A way from the chaotic metro traffic, in a Tier-II city, as the bus I was travelling stopped at a traffic signal, I had chance to see a refurbished Bajaj scooter parked majestically on the portico of a house, with its front wheel above the ground. This cute automobile should have served its master at least for two decades now. It took me back to my days with one such scooter of my father’s.
Early in the ’80s, one had to wait for at least eight months to get one scooter and people tried even through an NRI quota to get it faster. The scooter, especially Bajaj Chetak and Super, was the king in its era. In the fag end of his career, my dad wanted to invest on a scooter through a vehicle loan. In my twenties, men of my age didn’t always like the scooter for its basic features. The trend was to put the legs over the bike and ride it unlike the scooter where one has to sneak through the opening in the front.
Reluctantly I started using it for around two years. It was the easiest way to start riding a tw0- wheeler with an easy hand gear. But it was heavy, not balanced like the bike, had smaller wheels and the weight always tilted towards one side. In plain words, I couldn’t vroom at top speed like a bike for the fear of skidding while braking. Due to the poor shock absorber, as it scans every pothole, the shock was usually absorbed by my neck and shoulders. The situation was worse when women rode pillion seated on one side. The result was cervical spondilitis. But by this time, it had become very dear to me. This made me wonder why my college professors, despite their abdomen belt, still preferred riding scooters.
I could comfortably keep a helmet in the helmet box and use the side tool box for storing small items, especially to keep slippers near temples where there were no chappal stands. The space near my legs, which first made me think the scooter was feminine, could be good enough even for a half-HP motor.
Leaving the scooter to rest on its straight stand, tilting it on one side for petrol flow and balancing it before a smooth kick, was a wonderful procedure. I could hold on to the handle bar with one hand while tilting and the whole weight was perfectly balanced on that side. Now I felt the scooter was truly masculine, sturdy and also most comfortable to travel in the worst gradient because the shaft system doesn’t loosen like the chain system while shifting gears.
As fuel prices sky-rocketed, having a scooter became economically unviable. Mechanics too didn’t know how to repair a geared scooter. I did not know what to do after getting rid of the scooter. It could fetch a very low price in exchange but the repairs that recurred were more than the value of the scooter itself. I had to give it to a friend of 18 years and that was also the end of an era of geared scooters. But the bike now didn’t suit a family man. The side hanger cannot bear much load and the modern day pillion is not comfortable for older women. Now there are scooters all over — fully automatic — no gears, have a side stand and a button start.
My flash back jerked a bit as the bus driver pressed the accelerator on a green signal. For me now, the scooter looked like a warrior’s horse, majestically standing on its hind legs with its front legs lifted and raring to go. Silently, I saluted the owner for relying on its soldier against all odds.