Sharmaji’s Scooter

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The Holy Book says that the Almighty created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh. There’s no mention of how did he fare on the day after the Sabbath, when the newly created world was trying to rise on its unsteady legs and in its eagerness was toppling over its own little feet, creating an unprecedented chaos. God must be harassed out of His senses on His Monday, but for His infinite patience and composure. Like the Almighty, Sharmaji never lost his composure amongst the chaos and ruins, which Mondays are known to bring invariably since the beginning of time. Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion states that ‘A body at rest or motion will continue its state, till an external force is applied.’ Monday is that external force, which causes the change.

Sharmaji was a Class II employee of Indian Railway, who took the world on its own terms with a cool aplomb of an Indian yogi. He never raised an eyebrow over the inequities and obstacles which life erected in his path with a clockwork precision. He always laughed and believed that laughter is the only magical incantation, which can exorcise the demons of trouble. According to his son Pranay, who didn’t much believe in this incessant merriment in face of adversity, it seemed that laughter simply welcomed the troubles.

This was a usual Monday and the world was in a sleepy and reluctant chaos. Sharmaji’s wife was busy in the regular chores of a housewife like preparing breakfast for the family, laying out clothes for Sharmaji, preparing the school bag for her daughter, who had to leave in 10 minutes, locating socks for her son, who had joined a new job and was hurrying to leave etc. The little house was resembling a battlefield with associated cacophony. Chaos reigned! All this while Sharmaji was standing before the small altar, peaceful and resplendent in a bath towel and was reciting arti to various small gods on it. Suddenly, the light went. Powercuts are a regular part of life in a small town. As per some regulation of the Electricity Board, the powercuts can be done only when it’s most inconvenient to the consumers. The cacophony and bustle was doubled with everyone shouting with increased urgency. Sharmaji increased his voice, thus contributing his own share. An enjoyable time was being had by all!

Whenever I see a housewife hustling in a kitchen and trying to bring order to the chaos, I believe that God must certainly be a woman. The fact that in spite of our wholehearted and earnest efforts of pushing the world off a cliff, the world still continues to function on all four cylinders, is a decisive vote of confidence in the favor of the Almighty being a woman.

Sharmaji and Pranay finally left for their offices. Pranay was grumbling as he did not want to be late for his new job. Nothing could induce a sense of urgency in Sharmaji, who went sedately to his Bajaj Cub scooter and tried to start it. Bajaj had been one of the most successful automobile company of yesteryears and the Cub was one of its earlier models, which was phased out soon after its launch. There was a ritual to start a Bajaj scooter. One had to pull the choke and then tilt the scooter to its right side. This caused the petrol to flow in the carburetor, which was located on the right side of the engine for reasons best known to the designers, no doubt in best interests of technology. This was a ritual, which needed to be conducted like those ancient aborigines performing various war dances to propitiate some arcane and vicious god. After this, the rider used to crank the kick to start the vehicle, while holding his breath. After a bit of cajoling, the scooter usually started, while the rider let out his pent up breath.

Sharmaji performed the necessary rites and then cranked the engine. The engine protested like a whiny child being woken up. Sharmaji looked at Pranay with a beginning of a smile which faded after seeing the scowl on his face. He tilted the scooter once more and cranked it thrice. The engine reluctantly started, spewing black smoke and they were off.

The scooter puttered along on the road at the breakneck speed of 30 Kmph with a tranquil Sharmaji humming snatches of some long forgotten song. Early morning breeze was ruffling whatever hair remained on his scalp. His son was sitting behind him and fidgeting. He saw an 8 seater autorickshaw puttering ahead happily and stifled a curse! Suddenly the engine gasped and stuttered as if drawing its last breath and stalled. Sharmaji got down from his steed and tried to start it, with Pranay hopping behind him impatiently. “Some major issue with the engine.” Sharmaji announced cheerfully. “Let’s take a rickshaw.”

Pranay immediately hailed a passing rickshaw while Sharmaji was trying to call his mechanic Kaderbhai to cart the scooter away to his garage. Kaderbhai was more like a family member than a technician, considering the number of times he had visited his home in the last 10 years to get the scooter working. He knew his kids since their childhood and used to bring and receive gifts on festivals.

Sharmaji was happily prattling about various things, including the current crisis in Middle East, to which his son was nodding absently, at times interjecting a bland comment of his own, which was ignored anyway. Some people are self-contained like those villas with their own gardens and swimming pools. They don’t require any outside help for luxury and happiness. They don’t rely on their peers for acceptance or approval. As long as they can hear their own sound voicing their own thoughts, they are content, irrespective of the feelings or emotions of the world. Sharmaji was blessed with this rare trait and was soliloquizing on the ways the prime minister can improve the economy, when Pranay alighted from the rickshaw. Such obstacles may temporarily daunt a great warrior, but they never can stop them. Sharmaji was nonplussed for a second after he found himself suddenly devoid of his listener, then he immediately rallied around and found another target. Fortunately the rickshaw puller was a bit hard of hearing and the journey continued happily.

In the afternoon, anxious Sharmaji called Kaderbhai again, ย who assured him that their isn’t much issue with the scooter. The carburetor was chocked with carbon and he had cleaned it. Sharmaji sighed with relief.

He returned in evening and was surprised to find everyone in a jubilant mood. Pure happiness is a rarity in a middle class home, where each day is a struggle with some known or unknown crisis. The members are either heaving a sigh of relief at reprieve or holding their breath for another bout with the treacherous destiny. There are very few moments, when the inmates are lucky enough to get pure happiness, unless they were of the Sufi nature, as our Sharmaji, who always smiled. It was an atmosphere of festivity. Everyone was beaming. Pranay stepped forward and gave a key to Sharmaji. He looked at the key and then gave a puzzled look to Pranay, who had a big smile on his face. “Now you don’t need to drag that rusted ironmongery around, papa. There’s your new bike!”

Sharmaji was happy and proud as befitting a father, who sees his son doing well. It had taken 10 years of saving for him to get his scooter and his son managed it within three months of his new job! He was blissfully unaware of the loan which enabled his son to manage this feat. Everyone gathered around the shiny bike and listened to the expert opinion of Kaderbhai, who explained about the differential gear ratio and torque and whatnot, and what made this bike superior to the 2 stroke engine of the old scooter. Sharmaji understood about one word in seven and kept nodding intelligently. He looked at his son proudly and smiled. “Thank you, Pranay, but I’m too old to ride this bike. The old scooter is fine for me. You can keep this for yourself.” Then he saw for the first time that the usual space reserved for the scooter was empty.

“Kader, you said that the issue is fixed, then why didn’t you bring the scooter?” He asked the bearded mechanic anxiously, who suddenly found something of interest on the ground and refrained from answering.

“Oh, papa! I sold it for โ‚น2,500, which was the most generous price I could get for that heap of junk! If you don’t like to ride the bike, no problem. I can always drop you and bring you back from your office!” Pranay said hugging him.

Technically a vehicle can be considered an inanimate object, but very few things in life are as animated as it. There are various sweet and sour memories associated with it. Sharmaji had bought this scooter 15 years ago, when his son was a just a kid in knickers, bringing a wet rag to polish the scooter. The same son was taller than him now. Human mind doesn’t store memories like those computer disks in bits and bytes. It associates memories with events, things, smells and other external influences. The scooter was linked with many ups and downs of his life.

Suddenly an image rose before his eyes. His scooter standing in a junkyard, waiting for the cutter to cut open its innards and convert it to junk. The pile of metal suddenly became alive with feelings and emotions in his mind. Those feelings and emotions were oddly mirroring his own! His eyes turned misty and he lost his smile. Kaderbhai clapped on his shoulder with a bonhomie. Sharmaji looked at him with dewy eyes. Kaderbhai couldn’t meet those moist eyes.

Finally that Monday had arrived, which shook the Godlike composure of Sharmaji. For the only time in his life, Sharmaji tried to smile, but failed.

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19 responses to “Sharmaji’s Scooter

  1. Beautiful story. First I must say you describe small nuances in a persons life so beautifully in such detail. Then comes the issues of attachment. We like old things, that stood by us in good times and bad times. We form a relationship. We talk to them. Sharma ji was no different. Sharma ji’s son, though well intentioned, was from a different generation he had not attachment with scooter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sir, actually, I’m a biker. Bajaj Cub was the first vehicle, where I learned my riding.

      Human mind is a marvelous machine, isn’t it? We smell a dandelion in a garden, and it reminds us of the fragrance of the palm of that girl, who slapped us when we teased her during our school days, while we teased her! We always associate memories with various props.

      I was Sharmaji’s Son. Ab sudhar gaya. Tab mai bhi waisa hi kutta tha. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A fitting ode to Hamara Bajaj, the memories and anecdotes that made me smile. It brought a nation together and felt the Bajaj scooter like one lively character in the narrative. Super like, Rakesh!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bajaj Cub was the first two wheeler I ever rode, so always had a soft corner for that ungainly but popular vehicle. That and the Lambretta. The tilting ritual, the hand gears, the protesting engine, once we cross the breakneck speed of 40… It was a cult symbol of the Family Man of the bygone era! Yamaha RX100 being for unruly brats like me, for its flashing ride! ๐Ÿ˜€

      Thank you for liking it, Vishal! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

        • Ah! Biking has been one of my passions. Once a biker, always a biker! I had a second hand Royal Enfield Bullet, 1972 model of army issue and have traveled entire Maharashtra and Goa on it. I and few of my similarly crazy friends. The 350cc engine was more to me than the 1100cc of a Harley. Time has mellowed and toned down what was a fiery passion once, but I still have that maverick flame hidden somewhere deep within. ๐Ÿ˜€

          According to me, biking and hitchhiking are the best and most enjoyable means of traveling. You become a part of the nature, but on your own terms.

          Like

  3. A relatable story. Can you believe, my uncle still has in his possession a Bajaj scooter? It works but, he doesn’t ride it anymore. For the very same reasons you’ve described here, he refused to get parted with the scooter. It created a fracas with my cousins, but he remained intransigent.

    The inanimate things sometimes become a part of our life, a valuable part. We have a chair (at my parent’s place) where my sister and I used to sit during our studies. As it was not possible for it to make place for two persons simultaneously, we used to sit on it by turn ๐Ÿ˜€ The simple, wooden chair was unimaginably comfortable! Still, it is there, even though it looks odd among all other new furniture, we are too much in love with it to let it go…. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Wonderful narration and detailing, as always.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This one is emotional, so quite my kind. I could see many real characters from my life in Sharmaji. Iโ€™ve seen similar tears in my fatherโ€™s eyes when he had to sell his hard-earned maruti 800 in 1997. Sometimes we get too attached to our old possessions that they become part of our family.

    I liked the way you have narrated a housewifeโ€™s efforts to bring order to the chaos of the house. The rituals to start a scooter with such minor detailsโ€ฆ.. Now I understand why people tilt their scooters before getting it started. I never knew the fact. Thatโ€™s how you make people understand life with its intricacies.

    As usual a great narrative! But this one is surely one of my favorites written by you for it touched the emotional cords.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was missing your comment! ๐Ÿ™‚

      When I sold my Enfield Bullet in 2002, I was heartbroken for days. That was the first vehicle I owned and selling it was a bad decision, which I’ll always regret. Once a biker, always a biker. Even today, when I see a classic old model Bullet with wrong side gears, I miss my bike. It was a part of my life. Don’t know what made me sell it! :/

      Thank you for liking it, Sangeetaji! It’s a great morale booster! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My father used to pick me and my sister from school in his Yezdi and later Yamaha Rx100 and that too wearing a bright orange wind cheater. My friends would always tease me that your “Orange Father” has come.

    Now I wonder how for years he manages the routine to drop and pick up be it rain or sun.

    All those are gone but what still remains is the Luna 1984 model, even though it doesn’t run but my father has kept that, I still don’t know the reason why may be because I have not grown up enough to understand its importance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yamaha RX 100 was an iconic bike, which I still love. So do Yezdi, Rajdoot and Yamaha 350cc. These were cult bikes, which are vintage nowadays.

      Thanks for your comment, sir! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A hamara bajaj story which resonates with all of us who belong to that era, we went through the same routine until dad’s congenital heart problem surfaced and he reluctantly sold it. An iconic star that bit the dust. Coming back to Sharmaji’s story, the beautiful transformation that you made of manic Mondays to magnificent ones is truly remarkable and loved the Newton’s second law of motion metaphor. I learnt a new word “arcane” and also noticed a typo of “alter” instead of “altar”.
    An enjoyable account of the aam admi and his small pleasures!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Sunita! True happiness can be defined as a typo pointed out by someone in a lengthy story. It proves that the critic has taken the trouble to not only read it full, but to concentrate enough on it to unearth an error, which was overlooked by the writer. Thank you for giving me that happiness! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve rectified it.

      My dad had a second hand Bajaj Cub. I learned to ride on it. It was sold in 98, when I bought a Bullet. It was a really depressing moment for him. The character of Sharmaji is sketched on my dad.

      Thanks again for reading it! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is a delight to read your stories with characters so real and the narration so very engaging that I could read them not once but over and over again. Happy that you take things in the right perspective, again a hallmark of the great virtues that you are endowed with.
        All along, i was thinking that Sharmaji was a real character staying in your neighbourhood!

        Liked by 1 person

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