Long before ‘Make in India’, Modi’s India, became a rallying call, ‘Make in India’, Nehru’s India, was heard loud and clear, despite the Licence Raj being firmly rooted. A pioneer in implementing that demand, CV Karthik Narayanan, grandson of CP Ramaswami Aiyar, passed away recently, remembered for many contributions but little remembered for that heraldic role in the Indian auto industry.
If Madras is the leader in the auto ancillary industry in India today — now an important export industry too — it owes not a little to Standard Motor Products of India (STAMPRO), which Karthik Narayanan, an automobile engineer, headed and the Ashok Leyland team of Ted Collins, Freddie Crook and K Ramamurthi. The two firms, starting with assembly of imported knocked-down kits, for cars and trucks respectively, gradually began to nurture local suppliers and, insisting on international standards, helped develop a quality-conscious auto ancillary industry in and around Madras.
STAMPRO was incorporated in 1948 when Union Motors, Madras, teamed with Standard Motors (UK) to produce, initially, the 2000cc Vanguard, assembly being from 1949. A small car was later thought a better choice for India and, from 1955, the Standard 8, then the Standard 10 and a variation called the Companion were assembled. In December 1960, there was launched the iconic Standard Herald, the Indian variation of the UK’s Standard Triumph. Indigenisation began soon after and by 1963-64 various meters, the engine, gearbox and axles were being manufactured by local suppliers.
The success of the Herald was followed in 1971 with the locally designed, similar looking Gazel, which did not do as well. Production was phased out by 1977 and planning a new car began. The Standard 2000, produced in a tie-up with British Leyland Rover, failed and hurt the company, which closed down in 1987. But by then Karthik Narayanan’s encouragement had got many an auto ancillary manufacturer in Tamil Nadu firmly established and ready for the automobile boom Maruti ushered in. Karthik Narayanan himself went into the ancillaries business. This signal contribution of his to ‘Make in India’ possible is something that should not be forgotten today.
Another little known aspect of Karthik Narayanan was his equal familiarity with English and Tamil and their literature. His five-volume English translation of Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan introduced to thousands a Tamil classic they had only heard of. He followed this with a translation of my Madras Rediscovered, bringing Madras’s heritage home to a whole new audience. But there was one disappointment we shared.
Some years ago I produced a beautiful book, even if I say so, truly a coffee table one, on Tamil Nadu’s Raj Bhavans. A grand release function was held and copies were sent to all the Raj Bhavans in India and a host of VVIPs. But it was never made available to the public. Even more disappointing, not only was the Tamil version, a Karthik Narayanan translation not published, but the English version just got stored somewhere. However, I was delighted to recently find the book on a coffee table in US Consul General Robert Burgess’ house.
And I couldn’t help thinking, if Karthik had been well he would have been there that day — he was Honorary Consul for Serbia — and been happy the book was still ‘alive’, serving as a Governor’s gift, even if it was not in Tamil.
Missing Karthik as much as the world of books will be the world of music and dance. He was a senior office-bearer of The Music Academy, but was equally a well-wisher of every other sabha. Indeed, he was a friend to all, be it in business or all the Arts. Farewell, friend, may you rest in peace after that great fight you fought till the end.
No one could have written the story of India’s first years in the auto industry better than Karthik Narayanan. Sadly, it was only a few months ago that he bought into my suggestion that ‘biography is history’. He got started on the project, but, regrettably, time ran out. Who’ll finish it, I wonder. Meanwhile, there are many others with stories to tell of those times. They shouldn’t let time run out.
When the postman knocked…
Dayalan Devanesen writes to tell me that when his father (Miscellany, December 11) started planning the North Eastern Hill University, Government offered him just five acres of land. He fought for 2,000. Eventually the Government gave him 1,800. He wanted his students to live and study in a wide open, hilly green space.
Yogiar (Miscellany, December 11) had several interests, writes KRA Narasiah. One was casting horoscopes. He cast that of humourist and critic Chitti Sundararajan’s and gave it to him in poetic form. Narasiah does not tell me the accuracy of the prediction seen on this page.
Simeon Mascarenhas writes from Melbourne, “Everyone knows that December 25 is Christmas Day. But how many know that December 21 is considered the day of the martyrdom of St Thomas, the Apostle of India? Indeed, how many know he was recognised by the Government as the Apostle of India in 1972, 1,900 years after his martyrdom?”
And on that note may I wish everyone celebrating Christmas today a Very Merry Christmas.
The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places and events from the years gone by, and sometimes, from today