How a brush with death led a tattoo artist to modify his 1986 Yamaha RD 350 into a Skeleton Bike

In an e-card, a woman calls her friend a freak for organising a birthday party for her cat, conveniently forgetting that she herself has fixed a marriage ceremony for hers.

When I narrate the joke to a friend, who takes unloved cats under her wing, she goes pink in the face, a colour for which a deep-pink Morning Glory is no match.

Oh no, my big foot in my big mouth again!

Some people think their pets are human. They don’t think they are anthropomorphising these animals. Having had dogs that I have considered my brother or sister, I am sensitive to the brittle feelings of such animal lovers and this episode with my friend is a rare lapse.

In fact, I exercise similar cautiousness while dealing with automobile enthusiasts, having met some who think their bikes and cars are human. Therefore, when I talk to Senthil Arcot Govindraj, who has given his 1986 Yamaha RD 350 a slew of human attributes, besides a name, I tread carefully, referring to the bike as if it were his twin brother.

To view this RD 350 as human however does not call for an extreme act of the will, the bike bearing partly the shape and look of a human skeleton.

A fibre-replica of a skull has replaced the headlamp and a pair of small but powerful focus lights shoved into the eye sockets give the creepy feeling of a skeleton man peering at you. The fibre-replicas of rib bones have been spread out and fastened on to the fuel tank with nuts and bolts. A groove has been created in the tank for placing the spinal column, which is also held fast by nuts and bolts.

Call it what you will. Morbid. Unwholesome. Or gimmicky. But the skeleton bike is doing wonders for Senthil, who is in the business of attracting attention. He is a tattoo artist. Wherever he goes with this bike, he hears congratulatory noises around him. And this whacky machine serves as the ‘frontispiece’ to his tattoo studio in Indiranagar, Bangalore.

“Visitors ask me if I can modify their bikes. I am a tattoo artist and I don’t do bike makeovers. I modify my own vehicles, but have no time for others’,” says 31-year-old Senthil, who has an air-brushed image from Ramayana on the bonnet of his Tata Telcoline Pickup, his mobile tattoo studio, which recently made the distance between Bangalore and Nepal for the Fourth International Nepal Tattoo Convention.

“I am in the process of giving my 650cc Hyosung, my latest acquisition, a reptilian look,” reveals Senthil.

No matter how extraordinary his present and future automobile makeovers, the modification of his RD 350 is likely to remain his most cherished effort. Primarily because it was done under extraordinary circumstances.

“In 2008, two years after a friend gifted me this RD 350 in stock and meticulous condition, I had an accident riding it. A lot of skin was torn off my body and I was covered in blood. During my recovery, I had two vividly ghoulish dreams where skeleton-like figures showed up. And, that was the inspiration for me to do up my RD 350 in the form of skeleton, partly to symbolise my brush with death. And I renamed the bike Yama,” he explains.

The tattoo artist did not suffer any attack of scruples in modifying an iconic bike. “The charm of the RD 350 lies in its engine and performance, which are intact. The changes involve only the look of the bike,” he defends his decision.

Senthil bought a fibre replica of a skeleton from a shop on Victoria Road in Bangalore, dismantled it part by part, and set about attaching the various sections to his bike. For the mean and tough look, he wanted automotive chains to cover a part of the bike’s frame.

“As both my parents are doctors, I knew where fibre skeletons made from moulds of real skeletons were sold,” says Senthil. “I got a welder and under my directives, he welded the automotive chains on the bike.”

For greater power output, Senthil has tweaked the bike’s exhaust system, giving the dual pipes expansion chambers.

All the effort seemed to have paid off when tinsel town took notice.

Says Senthil, “My skeleton bike figured briefly in Upendra’s film, Super.”

(In another Kannada film – Anna Bond – Puneeth Rajkumar rides another bike modified to resemble a skeleton, in a more elaborate way.)