The spirit of Christmas festooned the club even as dappled sunlight danced through the corridor window. On either side of the square table two smokers were debating the fate of the Nation as Hormaz Jalnawalla and I entered their hallowed space. Khushroo tapped his glass with the heavy ring on his finger and instantly Denny the barman appeared conjuring more liquid refreshment.
Gopi, his back to us and his ponytail tied neatly above the nape, was already on his second round and well into a discourse on governments within the different states of the Nation. He went on glibly to encompass the globe at large; chastising the Presidents of America, Libya and the Ghanaian Republic when Joe Antony burst on the scene:
“My nephew in Cochin called. He said, ‘Joe Chaach’ you must get the CBR 250R Honda motorbike. They had you in mind when they designed it!’”
Ponytail Gopi’s Oxford English and choice vocabulary came to an abrupt halt. My mobile was out in the instant, immediately dialling the dealer in Dindigul, from whom we had earlier purchased our Honda Unicorns.
“Joe and I would like to book two CBR 250 R’s with ABS,” I said, sending ripples through the miasma in Kodaikanal which, swelling exponentially, probably triggered off the nuclear plant disaster at Fukushima. In the event, Joe opted for a non-ABS bike as delivery of the ABS variant would take longer. I waited. Writing several letters to Honda, my observations on the matter might well have prompted them into releasing a bike at the earliest possible opportunity.
Within the month I was told to meet the Sornam Honda mechanic in Batlagundu, where he would hand over the fully registered and completely insured two wheeler. Needless to say I tempted Varadhu and Shiraz into the ride. Shortly after Varadhu’s 1000 c.c Honda and Shiraz’s ‘Fat Boy’ Harley Davidson stood at the porch of the Crystal Palace hotel, the mechanic arrived with my bike. He wanted my original passport along with four passport size photographs to boot.
To cut a long story short, I didn’t have them on me so, mounting the bike, the three of us (with the mechanic behind Shiraz on the Harley Davidson) roared down the forty kilometre strip to Dindigul. There we were fussed over by Varadhu’s agent and taken to Parson’s Court for lunch. I didn’t know such a place existed within the dreary city.
At about four in the afternoon Varadhu was getting jittery about riding in the dark – I would have been too, if I had been envisaging speeds in excess of one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour – so we pushed off, taking the longer but better riding route through Odanchattram and Palni. It was a terrific ride!
When I stopped at Varadhu’s house, which is next to mine in Kodaikanal, it was six forty-five and already dark. He had an ecstatic look about him and made just one comment before pouring out a drink: “That was one of the best rides I have been on. So glad we chose the Palni route back!”
The following Sunday was the flower-show, the boat race and, needless to say, road rage contest in this hill-station of ours. I decided to take Joe up on his offer to ride down to his farm in Palni. It was great even though the power did shut down at 11:00, leaving us in the dark for the night.
Naturally the fan didn’t work and at some point a rat found its way into the kitchen. Announcing its presence with a clatter of pots and pans and other such enterprising methods to wake us up, I had to rouse Joe from his slumber to catch the culprit. We were both wide awake by then and only managed to doze with dawn breaking after 5:00.
Joe commented wryly, “in Kodaikanal it’s the chant of the mosque but, down there, without power, it’s the drone of mosquitoes to greet you.”
Groggy, not thinking too clearly, we decided to liven things up by riding to Coimbatore, a hundred and thirty kilometres away, where we could get Joe’s bike serviced. Joe with his superior riding skills, was obviously going to be ahead of me so we planned to stop at the BP bunk in Udumalpet where I needed to tank up.
The next stop was to be Sulur, twenty kilometres short of Coimbatore, where we would decide whether to enter the City by way of Trichy road, or Avanashi, via. the airport. I got to the BP bunk and tanked up but there was no sign of Joe. Assuming that our man was enjoying the ride, I continued. Powering my way to Palladam, I was crossing the bus stand when I felt the phone vibrate. I couldn’t stop then so I rode to the end of town and returned Joe’s call. No answer! “I guess he’s now screaming down the road to Sulur,” I surmised and, with that, did exactly the same thing.
In Sulur I stopped and had a glass of tea, asking the lady if a similar machine had also stopped by earlier. A big crowd gathered to examine the bike and assured me that this was the first of its kind they had ever seen. Assuming that Joe must either be in Coimbatore or very close I called, and was pleasantly surprised when he answered immediately:
“Where are you?” he asked.
“Sulur” I said shamefacedly. It was all I could do to get speeds of up to 115, with crosswinds blowing every which way and my knapsack flopping around in diametrically opposite directions. “Where are you? Coimbatore Club or Cosmo?”
“I’m in Palni!”
“I didn’t see you in Udumalpet so I started back… looking for you! Now I’m back at the farm.”
I had a long ride back, covering 236 Kms in less than four hours. It was just as well we didn’t go to Coimbatore because the workshop there said their men were away at some training centre, learning how to service the new Honda CBR 250R’s, and that we should only come next week. I didn’t feel so bad then, saying “All’s well that ends well.”
Another night in Palni – thank the lord the power stayed with us through the night – and Rajah from Kodaikanal came down to fix the pipe through which the rat was making its entrance. I rode back up the hill the next morning with eight hundred odd kilometres on the bike and nearly ready for her first service.
Last Saturday, at the Honda workshop in Dindigul (yes, I rode down all the way) the mechanic looked at me astonished. “You’ve done a thousand kilometres in one week!”
I grinned told him that it’s not how many Kilometres you ride, it’s how you ride. I didn’t tell him that it was both Varadhu and Joe who had instructed me not to hold the handlebars tight and to use knees and the heel-lock to guide the machine through hairpin bends and steer her through monsoon winds. This of-course set up the next question.
Studying me quizzically he promptly asked, “How are old are you?”
“Why, I’ll be sixty-six come November!”
– Minoo Avari