A Bullet in Winnipeg (Manitoba) sports a Madras number plate in addition to a local one. It belongs to S. Balakrishnan, an engineer from IIT-Madras, who took great pains to restore it in Chennai and transport it to Canada. As the bike had been in Madras for over three decades, Balakrishnan wanted to retain its link with the city.
Balakrishnan's father R. Subramaniam (known to many as R.S. Mani) had an enviable bike collection which included a BSA, an Ariel and a Matchless. But the Bullet that his father picked up at an Army auction in 1970 made the deepest impression on Balakrishnan.
Mani had scooped the parts of the bike into a gunny bag and brought it home in a cycle rickshaw. It was just a two-year-old bike, but it appeared to have seen numerous summers. Father and son put the Bullet together in their house in Mylapore. The restored bike was registered in Balakrishnan's name. “I rode the bike all over Chennai in the years before I moved to Canada,” he says.
From 1975 to 1996 (when he passed away), Mani kept the Bullet moving. “My father and the bike were inseparable. By the sound of the approaching Bullet, friends and relatives knew Mani had come to visit them!” After his death, the Bullet's thumps were heard no more.
Whenever Balakrishnan visited Chennai, he thought about making the bike roadworthy again. “My son also had the same thought. He would say we should take grandpa's bike to Canada. Finally, during a visit to Chennai, we made this our goal!”
Contacting Transport Canada revealed a heartening fact. Vehicles manufactured before 1975 could be imported as antiques. “Many found my enthusiasm for bringing the old Bullet to Canada preposterous. The bike was a symbol of many good times that my father and I had together, and I did not want to let go of it. During a vacation in Chennaisix years ago, I got the bike dismantled and thoroughly serviced. It deserved a makeover before the big journey. There were just five weeks to go through this process. I found a mechanic — Varadan Motorcycle Works in Alwarpet. As my son and I spent a considerable time together in the garage to watch the bike being put together, I was flooded with memories of the bike's first restoration carried out by my dad and I.”
After a big search, Balakrishnan found a shipping agent in Egmore. The paper work was tedious. A police clearance that the bike was not stolen and a pollution certificate were mandatory. Time was running out, as Balakrishnan's planned departure was approaching fast. “With a sudden burst of energy, I ran through all of the formalities. When the bike was ready to be crated, I was told that it had to be washed free of dirt and soil. The Bullet was buffed up and looked as good as a new bike. Two days before my scheduled departure, there was a new twist to the plot. Thanks to an inane regulation, the bike could only be shipped after receiving confirmation from the airlines that I had left India. A letter from the dean of my faculty stating that I had shown up for work did the trick.”
When Balakrishnan thought he had surmounted all bureaucratic hurdles, a new problem cropped up. The RTO in Chennai wanted my original RC book to be destroyed. The dog-eared book contained 30 years of memories. Seeing it go up in flames was sad.
“A month after I left India, the bike was on its way to Vancouver. After 10 days in the harbour awaiting clearance by the Canadian customs, the crate was on the road to Winnipeg. When the crate arrived home in a truck, another unexpected problem prevented us from immediately laying hands on the bike. Thanks to fresh snow on the ground, the truck got stuck in my driveway. It was 6 p.m. and darkness had spread like a blanket. It took two hours to clear the driveway before the precious cargo was unloaded. The two hours were more frustrating than the two months it took to get the bike transported from Chennai.”