Motorcycle jaunts

A way of life on wheels

When I first joined the American College as a lecturer I had a bicycle, which took me all over the town and gave me the exercise that I needed. But after awhile I decided to buy a scooter. Those days bikes and cars were not as easily available as they are today. I had to settle for an old Lambretta scooter.

A variety of bikes

I went about on this ramshackle vehicle mostly accompanied by my friend R.P.Nair, who worked in the same department. One day we were going over the Albert Victor Bridge when a great clanging was heard. A motorist overtaking us stopped and told us that a lot of parts had fallen from the scooter. Nair got off and went back some distance picking up various appurtenances of the bike, including the kick-start lever. Surprisingly the engine of the vehicle was running uninterrupted. We went straight to the mechanic where we had to spend over an hour.After that I bought a Rajdhoot Ranger and then a Jawa. We went on several trips out of town on all these bikes. Sometimes we went to Tiruchi just to see a film that would have come to Madurai after awhile anyway. We never missed the Thiruvayyaru music festival. The roads were not congested as they are now, and so we made good time reaching the venue. Our friend G.Devarajan who was an expert in Carnatic music, explained to us the various nuances of each concert.One year, I had to go alone to Thiruvayyaru since the others had left earlier. Just past Melur, a man suddenly stood in my way, brandishing a knife and signalling me to stop. I slowed down, and just as I neared him I swerved and accelerated away. He came running after the bike for a while and then gave up. It was a good thing that he didn't think of throwing the knife at my back. On the return trip Nair was on the pillion as usual, and all went well. Almost every evening some of us with bikes went about here and there just for the fun of it. We also had races in the Madurai racecourse, which those days was deserted after dark. Another lecturer, Meston Fenn, on his old Lambretta scooter sometimes beat the Jawa and Bullet riders. Dhinakaran Michael of the Zoology department occasionally raced against us on his Jawa.At about that time there was a young American, Julian Smith, who was in Madurai on the Oberlin Shansi exchange programme. Julian was a very good artist. I used to take him on my bike on sketching trips. He did several beautiful drawings of the Pudhu Mandapam and the street scenes in Madurai. He stood with a drawing pad held in his left hand and a pen in his right, with which he made a few deft strokes seemingly unrelated and then - Presto! - suddenly a picture emerged as if by magic. Intent on drawing, Julian never noticed that a crowd had gathered around him to watch. When the drawing was complete the crowd broke into applause, and only then did Julian become aware of the people. Blushing red he left the scene in a hurry. I took him once to Thanjavur and he sketched several roadside shrines on the way and other scenes that took his fancy. Julian is now an architect and is in charge of designing the satellite campus of the American College on the New Natham Road.Many lecturers went to Thekkady on bikes every year, and a lot of fun was had by all. Solomon Pappiah came on his new bike one year, riding with a great deal of nervousness, much to the amusement of all the others. On one occasion I went to Madras and back on my Jawa for no particular reason. Once I went to a village near Tiruchi with John Sahayam on his bike to attend the wedding of Samuel Sudanandha, who later became the Principal of American College. Sahayam had been my student at MCC and later was my colleague at American College. When we started in the late evening on our return journey, it started raining heavily. The visibility was very poor but fortunately there was very little traffic. After awhile the pillion rider got a liberal splashing of water on his back since there was no back flap in the bike. Soon we were both shivering and had to stop at a teashop. We exchanged places and took off again. We made several such stops to warm ourselves. The rain continued unabated until we reached Madurai.The important thing in all these jaunts is the fact that the rider and the bike develop a certain chemistry for each other until the bike seems to be an extension of the rider. When this stage is reached, riding a bike becomes not just a pleasure, but a philosophy of life. J.VASANTHAN

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