My father's son

Not too long ago, I was introduced to this group of cool folk. And I must have stuck out like a sore thumb. There I was, dressed in my oil-stained Levis and a simple T shirt, faded with use and adorned with what else but some print that was motorcycling related. They were draped in the latest threads, complete with that season's hottest sunglasses (so what if it was well past eight pm at the time) and shoes of the sort that rap stars place on altars in their sprawling estates.

After assessing this specimen before them, one of them asked me what I did for a living. Just then, before I could even speak, my old beat up cell - that was obsolete the very same day that I had bought it nearly four years ago - rang and I pulled it out of my pocket to answer the call. All eight pairs of eyes rolled on to the sight of that dinosaur in my hands.

'I ride and write and build old motorcycles for a living', I tell them, their eyes following my phone as I slide it back into those faded denim pockets. 'Oh okay, but what do you do for a living', they ask me once again. 'I just told you, I ride and write and restore old motorcycles for a living', I repeat. And by now, they throwing each other nervous glances and murmuring something amongst themselves.

They don't get it. And I reckon they never will. With all that conditioning in school, at home, it has moulded them into believing that apart from growing up to be a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or a banker, there isn't anything else in this world that is worth doing.

A mechanic is automatically summed up to be someone who couldn't clear grade three in school. A writer is a looner who cannot hold onto a 'normal' job. A motorcycle restorer is a grease monkey who can't update his knowledge to machinery more current. A motorcyclist is a bloke who bullied the studious folk in school and although he's grown physically, mentally, he's still that ten year old bully in the school yard.

I must admit, I have never found the need to fit in. Now although that might seem like a boast, it is anything but. It's an honest admission. I have never felt the urge to get myself the hottest video game nor do I recollect ever troubling my folks for spiffy sports shoes or anything of the like. Kids growing up with me would have a new school bag every year, I did just as well with that khaki coloured canvas bag that did a wonderful job in lugging my books to class every day for years on end.

My dad always proudly tells me that his first job was in a glass factory not too far from his house. His job was to assist the glass blowers by carrying molten glass in large vats around. His salary was a paltry 2 'annas' a week. But his dad, and my grandfather, said that work was what shaped the man and my dad was only too happy to work his way through his school vacations. He went through college and then joined a multinational company as an apprentice on the shop floor. Sure, he was a qualified engineer at the time, but he wanted to learn his trade right from the bottom. His peers scoffed at him as he got his hands and clothes dirty while they sat in air-conditioned offices, but he smiled back at them. Slowly, he worked his way up and built a life for himself.

I have grown up seeing him fix nearly everything at home, right from a busted faucet to his Jawa 250, with its innards scattered on an old bedsheet spread out on the balcony. He could have simply called the plumber. Or have had the neighbourhood mechanic push the bike to the garage to get it fixed. But my dad, being the man that he is, chose to do it himself. I remember Sundays spent with dad as he taught me the nuances of motorcycle maintenance.

Many Sundays later, I come home with the offer letter for my first job. I was to be hired as a mechanic in an authorised car workshop. My mom smiled. My dad gave me a firm tap on my shoulder. I had done my folks proud.

Of course, I didn't have the money to splurge on clubs and fancy coffee shops. But I now had access to tools and contacts with some of the best machinists and spare parts shops in town. I rebuilt my first engine when I was 16 years old. It was from a derelict Sunny Zip that a neighbour dumped into my willing arms. I polished the first engine head in my life when I was 18 years old, under guidance from one of the best of his time. The head belonged to my dad's Padmini. Dad played test driver. I clearly remember the grin plastered across his face as he drove back into the compound.

The day I become a Dad, I will strive to be sort of father mine is to me. Motorcycles have kept me away from many vices in life; picked me up when I was broken and have been the sole witnesses of some of the best adventures I have had in my life. I have met the best people simply because of my passion for a pair of wheels and working on bikes has taught me lessons no school or self-help guru ever could. I am proud to be who I am - oil soaked, grease under my nails, grazed knuckles and calluses on my palms. I am after all, but my father's son.