A Rip Van Winkle incident

Updated: Jan 8 2002, 05:30am hrs
I needed some mug-shot type photographs. For these things, who bothers about black and white photos any more Everything has gone instant and everything has gone colour. In our locality, there is a shop that has introduced something that is still somewhat of a technological marvel. Going beyond ordinary instant and colour. They have digital cameras.

Once the photograph is taken, it is computerised. You can scan the image, chop and slice and do a little bit of retouching before you give the actual print order. When instant cameras were first introduced, I think one had to pay Rs 60 for four snaps. Later, it became Rs 50 for four snaps. This digitised business was originally Rs 120 for eight snaps. This time, I discovered it was Rs 100 for ten. Prices have come down.

I was in a bit of a hurry and the customer ahead of me drove everyone nuts. He was an elderly gentleman and had not seen this digitised stuff before. He was thrilled to bits when he saw ten of his faces peering down at him from the screen. Actually, there were twenty of his faces. Because two separate shots had been taken before deciding which one was better. As I just said, you go and click on those parts of the picture you want to be printed. And customer preferences are taken into account.

Sometimes, this gentleman wanted his arms in. Sometimes, he wanted them out. Sometimes, he wanted a picture till the waist. Sometimes, he wanted a picture till the chest. He asked if the head from one set could be spliced on to the body of the other it could. Finally, his and mine were both done and we waited for the printing and the drying.

But the old gentleman rambled on. How life had changed. He had possessed a Boy camera once. It cost Rs 20 and used Gevaert film. The camera must still be lying around somewhere. Could it be repaired Was Agfa film still used What was all this Kodak and Konica stuff Was that because of obsession with the letter K What happened to Hot Shot cameras He needed to go to the bank to raise money, but banks were on strike. That didnt matter. He would go to the ATM. (I forgot to mention, every conceivable bank has every conceivable ATM in that vicinity.) He moved on to the Internet, cell phones, watches and cars. He used to possess an HMT watch. He once managed to buy a Fiat with great difficulty. Who bought these CDs with ready-made Internet connections that were being sold By then, I had got my pictures and went home.

Back home, I took out a book that has old ads and this is what I found. For the automobile industry. A ten hp 2-cylinder Darracq Phaeton tulip was sold for Rs 5,000 in 1906. Studebakers were sold for between Rs 4,500 and Rs 5,250 in 1916. The eight hp Rover was sold for Rs 3,500 in 1924.

A Giant is rising. The automobile industry forms a very important factor in the economy of a country. For instance, in America one out of every seven persons is employed in this industry; one business in six is automotive; automobile retail sales are 10 per cent of all retail sales. In India, the foundation of this industry has already been truly laid by companies with a programme for manufacturing trucks and cars. The Premier Automobiles Ltd is one of these. Today, the Premier Automobiles Ltd has an assembling capacity of 30 trucks and 10 cars a day. Here, then, is a giant in the growing, an industry fully equipped to supply a large part of the 20,000 trucks and cars that are imported into the country every year. This is PAL in 1953.

The rising roar and rumble of productivity that greets you at a distance from the Hindustan factory at Calcutta heralds the decade of destiny which must see the ambitious fulfilment of Indias own automobile industry. Hindustan must be the choice of every thoughtful car buyer in India, because it is a great deal more than a dependable mode of transportation. It has a higher and distinct national importance it represents an organic part of the economic life of India a part that is lively and growing that will uplift the standard of life of the people as it grows. This is Hindustan Motors in 1955.

Open country, bullock cart tracks, steep inclines, muddy and sandy tracks the Willys Station Wagon, equipped with 4-wheel drive and the famous Hurricane engine, goes just about anywhere. This is Mahindra and Mahindra in 1955. I can give you more, the Standard Vanguard, the Ambassador, the Contessa and others. But the sense you get from these ads is that for the automobile industry, nothing changed till the mid-eighties. Independent of information from ads, we know this is true. We also know that this is generally true of the entire economy.

The 1980s brought Maruti. Progress. Only change makes it possible. Less than 12 months from now, the first cars and light commercial vehicles from Maruti Udyog Limited will roll out. Vehicles which will change the face and pace of road transportation in India. Vehicles using the technology of the 80s under the terms of agreement Maruti has made with the Suzuki Motor Company of Japan. In a single sweep, Maruti will bring about a revolution on wheels. Its already begun. This is Maruti Udyog Limited in 1986. The nineties are of too recent a vintage for me to give you ads from this decade.

The old gentleman is not Rip Van Winkle. He has a point. We may be dissatisfied with the face and pace of reforms, as indeed we should be. But since the fifties, the Indian economy was never as transformed as it was in the nineties (barring minor changes in the second half of the eighties). Nor are these changes only about the automobile industry. Or only about the rich.