We are now basking in Mallorca, the beautiful Spanish island in the Mediterranean. Our motorbike is at the Valencia port waiting for customs clearance – it has been a challenging topic and is still getting resolved… but that I will describe in another note.
If all goes as planned, in a few days the road will become our home. It’s a dream that Anu and me have been waiting for… a dream that will soon be realised – by the grace of powers that be. As we set giving final finishing touches to our plan, I find myself thinking back about my fascination with motorcycles – and my early memories associated with two wheels.
My mind goes back to 1987 and I see Chandan uncle standing in front of me. Chandan Chatterjee – my dad’s colleague at the State Bank of India back in those days when Guwahati used to be a quaint town and not the bustling trade hub it is, today. In my eyes Chandan uncle was the epitome of handsomeness – dressed in leather chaps, a shiny black leather jacket, sunglasses – riding a black Yezdi. I was 7 years old and I was mesmerized. Till date I think of him as one of the most dashing men I have ever met. The Black Yezdi and the sight of Chandan uncle vrooming around town is a sight I will always think back to and admire. That was my first entry into the amazing world of motorbikes.
Guwahati was like most other towns in the Indian hinterland. Back in those days- and even today, the North East corner of India was about decade behind, in terms of development and new trends. Until the late 1980’s Bajaj scooters ruled the roost and you had to place an order months in advance for your steed- and when it finally did arrive, the entire neighbourhood will gather to marvel at the new wheels. I grew up with bicycles- it used to be the Atlas cycles and after several marketing gimmicks (and tentative test rides by Dad), hero cycles gained an entry into our family.
At the same time, Bajaj scooters were hard to ignore- they were persistent in their marketing campaigns. Open any newspaper, switch on the Doordarshan (the only channel in those days before the advent of cable or satellite TV) and you could hear one persistent tune: Buland bharat ki buland tasveer… Hamara Bajaj… Hamara Bajaj.
It was 1988; I was in the 8th standard”- and a miracle happened. Dad brought home the Bajaj Chetak scooter. It was regal. A shade of deep pastel blue-grey, its head proudly swept up rounding into the brow and headlamps, the gentle tuck of the engine chamber and the raised tail formed by the spare wheel. It was as graceful as any swan. One of the very few scooters that could boast of 125cc engine. Dad planned to learn riding and until then the scooter was parked next to our staircase. I stole it one morning with Ma as my unwilling accomplice. Dad had left for office. We wheeled out the new scooter whispering to ourselves. We pushed it till the main road and after much tugging, I managed to pull it up on the main stand. I kicked the engine to life and mounted, gently adding throttle while the scooter was on neutral. The exhaust note seemed low. I increased the throttle and the engine roared. With a pounding heart, I pushed the scooter into the first gear. The Chetak lifted itself into a wheelie and landed hard on its front wheel with a sound that brought all our neighbours out onto the street; the beast crashed. Ma rushed in croaking with worry and scare. The neighbours gawked. I dusted myself, managed an embarrassed smile through my teary eyes as I pushed the scooter down my walk of shame. There was a deep damage done on the front and Dad vowed never to touch that scooter again, a promise he made good of. Long story short, I inherited a scooter even before I had a driving licence.
After completing my schooling, I Guwahati for college in Pune. That was in 1994. It took me a year to convince my parents that I was settled and focused upon my studies… and it will really help if I could have a motorbike to move around and reach places faster. Well yes it was not the most convincing logic but that’s why it took me over a year to work on my folks back home. Finally they relented. The year was 1995. It was summer and I headed to Guwahati for my vacations. I was always excited about going to Guwahati but never this excited. That was the vacation when the Hero Honda CD100 motorbike arrived- and my life was never the same again. The night the motorbike arrived, I parked it right next to my bed. Every micron of dust was cleaned lovingly and I spent several hours just admiring the bike – my bike! I slept fitfully during the night and next morning went out for my first real ride. The air was crisp and prickled my skin; the Bharalu river flowed peacefully as the wind ruffled my hair.
The vacations were over and it was time to go back to Pune. The motorbike travelled with me till Mumbai in the cargo compartment of the train. Amit Gokhale, my buddy from Fergusson, accompanied me on that first ride from Mumbai to Pune. It was a Sunday, the streets of Mumbai were wide as I zigzagged across lanes. The rows of traffic lights across multiple traffic junctions were so confusing; Amit guided me towards my first lesson in lane discipline and traffic signs. My CD100 rode into Pune. That was also my first long ride.
My CD100 unlocked the wanderer within me. I stayed in Pune with my roomies Pranjal Sarmah and Siddhartha Deka. On most evenings, I’d be out with my motorbike, either perched on top of a cliff along the Mulshi hills or under that special tree that overlooked the Mulshi Dam. I also had a few secret hideaways along the (old) Pune-Mumbai highway. Alone, I felt peace and the voices inside my head would gradually become coherent.
College days became much more than studies, thanks to my two-wheeled friend. It was a ticket to friendships, new vistas and often, spontaneous and special moments. December 31st 1996 was such a time. That was to be our final year in college and thereafter life would claim us. We knew that our circle of friends will soon become scattered. Everyone wanted to cling on to this moment- to this circle- almost with a sense of desperation. The New Year party was at our terrace and we danced and talked all night long. The girls had taken a special night out from their families or their hostels. It was early morning when she asked me for a ride. And we zipped across the streets of Pune smiling like little children- Leena hanging onto my back in the pillion seat. All it took was the motorbike and the tarmac.
The years that followed were quite interesting and full of road trips. Occasionally solo, but often in the company of Saurabh Mookherjee and Devdutta Mulay or Vinod Raskar, I covered quite a bit of ground- across various regions of India. But it was in 2012 when I travelled to Germany with Ashish Jha for a press jamboree. Business concluded; we mounted the press bikes Ashish had arranged from Aprilia. Till then, I had never had an opportunity to ride a high powered motorcycle. We had the Aprilia Touno and the Aprilia Mana between us and for the next week or so, Ashish and I wandered across parts of Germany and France, sampling the roads, the cuisine and the gorgeous landscapes. Ever since then, I have been smitten by the lure of motor biking in Europe, especially during the balmy summer months.
Spain in the summer is a riot of beauty and colours. But Green is the overwhelming hue- with forests, meadows and plantations bursting forth in exuberance. My Royal Enfield Desert Storm was also a beautiful green- albeit a shade lighter than the foliage around. Royal Enfield Desert Storm – Power, Presence, Pizzaz – This beast has it all. It was a soulful gift from my wifie Anu. We jointly brought the bike home, proudly bearing the registration number MH 12 500 celebrating the 500ccs it displaced. Incredible moments, incredible rides, my pride of possession and the special green colour turned hearts and heads wherever it passed. And of course, it has seen such amazing country and spawned rider clubs in my neighbourhood and also in some of the companies I worked with.
I agree, I am still smitten by Royal Enfields but when it came to defining the motorbike for this trip, I chose practicality over emotions and it came with its own dose of heady sentiments. For this long trip across 18 countries, we settled for the Ducati scrambler. The Scrambler is a peppy machine, temperamental like an Italian lady and yet understated in its presence. This is our companion of choice, to carry us through alien lands as we explore answers of our own choosing. And true to tradition, this too carries a special number: MH 12 NY 1001.
“The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see” said Winston Churchill. Somehow the words make more sense to me now… and I find a silly grin plastered over my face as I set about planning for the 100 days ahead- of living on 2 wheels.