Bajaj Auto is now a leading manufacturer of motorcycles in India – a far cry from the days when it was known for scooters and motorcycles were incidental part of its portfolio. The transformation is meaningful as it reflects the changing aspirations of youth in India.
And to think of times when Bajaj promoted a popular ad jingle ‘Chunnu Munnu de papa di Gaddi’ championing its scooter as the stallion for the burgeoning middle-class is surely a trip down the memory lane. Even I used a Bajaj scooter for about a year and I did not even know how to drive a bike in those days.
I had just completed my MBA and moved to our ancestral home in Chintadripet,Chennai. I was lucky to get a good job opportunity and soon was leading a sales team of 50 odd salesman engaged in promoting retail finance options to customers buying consumer durables across retails stores in the city. I dealt with all segments from the one’s shopping in Spencer’s Plaza to other’s in the inner lanes of Royapuram and North Madras. The job had me on the move all the time and the most sensible and affordable option for me was to buy a bike on a ‘Hire-Purchase’ option.
Instead my elder brother gifted me his 14-year-old Bajaj scooter that had travelled with him in various cities including Satara, Sholapur, Pune, Indore and Vellore as he kept moving places beginning as a ‘Medical Representative’ and ending as a ‘Regional Training Manager’. The advantage was that I was well familiar in handling it and of course I had never ridden a bike before.
There were far more practical considerations as well – the scooter could be left in any lane without worries of anything happening to it, it was convenient to carry a helmet that was being zealously enforced by the Traffic police, it gave ample leg room to carry my office bag (something a bike’s inherent design can never quite address) and it was readily available for use without any hitches.
I decided to use it as interim solution for about six months and then upgrade to a bike. It was definitely an image issue for a Sales Manager to move about on an old odd-ball scooter instead of trying to upgrade to an entry-level car and led to snide remarks and being a butt of many jokes. But even after my MBA pedigree and MNC job, there was a stubborn streak in me that came from having survived the mean streets of the inner city. No one without a thick skin can be successful in a sales job so I just ignored the chatter and moved on.
It helped me deal with my sales team who were otherwise up to a bagful of Monkey tricks and would never easily deliver their numbers. My scooter and Chennai slang made it easy to communicate and bond with them. Even the dealer managers were comfortable with a funny guy coming all dressed up with a tie but who did not mind sharing a ‘chai cutting’ and 10 minutes of local talk in their own mozhi.
I was a maniac as a driver but could zip across locations faster than anyone. Even my Sales Manager who would otherwise prefer to use his Maruti Zen, didn’t mind to hop on do that we could beat the evening hour traffic on Mount Road and reach our processing unit in a jiffy. I used to wildly manoeuvre and reassure him that there was less risk of toppling over while using a scooter because of lower level of ‘centre of gravity’.
My scooter was beyond conventional schemes of scheduled servicing at an Authorized Service Centre and so I found a friendly bloke in the notorious Pudupet area who could be the beast in running condition. Only he could make sense of the old warhorse and manage its whimsical settings. I also had a problem in parking it near my home and found a unique solution by dumping it into a shed that was used to distribute ‘Ice’ slabs to the local markets including the famous ‘Chintadripet Fish Market.‘ The annatchi’s shop was next door and he did not mind my odd times so it was very convenient.
What started as a 6-month solution just went on for over a year as there were no hitches. Even people around me became used to seeing me steering my scooter in a maniacal manner. I was adventurous enough to pull it along for the long haul by even making trips to Pondicherry and Tirupati using it. The Bajaj brand of scooters were a sturdy lot – all substance over style. I didn’t even have routine punctured tyre issues. I just had to ensure that I sent it down once every month for ‘souping’ up by my Pudupet specialist.
The final dénouement came all of a sudden when one day near my home it skidded to a jerky halt – the result of a broken chassis-axle. My Pudupet specialist came to the spot to haul it away and gave me a derisory amount to settle the ‘sale’. Rather nonchalantly he mentioned that it was destined to the scrap heap – the parts will be used wherever possible and of course the engine may end up in some local gizmo. My brother was not much upset to learn about the story and with that my adventures of roaming the Chennai inner lanes on my Bajaj scooter came to an abrupt end.