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.
This post was originally published on 'Follow the Lodestar'.