If you’re going to be colonized, I mused as I tucked into a ham and cheese pancake while entertaining the idea of an evening of jazz and surrealist poetry at the Alliance Française, be colonized by the French. After all, they’re the one nation with a God-given knack for bringing the chic into the wilds of the developing world due to their staunch refusal to leave their cultural and culinary foibles at home.
Climate, geography, local economy and distance from Paris have never been factors in discouraging the French from carrying on as though they were in the thick of the Champs-Élysées.
From lobster-and-foie- gras-luxury on Caribbean islands like st. barthes and the twee-latticed wooden porches of New Orleans to the flouncy neoclassical flourish of the Opéra de Hanoi, there’s a tangible thread that runs through the former French colonies that would read something like:‘Well, if we’re stuck out in this trou du cul du monde, we might as well make the most of it. Châteauneuf du Pape, anyone?’
‘Hello! Mr shah?’ I yelled, echoing the unabashed bellows siphoning through the crackles on the phone line.‘I’d – like – to – buy – your – Nano!’
‘Nano?’ Mr shah shouted back. ‘Yes, your Nano! I want to buy it!’
There was no response and I couldn’t tell if he’d heard me. I sighed, frustrated. Purchasing a car in India from a continent and a half away was not proving to be easy.From under the wintry grey skies of an island in the English Channel, the idea of buying a Tata Nano and driving it around India had seemed so viable, so exotically rousing: a road trip to shake up the dusty snow dome of my 30s with enough romantic posturing to makeYash Chopra blush.TheTata Nano,a car the colour of sunshine and with the price tag of two iPhones, had caught my eye and my imagination. Made in India, it was the cheapest car ever to be mass-produced, the brainchild of Indian industry giant, Ratan Tata. Owing to its affordability and general revolutionary promise, it had been dubbed ‘The People’s Car’, the next Ford Model T.
‘Holy – effing – shit.’
I was straining up a steep incline, my foot flooring the accelerator, despite the car’s indignant bleats of protest. I was wedged in between an unknown bushy darkness to my left on the edge of the road, a doddery truck up-front, and another truck to my right who was attempting to overtake us by accelerating his lard-arse up the hill, heralding his laboured ascent with his own thunderous horn. I was inches, seconds, decibels away from death by unpleasant squishing.
I scoured my driving databanks for possible bailout options, but there was nothing I had ever experienced to provide a solution to this truck sandwich: the only two alternatives that seemed feasible were slamming the brakes, or swerving left into the bushes where I could take respite and possibly cry. but a quick glance in my rear- view mirror assured me quickly that neither plan was going to work: the incandescent yellow glare reflected there told of an angry corpus of vehicles on my tail, salivating at the prospect of taking a punt at my posterior.