX and LXi versions, so the pic is a bit misleading.
End of the day, this isn’t a racer, it isn’t pretty (even the inclusion of pretty girls in the advertising can't help it), and because luggage space goes for a toss, practicality does too. But it is cheap to run, and that is what matters - inside the city and that is it. I really liked the car by the end of it, but since it was replaced by the new Zen Estilo, I didn't mind. I'll write about that in a few days.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Becoming judges?

We are all armchair judges all the time, pronouncing people innocent or guilty of several acts because of our perception of that person. I mean, how many of you have called a girl names in school because she happened to be friends with a few guys. But to go out and pronounce someone innocent or guilty in a pending judicial matter is something else altogether. While I think that Manu Sharma is guilty and I thought that Santosh Singh was guilty as well and I'm pretty sure that Vikas Yadav will latko as most people think he should, subverting justice by emblazoning it across front pages or the nine o'clock news is a different matter. In a weird sort of way, while I think Ram Jethmalani tried to subvert justice (again) he does have a point, a person is entitled to a fair trial and the media must not hang him.
The media has a role to play in exposing a sham trial - like they did in the Jessica and Priyadarshini cases, and there was clearly a miscarriage of justice there, but I think some people did go overboard. There are very few of us in the profession who are constitutional or legal experts - heck, if I knew the law well, I would have been a lawyer, it is booming like any other profession you know. The problem I have with the media is clear double standards - I do not think Sanjay Dutt should have been acquitted - because people who 'helped' him have been sent to prison, but the media celebrated the man's acquittal, then again, this is my opinion not the law of the land.
Bombarded as we are with irrational and sometimes irresponsible journalism from all sides, it is difficult for a trial court judge to be objective, and judges fall prey to the lynch mob that is the media at times, but then again why is there this lynch mob in the first place?
I really believe that as usual, we are missing the point over here. There was a gross miscarriage of justice in both murders, I do not doubt that. But now that you have fixed that and now that we will end up hanging three men, no matter what people say - I'm a bit ambivalent about the death penalty - after all I've debated on either side during school and college level debates and that can explain a bit of it. It is the legal system here that needs prompt fixing - judges in this country - and I might be committing a crime by saying this - have ethical issues - I won't put it down in black or white what those ethical issues are, but once a judge, you become a judge for life. There is not system of checks and balances and judge can hold me in contempt just for writing this - but some very senior judges have said it too. The Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo and Nitish Katara cases are clear indications that we need to fix the legal system. Otherwise, we will spawn many, many more 'trials by media'.

EDIT : Manu doesn't hang, he only gets life and this is before the appeal in the SC. Vikas Yadav, the man accused of murdering Nitish Katara is going to be in jail anyway, and he just got four more years. But the decision by the court to pull up 'hostile' witnesses is tremendous, while I feel for Shyan Munshi, I'm sure the lad came under tremendous pressure, but the habit of witnesses going 'hostile' is endemic and resolving it should be part of the judicial reform process.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blessing a plane!

Originally uploaded by Tripping in India.
No matter what people say about Indians being secular, the fact of the matter is that most of us are still quite happily Hindu and majority-ism rules. I mean, look at the picture, I took this picture, (which is actually quite a detailed shot of the front undercarriage of an Airbus aircraft) when Indian (formerly Indian Airlines) got their new Airbus plane from the $2 billion order. Praful Patel, the man I hold personally responsible whenever my flight is delayed, which is almost everytime I fly, came to perform this puja when the plane arrived fresh from Hamburg. Look at it - Tika, garland, coconut, flowers and there was the whole shindig! This plane is quite Hindu I guess now!
These are some of the silly things you notice on the job but never write about, after all who on earth will give you column centimeters for something as silly as this! Oh and before a bunch of ignorant Europeans come in and accuse me of being a 'Nazi' thanks to the swastik, the swastik is an ancient Hindu symbol which was appropriated (in a slightly altered form) by the German Nazi's, and we still use it out here!
EDIT : I guess this will be all over the papers tomorrow, and I've heard of some funny cases of slippage myself, but no wonder Indian men feel so inadequate! But seriously, if 'Regular' rubber is too big for so many men, I've got no clue what will happen to them if they went to certain parts of the world.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Publications I miss.

One of Dhirubhai Ambani's nicer experiments, or well rather one the times he let his younger son have his way with the loose change was The Sunday Observer. Now, I don't lament the passing of the Sunday Observer as a journalist, I was far too young to have worked there during the good days, but the paper, whatever you say about it - even call it the Ambani's propaganda rag - much like a certain television channel is today was usually - particularly during the time of the first two editors, very good Sunday reading. And for me, as a pre-teen kid those days, despite going through a fairly troubled part of life (my pre and early teen years were more screwed up than most peoples, thanks to my parents' marriage going haywire) was fairly good reading for children in the 12-16 age group in a regular newspaper. And that is something I do not see in ANY Sunday newspaper today.
None whatsoever, because they try to outcompete each other in being cerebral and lifting ideas from GQ. Talking about lifting from GQ, this month's UK edition has an article called 'Absolute Insanity' about chillies and 'hotness' (of the chillies not of the models in the Kingfisher Calendar), a few days after I read the article in my bosses cubicle, the country's self-proclaimed 'best' food writer does an article on chilles. Now, this gentleman is a great writer (no doubt about that) and no part of the aforementioned GQ piece was 'copied' per se, but information was copiously used. I was not the only person to notice the timing, at least three other people I know who read the UK edition of GQ mentioned this me, just finding the timing a bit ironic. Anyway, inspiration can come from anywhere and I am not making an accusation of plagarism - that is exclusively the terrain of two-bit and half-wit movie reviewers.
You might argue that DNA makes an attempt - but DNA is going after the Cartoon Network crowd, not 'TweenAgers'. A year or so ago, maybe less, a former colleague had done a story on this market in India and how it is booming, but somehow, despite the massive explosion in the media, there seems to be almost no reading material - rather daily or even weekly reading material targeting the 8-18 market, and that seems to baffle me.
I'm fairly sure that I am not alone when I say that the early years of India Today's Target magazine were brilliant. Of course, the magazine did lose it towards its later years and its second avataar as 'Teens Today' was one of the Group's more colossal publishing disasters - because it tried to go after both the early-teen and late-teen market. As any marketer with half a brain will tell you, the 13-14-15 age group is quite a different proposition from the 16-17 age group and the 18-19 age group is a different kettle of fish altogether. target actually had value propositions that appealed - thanks in no small part to Ajit Ninan's great cartoons and I hope that Times of India asks him to restart some of his strips - or maybe start something new altogether - to a wider variety of readers. However, in a fragmented market like today, such a scenario is not possible.
Now, the reason many magazines and newspapers don't start publications for this segment of the market is because they feel that the market is either too small or that they will not get advertising. The latter reason is more crucial - publishers will tell you that they're competing in the age of TV and the internet and people don't read. They don't? That is news to me, I read when I was young, and by the time I got to middle school, cable TV was in India in all its glory - I mean I had MTV with VJ Nonie and 24x7 of Rock n'Roll.
Yet, by the time I got to that stage I had finished most of Gerald Durrell and started out on Wodehouse and I was still buying Hardy Boys Casefiles books (I discovered much to my surprise I still have a lot of my Hardy Boys books along with their impossible and improbable plots - but they were fun, and in a cupboard in Calcutta I still have some old Target and Indrajaal comics lying about). Those were good days!
But young people read, maybe less nowadays because of blogs and the internet, but I've said this before, a well-produced and well-written newspaper or magazine will give you in half an hour what most people take half a day to find on the internet. I mean, the printed word or page, whichever way you look at it still has the ability to surprise. After all, I plonk down a significant amount of money to read GQ, even though I can find a lot of the content online, because I want to. I like Nerve, but Nerve would be cooler if I could hold it. And no matter what you say, a Playmate in a three-fold foldout in Playboy, looks a lot nicer than scrolling down on a monitor, even if you have a 19-inch LCD. Maybe I'm old-fashioned or maybe I'm like this because I get my genes from a journalist on one side and a publisher on the other, or maybe I'm environmentally callous and like the feel of paper.
Maybe I'm just growing too old! I have to drive a car at 200 ticks to put a smile on my face nowadays! But thats just me!

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day!

But first - Even though I was in Bombay on Tuesday morning (I was too busy following the Sanjay Dutt mamla on TV and didn't read the papers other than the Mirror which I have been sorely missing in Delhi), I had no clue about this until a friend texted me saying that I was famous. Well, thanks to Kushalrani Gulab for the mention, I always appreciate any ego boost.
OK, it is World AIDS Day today and while I don't care two hoots about most this day or that day, almost everyday happens to be some shitty day or another, today is important, particularly since India happens to be in the midst of an epidemic whether we like it or not. Our honourable Health Minister is more concerned with governing AIIMS than even looking at the problem, and at least this guy mentions the word 'Condoms' without flinching, the last woman we had in the Health Ministry would say 'Chee' if you even said the word.
And it isn't just a lower class disease. Kids in call centres and news organisations are banging like there is no tomorrow, after all this is for many Indians the first generation of 'free' Indians where sons and daughters have been allowed to do their own thing and well, they're doing it. And sadly, many of them are not using condoms.
I recently had a fight with my friend Doc because he hates using rubber, "Feel nahin aati" he told me. Well, to be honest, I've only done it once without a condom and that was when I was 17 and even though I will not continue the story - it got very complicated afterwards - no there isn't K-spawn somewhere in the world, but lets leave the story for the novel, right! But, to carry on, an indescretion made over a decade ago, and that's it. There have been weird and dangerous sexual adventures since, and this is not the place to talk about them, but there has always been rubber at my disposal even when I had to spend one Euro buying one in Paris. Condoms are expensive out in the west!
There is no excuse for not using a condom, my friend Bob the Rockstar did a lot of wild things, but always used rubber. God, I remember walking into a pharmacy with him when he bought a box of 100 condoms, and since he is a Rockstar he had this insane swagger about it. I have never seen so many jaws drop at the same time! Bob was going to Spring Break in Daytona, and he did manage to finish them all in his four-week trip to the States. Or so he claims, we dodn't know if all he did was jerk off in them, but I'll grant him the benefit of doubt. The reason he bought them in India is because rubber is a lot cheaper here.
The anecdote is a bit weird, while it highlights sexual insanity, it also shows that people aren't completely reckless. Unlike Doc, who was doing two women at the same time, and only corrected his ways when one of them freaked. I got tested back then and have gotten tested every once in a while since - usually whenever I end up donating blood I tick off the optional AIDS test option, but I'll be honest I haven't had a test in a while. Talking about condoms Ultra-thins are a bit weird, but this isn't a post explaining condom performance, I'm no expert at that - read FHM or something like that. But please, don't take a chance, have sex, but use rubber. Life is too short to be that careless.
While I will admit that many of us in the media, particularly in India hate talking about sex, let alone AIDS, we should start. But, I hope some of you read blogs and hopefully not all of you are stupid. Now, I have to go get drunk.