As a heterosexual male, there have been a number of fascinations in my life. Minor and major desires that drove me towards actions that I’m either proud or ashamed of.
Among these fascinations are cricket trump cards, scandalous books, cricket bats, female company, marijuana, gaajar halwa, calligraphy pens, and cheap whiskey. However, not once in my life was I fascinated by vehicles and automobiles. The closest I came to was Abhay from the Agniputra Abhay comics, who had a motorcycle called Princess, whom he talked to, flirted with, and went out on adventures with. But even as a seven year old, I remember thinking ‘That’s fucking weird’.
When my school friends were gossipping about the latest bicycles as part of the school annual function, I was sashaying around in a drill called Stars and Horses. The first bicycle I rode was my sister’s BSA SLR Ladybird – a sleek, dainty bicycle in a shiny, shocking maroon colour. If you looked at it under the afternoon sun, the handlebar would gleam off light like a Samurai’s sword. When I first learnt to ride it, I felt on top of the world, only to have the colony guys say ‘Hahahaha Ladies Cycle hahahahaha’ to my face a few weeks later. The stint with the BSA SLR Ladybird ended the following year.
I was returning from a household chore, and in my head an exciting India vs Pakistan encounter was taking place. With a sudden rush of adrenaline, I raced forward…and banged into not one, but two vehicles at the same. The front and back wheels experienced sufficient damage and my cycling days were all but over.
The next few years weren’t great by any margin. The vehicles I had the displeasure of riding were an old TVS Max 100, that cheeky bike that caused sufficient damage to the Ozone layer. And a friend’s LML Freedom which I was embarrassed to ride, having seen Zayed Khan ride it in Main Hoon Na.
And yet, ride I did, to disastrous results. At times, I would slip and fall on gravel. On other times, the bike would stutter and shudder to a stop right in front of the girl I was trying to impress. I have banged into trees, people, cows, vehicles parked by the road, and old pedestrians crossing the road. I have banged into women plucking flowers in the early hours of the morning, and minutely escaped children learning to ride a cycle.
And then, years later, I bought my first ever ride. A snazzy geared bicycle that cut a considerable hole in already shallow pockets, the bike stayed with me for a few weeks, and got stolen. And then, it was back to Bus No.11 – I would hitch rides, offer cigarettes to people who had bikes, ask for lift from everybody – even specially customised scooters for handicapped people.
When I finally landed myself a slightly cushy job, I decided it was time to get my own thing. Bahut ho gaya.
Some savings were tapped into, and I walked into the many noble companies that offer two-wheelers in our country. There were the Hondas and the Suzukis – efficient, hard-working engines that ran for years and decades, serving their masters loyally. But I opted out.
I struck out the Yamahas since they were out of my budget, and gave the TVS showroom a miss. Finally, I settled on the Bajaj showroom. Perhaps it was my background in advertising, the Humara Bajaj campaign having left an inedible mark on my being. Or perhaps, like most Indians, I wanted to spend less money and get a lot in return. For, Bajaj might not make the best bikes, but they make the best ads.
Like Abhimanyu, I waked into the showroom. With the knowledge that things were never going to be the same for me again. This was it. Fuck you, BSA SLR and LML Freedom. Fuck you, Ajay Devgan in Agneepath, and fuck all those people who denied me a lift on dark, lonely nights.
I am going to get my own bike.
I walked out of the showroom with a Bajaj Discover.
The first day was spent in looking at it from a distance, trying it out, getting advice from friends – ‘Before the first servicing, don’t go above 60’, ‘Always switch off the petrol’ . Words of advice that would fall on deaf ears and stoned eyes.
On the second day, I went out for beer with a beautiful woman. The beer was flat, but the conversation sparkled. She had hair that was slightly curly, and eyes that looked into my soul. And when she laughed, it turned me on. With all the confidence of a two-day old bike owner, I offered to drop her back to my home. Everything went smoothly – no banging, screeching, scraping – and I rode back home a contented man.
‘This is nice’, I thought, as the wind hit my face in all its glory. ‘Let me listen to some music’, I thought, and connected my earphones and rode on. I felt light and buzzed, like a hallucinating bumble bee. Then I crashed into a divider.
The bike went skidding from left to right, oscillating dangerously, like Moto GP riders just before they hit the ground. A man screeched to a halt next to me and said, ‘Kya mast sambhaaley, bhai. Main toh socha aap mar gaye’. I thanked him for his concern and gathered my phone and wits.
The screen had shattered. My bike’s rim was bent, the handle bent to an absurd angle, and the visor cracked. But this was just the beginning. In the next two years, I’d find out why the bike is called Bajaj Discover!
In a few weeks, I hated my bike.
It is called Bajaj Discover because you discover a new problem every month. Bajaj bikes will run smoothly for two years (in my case, 6 months), and then reveal their true colours.
You can identify an old Bajaj bike just from its sound. Along with the humming of the running engine, there’ll be a ‘clink’ and a ‘clong’, a ‘ting’ and a ‘tong’ – shaky, broken parts rattling along with the bike.
A year on, riding the bike began to become a chore. As a pot smoker, I am lost in my thoughts, or humming a song, or thinking of a new stand up set. Amidst such lofty thoughts, to be brought back to reality to change the gear is cruelty. At times, I felt like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder up a hill. At other times, I felt like a slave tied to an oil mill.
My indifference and apathy took a toll on my bike, and it began to suffer from the Benjamin Button syndrome. People were shocked when I told them it was only two years old.
‘What? It looks at least 8 years old’.
‘Yes. Meet my bike, the Bajaj Benjamin’.
It is said that punishing circumstances change who we are deep within. That difficult times mould us into different people.
And right before my own eyes, my bike metamorphosed into a horse.
An old, haggard horse that had enlisted in the army in spite of weak knees and worn out joints – kyunki us mein passion hai.
Like a horse, it had its own moods, mood swings and tantrums. On a day of its choice, it would refuse to start, stubbornly coughing out smoke. On other days, it would start, but stop halfway through the journey. On some days, it would decide to guzzle down double the fuel needed for its nourishment.
On some days, it would barely take anything – leaking out a deadly mixture of oil and petrol from the sides. If the winter was harsh, it would sit snug in the parking lot, refusing to even entertain the thought of stepping out. If the sun was too harsh, it would go into a shell, refusing to budge till it was taken for a check up.
There have been days when I would stop by the road and silently mutter prayers and pleadings to it. There have been days when I refused to touch it for weeks at stretch. I began to ignore it for cabs and friends, relegating it to mundane tasks like buying cigarettes and Reynolds Racer Gel pens.
A few weeks back, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to get rid of my old horse. Our journey together was short, albeit tumultuous. The two of us have met some wonderful people, and some not so wonderful people. All good things, they say, come to an end. And all bad things, need to be brought to an end.
I have found a person to sell my horse to. The man is a friend, a fellow stoner and co-adventurer into the unchartered territories of existential quagmires. I have explained to him that he must not expect a nayi naveli dulhan, for these are only societal benchmarks, and no real barometers of inner beauty. He tells me that his needs are frugal, and when I close my eyes, I can see him and my horse, trotting towards a cigarette shop.
Goodbye, Bajaj Discover! Hope you serve your new master well. Be nice to him, and he will take care of you. Be nasty, and he could be quite the taskmaster. Unlike me, he believes in living the fast life. He might take you out on treacherous journeys across hills, or into week-long adventures into marshy lands.
I tried looking out for you, Bajaj Discover. I guess it’s just you from now on.