KOLKATA, India — If the curvy, retro Hindustan Ambassador has a mass-transit counterpart in clogging the city’s arterial roads, it’s the Tata bus.
The boxy, noisy, diesel-powered buses that ferry local residents to and fro do so with a fare collector hanging off the side working double-duty as a route announcer — and possibly the on-board marketing expert who seemed to help hustle people into a ride.
In the process, the buses belch giant bilious clouds of exhaust and rumble like muted thunder.
The Tata Motors passenger bus bears a tough, industrial styling, likely due to its origins as an locomotive manufacturer when it was founded in 1945. The resemblance to an antique train isn’t hard to see, though you might think “cargo” more than “Pullman.”
Yet the company — part of the multibillion-dollar Tata Group conglomerate — also produces several lines of modern trucks, buses and cars. It owns Jaguar Land Rover and Daimler, as well as a defense division, with manufacturing facilities India, United Kingdom, South Korea, Thailand, Spain and South Africa, with plans to expand into Turkey, Indonesia and Eastern Europe.
Then it occurs to me: Considering India’s population of 1.3 billion, I had been in the minority of the world’s people who had not previously encountered a Tata vehicle.