Thursday, March 17, 2011

May God Save the Japanese!


If there is no island called Japan, if there is no race called the Japanese, if there is no fortitude, a car or an LCD TV might still remain a distant dream. Even as the Indian middle class parted with a bulk of their savings in exchange for inefficient cars, bikes and electronic and household goods, destiny had planned a different fate. May be that’s karma. May be not. A new age had dawn on the Indian sub-continent. And that was the early 1980s.
The coming of Suzuki with its flagship model, the Maruti 800 has revolutionized the traffic scene in India since 1985. That year is more a landmark in the history of empowerment of the middle class Indians, than in automobile history. The erstwhile traffic scene lorded over by the ambys (ambassaddor cars) of Hindustan Motors Company, peppered with the Bajaj Chetaks, Bajaj Supers and Lambretta scooters was steadily dominated by the more efficient and affordable 800 cc cars. A new club of confident and happy middle class thrown up by the Maruti-Suzuki partnership was born. The possibility of owning a four wheeler at affordable price continued to inspire Government servants in India thenceforth. One day I was riding my Yamaha gladiator when tiny drops of rain began to lash me. I reached home completely drenched. I checked out from a car dealer the price of a cheapest car in his show room. He politely chose to hang up the phone and call me later. Meanwhile I checked all my sources for a possible amount I could gather up at short notice. Then a call came and I was told that I could own Maruti-Suzuki 800 at an amount slightly more than two lakh Indian Rupees. Suddenly I realized that a car is within affordable range. That was 20 years since the coming of the Japanese car maker in India.
The value for money offered by the Japanese Company had since thrown the erstwhile car makers on the defensive. As they didn’t have the courage to launch a competition, they watch! Even the western car makers, who had been casting hungry eyes on the Indian market, became thoughtful. At last they decided to fine tune their engineering skills and reason with the Indian middleclass. Thus the General Motors, the Fiat Company and even the Ford Motors started to roll out low budget cars albeit with so much skepticism. And as a net result, there was a bloodless coup in the Indian market; the Indian consumer overthrew King Amby. Today partnership with a Japanese automobile company has become something like a pre-requisite to have a place in the Indian Market. A segment of Indians that has benefitted from such equation is the youngsters which had called off the longtime friendship with the Yejdis and rajdoots. In fact the youngsters who had been charmed by the sleeker, sportier, more efficient and cheaper bikes from Japan, had since considered products of Hindustan Motors or Bajaj as relics of the past. On the other hand the Hitachis, the Sonys, the Panasonics and a host of other Japanese companies with their electronic goods products made the voices of favorite singers like Lata Mangeskar and Keshore Kumar more melodious. Even movie stars like Padmini and Mithun Chakraborty appeared even more glamorous on the screens of a Sony or Panasonic television sets. And all the credits go to the Japanese ingenuity.
The number of staff working in the companies operating in the country had been more or less fixed. But the coming of the Japanese companies apart from offering highly efficient goods at affordable prices, has since thrown up a myriad of opportunities for skilled and unskilled labor.
I have been praying for new innovations and breakthroughs in car making business before my car has outlived its utility. If the west has something to offer, well and good, but I have a feeling that something better should be there in the East.
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I never knew that the tectonic plate of the Pacific was so fragile. And following the colossal earth quake on that fateful Friday, waves of dreadful tsunamis rushed toward the shores of the island. The next moment all you see was the multitudes of dexterous hands that had been working tirelessly in the making and packaging of the much coveted automobile parts lifelessly sticking out amid the horrific tangle of wood and rubble, no complaints! Even shipping containers obviously destined for harbors in developing countries like India piled up disorderly along the devastated coastline. My God!