The Way of the Bullet

The course of history as we know it today was decided in many ways by the Enfield Bullet. The venerable R K Pachauri never owned or tried to start a Bullet in his lifetime. Neither did Robert M Persig. And so today we have thousands of scientists, reams of data and sponsored vacations devoted to a supposed “voodoo science”. And we do not have to read a best-seller called “Zen & the Art of Starting a Bullet”.

It can be safely said that there is no more unpredictable, even mystical phenomena known to the human world than the simple act of kick-starting a Bullet to life. All it requires is gas, compression, spark and a kick. However it is a potent mixture that can reduce adult men to tears. And yet when the conditions are right (wonder what they are??), even a toddler or an ultra light female can coax it to life. (As proved amply in the picture below).

There are Enfield bikes now that sport electric push button starts and so on and so forth. However, if a bullet does not want to start, it will not. Currently, the best available technique to get a reluctant engine to get going is to get a cup of tea, take a stroll and try again in 10 minutes.

Once it does get going though, there is no sweeter sound in the automobile world than that distinguished, regal thump. Autos from the 1950s are called vintage; other near obsolete automations antique. The Bullet is neither. It is an anachronism. It is built for thumping unhurriedly on the long road, regardless of hills or potholes and not for swerving and zipping around in traffic. The seats and tires are broad; comfort and not style is the maxim. Its suspension does not “smoothly swallows up the imperfections of the road”, but neither does it tip awkwardly after hitting a pothole. In fact, it would take a lot of effort to fall of a Bullet other than in extraordinary circumstances. And they simply did not have an impending fuel crisis during the 1950s.

Each of these bikes have a unique character of their own and for that reason, the relation between a Bullet and its rider is a lot like that between an elephant and its mahout. You can hug a bullet or  kick and swear at one. You don’t wash  one, you bathe it. Can you imagine doing that to a Hero Honda Splendor? This elephantine quality comes in when you look at the Bullet’s aesthetics too. The individual parts are not perfect (bulbous tank, big round headlight, sluggish brakes, leaky parts etc) , but the whole has a certain large-boned beauty to it. Like an elephant.

A Bullet, like its ad says, lets you ‘leave home’. And gets you into trouble in the most unlikely of places, far from human habitation in the hills and in front of Jal Mahal at midnight on Holi just being two examples.

It lets you connect to strangers on the road like nothing else can. I have had a policeman come over and start my Old Man for me after I had given up; a pump attendant lovingly polish that bulbous tank after topping up; 3 school kids whoop behind me on their way home, Sardars tailing me to advise changing my air filter……the list is endless. You will get admiring glances at traffic lights; but beware, do not for a moment believe they are for you. Do that and the creature below you will show you who the hero is. By shutting down and refusing to start again till you apologise. You get comments too, “Raja gaadi hai saab..” on one side and “Kitna shor karta hai..diesel par chalta hai kya?” on the other. Kipling did not say “North is North and South is South, and never shall the two twains meet” about India, but if there is a common thread that can join hot headed Sardars to the ubiquitous Madrasi, it is the passion for this Raja Gaadi.

Owning a Bullet is in many ways like an Indian marriage. You are compelled to drive one. It teaches you patience, tolerance and endurance. You love it despite its many faults. And because you cannot ride a goat after getting used to an elephant, a divorce is unthinkable. Simply put, whether you like it or not, you are hooked for life.

By owning a Bullet, you do not join a cult. That is for lesser immortals.You adopt a way of life.

Welcome to the Way of the Bullet.

♣          ♣           ♣

P.S: My Old Man sometimes frustrates and sometimes confounds, but is an untiring companion.

A day at Mrs.Patil’s

We called on Mrs. Patil on Saturday. She wasn’t home but was gracious enough to let us have a look around her place. And it made our day.

An old friend Siva, was meeting me after nearly two years and old friends don’t bring stale news. He came armed with passes for a little tour inside Mrs.Patil’s house through an acquaintance of his who works for her.

I have been in front of those humongous gates, at the very crest of broad Vijay Path, before. Each time though only to take a u-turn and head back through Rajpath and down to the common man’s Janpath. The gate didn’t open today either. It turns out they open only for the President and her choicest guests.

We were ushered in  past 4 layers of security before we parked inside. The building is enormous. The forecourt is even more enormous. Mr. Edwin Lutyens obviously spent a lot of time making everything about the place  enormous and grand. Work on the building commenced in 1911-12 after the King and Queen announced Delhi as the new capital with the seat of power at the ‘Viceroy’s House’. Work was stopped when the First World War began and resumed only in 1920-21. When it was finally completed in 1928, it became the single largest building housing any Head of State and remains so to this date. The building is spread over 5 acres, in the backyard is the spectacular Mughal Gardens (15 acres) and the total area of Raisina Hill is 300 odd acres.

I walked down to the gates, just to have a feel of how the world looks like from inside. For all its grandeur, the Rashtrapati Bhawan would seem rather lonely without the imposing presence of North & South Blocks which flank it. Stories abound of clashes of the ego between Lutyens and Herbert Baker who designed the ‘twins’. Between the gates and the Bhawan, the Jaipur Column stands proud and tall. It was gifted by the Maharaja of Jaipur (peculiarly titled “Major General”) to commemorate Delhi’s rise to capital-hood. On one side is this inscription, on another the coat of arms of England and on the third, a layout of India Gate and its neighboring areas. The fourth face has the inscription, ‘So May India be Great”. The column is crowned by the “Star of India”, that is also a magnetic compass.

TheGates

A large flight of steps from the forecourt leading into the building and presumably used only by Mrs.Patil passes by a one-eared bronze bull and strangely, unkempt pools of water. We waited in a drab reception room for an hour before gaining entry and found out that on Tuesdays and Saturdays, people who can manage security passes are given guided tours of some parts of the place. We were joined by a couple of Malayali families (small world!). Sadly cameras and mobiles are not allowed beyond the reception room.

bellyofthe beast

An all-white clad, typically sarkari guide led our impromptu group through huge, arched and darkly lit corridors that give you the impression of walking through some ancient beast’s belly. Our first stop was the Marble Hall, where you can find marble busts and life size canvases of dignitaries of the Empire, including the royal personages. It also has the chairs, that the King and Queen were seated on when declaring Delhi as the new capital in 1911. Next we visited the “Kitchen Museum”, the only one of its kind in the world or so the guide claimed. It has all sorts of cutlery and utensils and knives and what not. My personal favorite was a 3 foot tall coffee filter of brass and steel. There was even a folding picnic box with wooden thermos, plates & glasses!

On our way to the in-house Museum, we met a four-headed, one thousand armed Buddha gifted from Vietnam. The museum itself is really a collection of the gifts that Indian presidents have received from other heads of state. The gifts range from gold leaf crowns from Greece and magnificently carved daggers in ivory sheaths from Malaya to gold embroidered blue-velvet gowns from Kazakhstan. With all due respect to Mr.APJ, it would have been hilarious to seem him wearing these items 😉 Strangely, there was also a gift from Vodafone Essar (gold of course). There is enough gold in that ‘museum’ to buy out a small country.

Next up was the Durbar Hall, which is right underneath the great spherical Chhattri that adorns the building. This is where the country’s highest military and civilian awards are given away. There is a slightly raised dais at the head, which has a 2000-year old Buddha statue. The Buddha is the exact centre of the building and his feet are at exactly the same height as the top of India Gate. From the apex of the dome, a spectacular, gobsmacking chandelier hangs at least 20 feet down. The thing must weigh a few tons. And I thought the 2 foot one in the reception room was pretty.

theimposter

Nearby, is the Ashoka Hall. It used to be the ball room prior to 1947. The wooden floors are still retained intact (and from the musty smell and faded look, so too are the maroon carpets). The ceiling is covered, in Sistine Chapel fashion, with beautiful Persian paintings on canvas. I could make out Sorab and Rustom up there. This is the venue where the sports awards and swearing in ceremonies are held.

We walked through a mostly barren Mughal Garden. It is at its finest in February when it is an explosion of colour and fragrances.

Our last stop was the banquet hall. It has a huge table of Burma Teak that can seat 104 in the centre. The walls have life size photographs of former presidents and ancient weapons. The mechanics of handling such a large (usually esteemed too) gathering was demonstrated by our guide.

There is a waiter for every 2nd  guest; so there are 26 on each side of the table. A Head waiter stands at the head to direct operations. Look carefully and just above Venkatraman’s or Giani Zail Singh’s head you’ll notice three little lights (red, blue and green). The Head Waiter controls these lights and the waiters’ eyes are glued to them. When the blue is on, it signals the serving of a course. When the red is flashed, the table is to be cleared and when the green is turned on, the 26 on each flank turn as one and march single-file into the wings. A second flash of the green and they return with the next course and the cycle resumes! Surely, this too is a remnant from the days of the Empire. It seemed very un-Indian to me 🙂

Gracious as Mrs.Patil was in letting us look around, she was a poor host. We were not offered even a cup of tea. Well, I guess that’s too much of an ask but, not a single cooler or dispenser we came across had a drop of potable water in it! To be honest though, the guests at this place don’t drink from coolers.

Besides Mrs.Patil’s residence, the building also houses the President’s secretariat, a cabinet wing and a guests’ wing. The basement floor houses a cinema, kitchen, laundry, bakery, wine cellar and anything else one could think of.

By then we had encroached upon the guide’s lunch hour and we were escorted out for ‘security reasons’. What we saw was but a fraction of the entire complex of 340 rooms and halls, but it was enough to leave us feeling a little overwhelmed and giddy.

Once outside I found myself dealing with one of life’s greatest riddles. I have always wondered why crazy fans brave grave bodily threats like a shoulder charge from Andrew Symonds to run on to the field? What is it that prompts a regular English bulldog to run naked onto Centre Court and skip over the net while Roger giggles?

I had a momentary glimpse into that unique frame of mind in the courtyard. The Old Man had just been coaxed (more like kickboxed) into starting when I had this irresistable urge to drive myself around the forecourt. And in the event make the unique record of being the first Malayali to drive a second-hand Bullet around the President’s courtyard. I had involuntarily started in that general direction, but out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed guards from the Assam Rifles and sanity prevailed. Thank god they carried cannons and not lathis. The surprisingly friendly guards were happy enough though to let me pose for a picture in front of the building (I wonder if that is some kind of a record too?).

This definitely is the best house in town; but how the hell does a person live in a house with 340 rooms?? And worse, how the hell can he move out after getting used to it over 5 years???

Warning: All facts and figures quoted in this post may be erroneous due to their dependence on the guide and my feeble memory.

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