I’ve never actually met Bob, and I never usually feature people I’ve never chewed the fat with over a campfire or an Old Monk, but his was the first book I bought when I moved to India. Road tripping is something we sort of know about in the UK, but it was after I moved to India that I realised just how amateur we Brits are compared with Indians. It makes sense. Drive 7 hours in the UK and you’re pretty much guaranteed to drop of the edge of somewhere, in India drive for 7 hours and there’s a good chance you’ll still be in the same state. We’ve somehow connected with mutual friends over social media and I am delighted to be able to feature him as this weeks’ People of India Project.
- Who you are (naturally!)
I was born in Bombay and am a pioneering Indian automotive journalist starting with the Indian Auto Journal in 1986. Over the years I have been the executive editor of magazines such as Car & Bike International, auto motor & sport (India), BBC Top Gear (India) and Auto India. I am now consulting editor of Overdrive Media and considered as one of India’s most credible and respected auto journalists.
I also authored the pioneering bestseller ‘Driving Holidays in India’ in 2005 and it triggered a whole new segment of books and made road holidays popular. Also wrote another edition ‘More Driving Holidays in India’ followed by several critically acclaimed coffee table books like – ‘India’s 100 Best Destinations’ (was selected by Government of India Tourism for gifting to foreign dignitaries); ‘Tracking the Tiger- 50 days in India’s Best Tiger Reserves’; ‘The Golden Quadrilateral- India’s First Modern Highway Network’; ‘Living the Royal Life Volume I & II featuring prominent royals and nobles’ and also co-authored ‘The Royal Udaipur Rolls-Royce GLK 21’ and ‘The Story of the Star (Mercedes-Benz) in India’.
- What inspired you to create/join your business?
I have always loved cars and started with modifying and driving them in races and rallies. This passion resulted in me becoming an auto journalist and reviewing and testing cars for a living. The zeal for long distance driving and exploring new places has taken me to the far flung parts of India and I have also driven in about 60 foreign countries.
- An anecdote which epitomizes your India?
Many years back, sometime in the 80’s, I was driving in the Himalayas and just around 6.00 pm as the sun was setting, I reached a forest barrier. The forest guard said he would not let me through until I went with him to his house for a bite. There while sitting on the floor, his wife served me a very basic meal of thick rotis and dal, accompanied by raw onions, and followed by milky tea or chai.
I could see they were very happy to see me eat and when I inquired why they had been so insistent, the guard said, “Sahib the winter has arrived and you would not have found anywhere to eat in these hills after 7.00 pm, as everyone would have retreated indoors. So how could I let you continue on your journey without giving you at least some food”. Of course they refused to take any payment and even packed some gur ( jaggery) and peanuts in a newspaper for me. Sadly, this kind of affection, caring and pure hospitality is becoming increasingly rare in India now.
- One thing that you can’t live without?
Couple of years back I fought a battle with cancer and that taught me to live without most things. But given a choice, I cannot live without periodical drives (preferably in my own vehicle) in the jungles of India. And also sitting around a campfire and having whiskey with like-minded friends.
- One thing that you hate?
Most Indian politicians, and their conniving and corrupt ways.
- If you could change one thing about India, what would it be?
The blind race for development and growth, with no thought for our environment or quality for life.
- Who is your greatest inspiration?
Instead of who, I would ask what? And the answer would be “Mother Nature”.
- What is your favourite quote?
It’s one of my own ones- “Life is what you make it, leave it all behind and do exactly what you want”.
While in hospital during one of my chemotherapy cycles, I also wrote one in Hindi, “Hamein mita sakai, yeh cancer mein dum nahin, cancer hum mein hai, cancer me hum nahi”.
Or “This cancer does not have the power to destroy me, the cancer is inside me, I am not inside the cancer”.
- I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
There have possibly been more changes in the last 10 years, than in the last 1000 years! The biggest change is in the aspirations- people are no longer satisfied or content with what they have, and almost everybody wants more. And of course everybody is carrying a cell phone these days, even the tribals in the remotest of regions.
- What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?
Freedom and retaining the right to speak and criticize freely is in danger, as are the other democratic values and rights enshrined in our constitution. Balancing growth versus exploitation of our environment and natural resources is another. And as the pandemic has shown, we definitely need better medical care and facilities. I am also seeing very rapid erosion in the traditional way of life and dressing, and it will be a sad day when India’s diversity gets diluted and everyone dresses and lives in a near similiar manner.
- Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
In India I have been almost everywhere I want to, but I would still like to explore the North East more extensively.
On a global level, I would love to drive all around the African continent in a 4WD. And I definitely want to retrace the route of the original East African Safari Rally.
And if possible, I would also like to drive over the Khyber Pass.
- What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
This is easy- Agra. And if I may add, then also some of the better known temples in South India that are full of blood sucking guides and people pretending to be priests.
- Book or Movie?
Book for sure. But I also like movies, especially old Westerns and War films.
- Just for fun! I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
Akoori with pav. Followed by medu wada along with upma. If in Gujarat, I love Jalebi with Fafda. I also enjoy a nice cheese masala omelet, which I make quite well too.
- In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year-old self?
Yes there was a time in the 80’s, when I have driven in places like Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Bandipur, Nagarghole, etc, and at times my vehicle was the only one in the park! How I miss those days when only true nature lovers and adventure seekers ventured into our forests. Now in many of the popular parks- it’s almost like a Mela!
Bob’s More Driving Holidays in India is available here.