The area covering Eastern Gujarat, Western MP and South eastern Rajasthan has green forests, rolling hills and beautiful roads. As a student in Baroda in the 1960s we used to go to Chhota Udaipur and Ali Rajpur to witness the fabulous melas of the Bhil tribe. Back then the roads would be totally empty after sundown, thanks to the perception that the tribals would loot travellers. In all the years I never once heard of such an incident. The bhils led a simple pastoral life. They lived as one with nature and minded their own business. Till ‘development’ started, timber and minerals taken from their forests, large tracts of land taken away to build highways and rivers blocked with dams.
Visiting the same areas today what struck me the most were their clothes, which have changed to T shirts and pants. And the fact that almost everyone has a motorcycle. The old bullock carts, horses, camels and even bicycles have given way to these machines.
TVS, Bajaj, Kawasaki, Suzuki, you name it, everyone entered the market and everyone is doing well. India was waiting for something simple, with decent quality, inexpensive, easy to purchase and reliable. Nothing is comparable to what the 100-125cc vehicles have given the nation. And so, given half a chance our tribal communities are also using bikes. Why not?
In fact, enter mofussil towns and rural India and the results of the 100cc revolution hits you in the face.
These 100 to 125cc bikes are produced and sold by the millions and are used for commuting and any other business one may have to do on it. Cheaper than any other mode of transport, these bikes are ultra reliable and seem to run on the very smell of petrol! In fact, erstwhile Hero Honda’s great advertising line : Fill it. Shut it. Forget it, has now been proven to be a reality rather than a far fetched marketing idea of a clever advertiser.
Besides, daily commute milkmen carry 100 kilos and more of milk with ease, shopkeepers take their entire store with them, bride and bridegroom travel on it in a baaraat, double riding is the norm, triple and more is extremely common, women still ride side-saddle as pillion and when alone carry as many kids to school and back as they can, I saw even toddy tappers on motorcycles!
We even saw inter-city travellers on these small bikes. The states that are slightly prosperous see more of them but I see these econo-commuters in every nook and corner of our country. No semi-urban youth wants to be without two wheels, and now a mobile! I have even heard of fathers committing suicide because they are not able to repay loans they have taken for their son’s bikes!
Those of us who still use big bikes are few, very few compared to the millions riding around on these small bikes. Often I wonder, that when people like us travel, we have dedicated luggage, companies like Touratec eating up our wallets, GPS systems and extra lights, crash bars and hand guards, expensive clothing and helmets, turn our rider-machines into spaceships compared to the simple folks, who are funnily, going to the same destination! We overtake them at demonic speeds, while they are cruising. They pass us as we have stopped to fill our big gas tanks. We pass them again blowing them off. They meet us at the same tea shop 30 minutes later.
It humbles me to see a fellow rider on a small bike carrying five times as much, plus wife and two children. On top of that, to rub it in, he gets off and asks: ‘yeh kitna deti hai?’