Can’t fix this

I think I was in the seventh standard when my uncle brought home a red Royal Enfield Bullet. It looked prehistoric, had no chrome, was rusted and could never start at one go. Alright, it never started. But it was the most magnificent thing that could have happened to my life. So I helped him push it, dismantle it, charge batteries, clean the plug and after all that, push it even more. I sat with him late into the night when he decided to make his own ball-bearings for it by dropping molten lead from a soldering iron on to a bucket of water. Don’t remember whether he succeeded or not, but he really tried. I remember the occasional successes as the Enfield woke up with a loud roar, accompanied by fumes and foot-long flames from its exhaust and I was rewarded with a short ride followed by some more pushing. Honestly, the thing never really ran and I am sure it had some cardinal problems like a wiring loom that was half eaten by rats. Yet, the look in my uncle’s face would never change – he was always certain that the machine was seconds away from firing up. He never gave up.
The same uncle brought home an RD350 home one day and left the keys on the bike. He always did that – he knew I would want to ride the bikes and scooters that he brought home and would leave the keys unattended. Mind you, he never gave me open permission to ride any of these bikes – the rides were hushed affairs with my parents never knowing about it. I also remember the said RD350 changing my database on motorcycles for ever.

Another fun month was when he got a Standard 10 to run. The car belonged to one of his friends but only my uncle could drive and maintain it. Since I didn’t mind pushing the car, he never minded me hanging around as he burnt his fingers trying to fiddle with the radiator cap or something like that. He was not a trained mechanic or anything, but again, he never gave up on machines.So he introduced me to Enfields, Yezdis, Standards, Morris Minors with side-valve engines, Fiat 124s, RD350s and of course the scooters he bought for my dad – a Vijay Super and a Lambretta 150 – both machines used me as a fuel more than petrol.   The first machine he actually bought and used was the Bajaj Stride – an ugly effort from Bajaj to reinvent the Vespa Clone.  But then, he didn’t have to buy new machines as long as there were cars and bikes around him that needed some kind of attention.

Later in life, I offered him my first car, a Padmini with bucket seats and floor shift gears when my company decided to give me a Maruti 800. He travelled by train to Mumbai and promptly drove the ‘black Fiat’ home. More than anything else, he was happy to have something to fiddle around with. He kept the Padmini (which ran on a cooking gas cylinder) even after he gifted himself a silver Ford Escort diesel.

Needless to say, he was a huge influence on me and was instrumental in me ending up doing more than pushing machines. And I think I made him very happy when I left the keys of the Mercedes-Benz C200 long termer hanging in the dash when I visited him at Thiruvananthapuram. The last time we met, he told me about an epic journey in the ‘black Fiat’ that saw him nurse the car for over 24 hours with a radiator leak. He obviously relished the experience.

B Jayaprakash, JP to his friends and Maman to me, passed away on April 10, 2009. He was 58. Visiting my hometown will never be the same again.