LUCKNOW/NEW DELHI: Among the hundreds of artefacts that adorn the walls of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, is a black-colored bicycle hanging from an iron rod.
“That’s no ordinary bicycle,” the curator of the museum told Indian journalists in December last year, just before Indian-American economist Abhijit Banerjee, who shared the economics Nobel for 2019 with Esther Duflo and Michael Cremer, was presented the award.
The bicycle, made by Atlas, belonged to another well-known son of India, economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen.
The 1998 Nobel winner used to cycle on it during his fieldwork in West Bengal, studying poverty and inequality in the impoverished regions.
Sen could not be reached for comment but he will surely rue the fact that Atlas Cycles Haryana Ltd, the makers of the iconic cycle brand, the pioneers of the cycling revolution in India and the first cycle of almost every child, is now history.
A journey that started in 1951 from a modest tin shed in Sonepat, Haryana, about 40 km from Delhi, has ended.
The company shut its last factory in Sahibabad, just outside the national capital on June 3.
A notice pasted on the gates reads: “We are facing difficulty in arranging funds for our day to- day operations. We are also unable to buy raw material. In these conditions, the management is not in a position to operate the factory.”
“On June 1 and 2, we came to the factory happy about the fact that it had opened after such a long lockdown. There was no hint by the management that it was mulling a closure,” said Mahesh Kumar, the general secretary of the employees’ union.
“On Wednesday, as we gathered at the gates we were denied entry by the guards who showed us the notice on the gate,” said Kumar, who has moved to labour court against the abrupt closure.
From Atlas old-timers and patrons of the bicycle to cycling enthusiasts, the common refrain at the company’s closure is of sadness and personal loss.
“Having worked with Atlas as a brand head the news was extremely painful and disheartening and gave me a sleepless night,” said Ashish Nagpal, who worked with the company for 19 years and now runs a cycling club, Cycle Sutra.
Nostalgia, lament as Atlas shut down UP factory
“I can confidently say that Girish Kapur and Gautam Kapur are one the best employers, God-fearing and kind-hearted people and extremely passionate about the Atlas brand. Two of the close executives are still employed at the age of 75,” Nagpal added.
“I used to ride an Atlas cycle in my childhood. It was synonymous with bicycles. We want more cycles on the roads so this news is really tragic,” said Sunita Narain, a well-known environmentalist and a cycling buff.
After its humble opening by Janki Das Kapur in 1951, Atlas quickly established itself as a leading brand. From the tin shed, it moved to a 25-acre factory complex in a record 12 months.
In the very first year of operation, 12,000 cycles rolled out of the plant. There was no looking back.
Atlas sent its first consignment overseas in 1958. It has since then exported to several countries. It introduced India’s first racing cycle in 1978 and was made the official supplier of bicycles for the Delhi Asian Games in 1982.
Its troubles began in 2004, prompting the company to rope in actor Sunil Shetty and tennis star Sania Mirza as its brand ambassadors.
Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra also endorsed the product. But falling demand forced it to shut its plant in Malanpur, Madhya Pradesh, in 2014. In 2018, it suspended operations from its Sonepat unit.
With the closure of the Sahibabad factory, the iconic brand will now only be part of memory and nostalgia.
(Reported by Namita Bajpai, Anuradha Shukla, Rajkumari Tankha and Somrita Ghosh)