My first real job was in the tea estates in the Niligiris. Many of the estates even today look as if they’ve just popped out of a picture postcard. When I was there in the early 1980s I was taken around in Land Rovers and on Jawa motorcycles. There are very few bikes as macho as the Jawa, the outlines so seductive that it leaves you pining to own one. Coloured like military-fatigues, the purr and the whirr of the Jawa tempted me no end, to try a shot at learning to ride it and perhaps strike a decent deal with a second-hand bike.
But the Jawa was not for me. I was slated for a far less macho-looking India import – the Suzuki. Or rather, the Ind-Suzuki as it was called, the first of the 100 cc bikes to arrive in India. It was my brother-in-law’s and he was leaving for the Gulf, so would I put the bike to good use? It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. And with what little cycling experience I had, I began my affair with a proper bike once the gleaming Ind-Suzuki arrived from Bangalore. I was also given a helmet that was military-smart.
I still remember screeching to halt at signals especially if there was a cop in sight. Some of the best moments were when I would launch into first gear and take off after a day’s work at the insurance office, right outside Harrison’s at the Anna Nagar roundabout, even as I espied a few nurses in the hospital next door grinning ear-to-ear and exchanging banter, their eyes focused on me. Or may be that was just my imagination going astray… The Ind-Suzuki behaved well, was easy to please and after a few years of use, it returned to its original home in Bangalore. It is still in the owner’s garage today, used whenever my brother-in-law visits from Dubai. And whenever I'm there, I lift up the cover and have a look at its tank, the gleam gone but the warmth still there.
When the Fiat arrived (my first car), it brought along with it quite a bit of adventure. On the evening of the first day I had taken it to work, it taught me a lesson or two. Never mistake the accelerator for the brake and if you hit something or somebody, please stop by and find out if all’s well. Below the Gemini flyover I pressed the accelerator hard and swerved as a fish-cart suddenly appeared out of nowhere. One of its wheels squealed out in pain as a few coconuts and other accoutrements toppled over. I went along pretending not to see hands trying to stop me or voices hurling abuses. As I wended my way through the traffic in T. Nagar that flush of anxiety came to the fore as I bumped into an auto-rickshaw. The driver, however, was not the kind to let me go. And so he followed me home. It all ended at a garage where I paid for the damages.
Once I was tamed, the Fiat was like a mother – always protective and friendly, despite the heat, the signals and traffic jams, and the most unpredictable drivers. When I had to finally let go of it after ten years or so, it was a sorrowful parting. Only then did I realise that you can develop close bonds with the inanimate as well.