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A Ride In Time: Remembering The Scooter Era

22/12/2015 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Raquel Maria Carbonell Pagola via Getty Images
JODHPUR, RAJASTHAN, INDIA - 2012/01/26: Motorbike parked in the streets of the blue old town. (Photo by Raquel Maria Carbonell Pagola/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When I was growing up, before the arrival of Maruti 800, most middle-class homes owned a scooter, preferably a Vespa. Lately, I haven't seen a pure-blooded scooter in Gurgaon. Of course, the "scooty", the undernourished variant driven by delivery boys and women ferrying kids is common. All too often, it lurches mindlessly from the wrong side of the road, but is hardly a match for the rotund yet robust Vespa. Or the Lambretta.

It's easy to pinpoint why I remember riding dad's sky blue Vespa more than our first Maruti 800. The scooter, apart from being a vehicle that allowed us to zip through crammed by-lanes, was perfect for cheering up any sulking kid. Much like a swing, the thrill against the wind followed by an ice cream was liberating -- like flying in the air, away from the drudgery of homework and mom's rules specifically set up to torture me. As a partner in crime, the scooter threw tantrums when it refused to rev-up on a crisp winter morning around school time. "Our father in heaven, bless us with a holiday," one hoped but a few spirited kicks ensured that it was time to attend the prayer assembly.

Today, a young man working in an MNC would rather be seen dead than riding a scooter.

Many amusing anecdotes ride on my scooter memories. Back in the day, mom would gently whisper "chaliye" once she was securely perched on the scooter and dad would set off. Once, lost in his thoughts, dad rode off without checking if mother was on the pillion. What added to the embarrassment of being stranded in a busy market was the shopkeeper's hollering, "Arrey, doctor sahib, madam to yahin reh gayin'." No prizes for guessing that dad got an earful after he realised his folly!

Unlike the family-friendly scooter, a bike -- usually a rickety, noisy Enfield -- was driven either by milkmen or young men as a symbol of machismo. Brawn. A Bollywood hero, for instance was seldom seen riding a scooter, barring a Randhir Kapoor in Jawani Diwani. Perhaps the Kapoors have some karmic connection with scooters, because the last I saw a hero riding a scooter was Ranbir Kapoor in the movie Rocket Singh. If you've seen the movie, you'd recall that Ranbir Kapoor was particularly peeved with the Scooty gifted to him by his grandfather. Because by then Priyanka Chopra in her scooty ads had fed us with the notion that like all things pink, the slim, sedate variants of a scooter were feminine. Why should boys have all the fun?

Last year, the auto sector was abuzz with the comeback of the Bajaj Chetak which was set to be launched in the rural scooter segment. The company had ceased scooter production in 2006 but with falling motorcycle sales, Bajaj had re-registered the 'Chetak' brand name. Nonetheless, I doubt if we are ready to ride scooters again.

The gradual demise of the scooter was expected. In fact, many would say, what's the point of remembering it today? One of the signs of development is that we tune ourselves with the developed world where brands align with comfort. Today, a young man working in an MNC would rather be seen dead than riding a scooter. It would be another story if scooters are marketed on the lines of the coveted Harley -- something that marks social arrival. Exclusivity. Then, perhaps we could see mushrooming of scooter clubs with scooter buddies whizzing on the Gurgaon-Faridabad road over weekends. Until then, the good old scooter has perhaps cashed its chips, called it quits and kicked the bucket for good. At least in Delhi/NCR.

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