Chunnu Munnu de Papa di Gaddi

sandeep-sir-284x300By Sandeep Sahu

There is something about all things first in life that make them very special: your first bicycle ride, your first brush with angoor ki beti, your first love, your first child … you name it. But the one ‘first’ in my life that has gone beyond the realm of nostalgia and has stood the rather tough test of time is my first vehicle: a Bajaj 100 cc Cub scooter purchased – in installments – way back in 1990 that can still whiz past the latest fancy 100 cc bike on the road.

There have been countless offers made – by friends, acquaintances and garagewallahs – during the last two and a half decades to buy this prized possession of mine – obviously at a price that is one fifth of the price  at which it was bought or may be even less. The offers became more frequent and persistent after I mustered the wherewithal to buy a car and reached a crescendo after I bought a Scooty Pep for my then school going daughter. Logically, there was very little reason to hold on to this antique from another era. For one thing, it took up precious space in a garage already cramped for space with the car and the Scooty. For another, whenever I am in the mood to discard the car for a moment and ride a two-wheeler instead (mostly on the evening round), I unfailingly go for the Scooty rather than the Cub. There are times when the Cub remains untouched for months on end and gathers a thick layer of dust in the process.

If I have steadfastly resisted all enticements – and gentle prodding from friends and family – to sell off my Cub despite all this, the reason is not just bleary-eyed nostalgia (though I must admit it is a very strong reason), but its utility in times of need. Having given the car to the service station for a customary check-up recently, I took out the Scooty to go somewhere only to find that the engine would just not start. After a few tries, I understood that the battery had gone kaput due to several weeks of disuse. I tried the kick, but that didn’t help either. It was then that I suddenly remembered my long forgotten first love. I rubbed the centimeter-thick layer of dust off the seat, the handle and any other part that could come in contact with some part of my body and then tilted it at a 45% degree angle – in the great Bajaj tradition – before pressing the kick. Vrooooooommmmmmmmmm, it roared, like the Cub that it really is!!

I really marvel at the sophistry of the engineering. In 26 years, this Cub of mine, with an electronic ignition system, has never known what is commonly known as ‘starting problem’. For 26 years, it has given me a mileage of more than 45 km for a litre. {At its prime, it used to give 50+). Coming as it does with just three gears, I can drive it at any speed between 10-100 km an hour without having to change gears. No ghati is big enough for this pint-sized dynamo. And it can take an enormous amount of load too. On one occasion, I remember having accomplished the impossible feat of bearing two rather plump pillion riders (both of them women and thus sitting sideways) with a small child standing on the foot rest between two enormous bags spread out on either side of it – one containing grocery and the other vegetables. A true ‘Chunnu Munnu de Papa di Gaddi’, if ever there was one!

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It has been an abiding mystery for me as to why Bajaj chose to yank this enviable model off the market barely a couple of years after it was launched. [It is another matter that the onslaught of the bike has now pushed the whole breed of ‘scooters’ out of the market.] My little Cub thus is now a bona fide endangered species, but without the protective cover of a conservation law. That is why I have taken it upon myself the task of preserving it for posterity!

Now for the nostalgia part.

I grew up watching an old, rusting Raleigh cycle without a seat, bell or tyres abandoned in a less frequented corner of the house. I had never seen anyone ride this cycle that my father, I was told, once rode to college. It would be transported, along with the rest of the belongings of the house, to a new place every time my father was transferred (which was quite often). While in college, I once innocently proposed to my father that we sell off the cycle. “But why?” asked my father. “Because there is no point keeping it. It holds up space and – in any case – nobody rides it,’ I said. “Well, if you need a new cycle, tell me. I will get one tomorrow morning. As for space, I think there is plenty of it in the house,” he said in a voice with an unmistakable tinge of irritation. I was wise enough never to broach the subject again and clever enough to come out with a revised proposal that he found hard to say no to: spending some money and getting the cycle back in shape. Sure enough, it was done in next to no time and I rode it to my college!

My father obviously did not want to part with his dear cycle because it was part of his memories of a bygone era. And I don’t want to part with my cuddly little Cub for precisely the same reason. Coming as it did a year after my daughter’s birth, the Cub has carried me, my wife and daughter (and sometimes an additional person) – through thick and thin, through rain and sunshine, through traffic snarls and difficult terrain – on its tender and yet sturdy shoulders all over the city and even beyond, and has become an integral part of my life in the process. There is nothing in this world that I would sell this priceless possession of mine for.