The Pillion Riders. An Indian Perspective

Ever since the first motorcycle appeared on the road, the type of human transportation took a different turn. The history of two wheels dates back from 1810 onwards, starting from wooden wheels and wooden frames, Metallic Penny Farthing wheels, and from the foot pushing to the pedaling type with crank wheels, and slowly changing to chain drive and freewheel mechanism and to pneumatic wheels for the comfort of the driver. So much of technological innovations made during the late 19th and 20th centuries have resulted into the present shape of cycles in general, motorbikes in particular.

 Driving a two wheeler, whether it is the present day cycle or for that matter, a motorized two wheeler, generally called ”the bike”, basically requires the art of balancing, in technical terms, understanding the Gyroscopic forces, as they cannot stand on two wheels without a side rest or the stand as it is called.

Apart from the knowledge of balancing, to ride on the roads, it warrants a driving license from a govt authority.

The beginning saga for the use of motor cycle was exclusively for the driver only, and it was called as ‘solo’. Slowly, as the population increased, two persons were allowed, the person sitting at the back is called as ‘pillion Rider’. Looking at the present day scenario of the number of persons sitting, hanging, hugging, cuddling, and sitting in front, even obstructing the view of the driver, I could guess without an error that the first pillion rider would have entered into the scene without getting a legal permission from the licensing authorities. It might have been legalized, as a marriage of convenience. Just like violating the rules of construction of building and later regularizing. . Here also Darwin’s theory gets going for both. Something like win win situation.

There is a rumor that the legalization of driving cycle at night without light and carrying a person behind a bike and scooter were the boon given by the bygone heroes of cinema.

Thank god, nobody has so far come forward   with the imitation and legalization with 007 Sean Connery and the girl in bikini riding a flying car.

Looking at the historical evidence of pillion ride, the first was a side car fitted to the bike that had started from the European riders, especially   for women riders who were accompanying men, who were on the driver’s seat.  Slowly this side car got merged into a longer seat to accommodate the second person.

As the cost of petrol started rising spirally, people, hitherto using the cars shifted to bike ride, feeling the economy. Then, the husband, wife and a kid formed a team of riders, wife as the pillion hugging the kid on her lap. This again had to be streamlined for obvious reasons in political circles to get the votes. Again a smooth take off this time.

Then the three became four and slowly increased to five. The way the riders get squeezed into the limited size even created a migraine attack to Parkinson when he was in India, who had earlier told that work expands according to the time. He analyzed on the basis of business and work culture and never dreamt on the ‘man management on the bike’. The theory was later corroborated with the saying: It is the many men sitting on the catamaran that makes it move smoothly even on the turbulent sea.

By naturalization these pillion and frillion (I have coined this word for those souls hanging precariously around the driver) can also get legalized. Even the traffic police scratches his head as to find who is the actual driver, as one will be holding the handle bar, other the accelerator and the third on the gear ,fourth on the clutch……. He is at a loss as each has an ID tag attached around the neck and very difficult to check the driving license tag when the bike is whirring through.

In the whirlpool of the petrol prices increasing  spirally, the population shooting up exponentially, it is a Real life enactment of man to run linearly on the bumpy roads with as many men or things as possible that can be tucked on his or her bike and it looks like the latest circus on the road! The catch word is: ECONOMY.

What all things are and can be carried behind and around and even front of a two wheeler?

Many to say.  Let us analyze the innovative ideas and methods that influence our rider’s brain.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

 The pillion area will be stacked with  milk sachet filled  plastic crates or the egg crates to a height till it leans over to one side and to counterbalance it  ,the driver will be bending to the other side as if he is negotiating a sharp curve in the race track. Even the closed gates of railway crossing are not a hindrance for the height. On seeing this acrobatics, Da Vinci and Archimedes would definitely recalculate the value of ‘g’ of earth.

 The Avian Zoo or the gas chamber.

 Five or six baskets stacked at the rear filled with cocks and hens packed to the maximum. By the time they reach the destination, the butcher’s knife, half would have been dead by suffocation. More than this torture, fifty to sixty birds will be hanging upside down with their legs tied and their beaks rubbing the rough ground around the rear side like a chain hanging at the rear of a petrol tanker to have a proper earthing contact  against fire hazards  and some tied and kept above the petrol tank. The SPCA has no voice against this as these poor birds are food for the people working in that organization as well. Where is Maneka Gandhi, the animal saver? The Ornithologist Salim Ali will be crying lying in his grave.

 The school hour rush ride.

 Six or more cuddled to one another with all their bags hanging all around. Very frightening to watch. All possibilities of dangers can be anticipated. One family during the rainy season with four children, father in rain jacket and mother with an umbrella. Through the front zip of the jacket closed almost up to the chest I could see a small head of a child projecting out, like the JOEY of the kangaroo. The rider is taking him to the baby sitting.

 The ubiquitous e-marketing sales and delivery boys.

 With a heavy loads tucked on their back and another kept on the petrol tank and with a pillion rider, these people will wield through the traffic. They are the carriers of black bags.

 The PIZZA hut bikers.

 Thank god, they are solo riders with a box on their back. A solid 30 minutes drama, from start to stop, full of action, suitable for a documentary film. I don’t think there will be any retake necessary. Time lost, job lost precision in management theory.

 The Computer Sales and Service staff.

 With a pillion rider, together they carry a minimum of five or six desktop with monitors and           printers, all in one go, to show that they are busy. In the box there will be an arrow to show this side up indication. But for them all sides are the same.

 The building painters.

 Here the pillion rider carries the major brunt. The tall stool with two or three long broom sticks tied on its legs, three or four empty plastic paint buckets kept inverted over his head to look like helmets and two or three bags containing paint brushes and sundries and above all his dress and lunch bag on his back. On one side they will be hanging a ladder. The driver also will have his bag on his back apart from a box containing small paint boxes kept on the petrol tank and tucked between his thighs.  I don’t think whether Picasso would have carried his painting board and papers and the brushes and palette like this!

 The Civil construction contractor.

 First he will tie and secure the long pointed spear like mud digger. Hang the rope rolls around the specially made hooks around his bike. The gunny bags will be stacked in front above the petrol tank. The worker in the pillion will have three or four hand hoes, a pickaxe and all the small tools for the cement work including a big plastic drum. He will be carrying few casuarinas poles and even a ladder. Ideas are in their mind to toe even an elegant villa in future!

The way the ropes and ladder are held on his shoulders will make Hillary and Tensing to think about a second trip to the Mount Everest on a bike. Only they have to add will be the tent and the oxygen cylinders, apart from the tinned food packages.

 The Carpenters.

 They will be carrying the long plywood sheets either on both sides or even support on their heads, both making a 50/50 adjustment. This is added to all the tools they carry in the side boxes. Even two cyclists will carry these types of boards of cut-outs of celebrities in film and politics with élan. For them it generally happens at night.

 Now let us straight away go to Punjab and see how they run the two wheelers.

 Very enterprising people.  Their target of attack is on the Royal Enfield Bullet. They redesigned it to meet all their requirements. They are the first to understand the human psychology of cheap and economic travel on a two wheeler ‘convertible’ with multy wheel innovative possibilities. In fact, Punjab and Delhi are flooded with these contrivances. In the event of a breakdown, they couple it with another and toe to the destination, never letting down the spirit of the discerning rider.

 For general movement of their household goods and passengers. The entire family moves with a coir cot over the head!

 They incorporated two big side boxes in the rear and a box in front above the front wheel. An extra wheel is also fixed between the engine and the front wheel for emergency.

All their household items will be filled and tied. After the pillion rider, his wife and a kid or two take their seat, he will sit on the driver’s seat and lift the cot and keep it on his head.

 Conversion to a three wheeler called ‘Pat Patti’.

 The rear wheel is removed and extended to both sides to accommodate two wheels.  The vehicle is refurbished with a canopy, either in tarpaulin during extreme summer or metal with side doors and steps to climb. The cushion seats are arranged and for extra place, the back side will be opened and the wooden seat will be unfolded and pulled out for ‘airy ‘travel. A true to life bellows of a squeeze box accordion! The driver’s seat also can be extended sideways to accommodate extra persons. The theory behind is: heavier the vehicle, it will not topple. The law of gravitation and the metacentric height are nothing for them. Even the directors  Terrence Young and Guy Hamilton of James Bond Movies visited Punjab and had learnt the basics  to adopt and incorporate the special gadgets in the cars and planes that 007 was going to use to thrash the villains. Even Royal Enfield U K had sent their engineers to Punjab to get trained. Even telescopic versions were made to add extra passengers. The chain drive was converted to shaft drive. Heavy duty truck wheel versions with twin engines are also there to carry men & materials.

These were the first share autos in India, violating all the norms of automobile Laws of the erstwhile British Rules, even polluting the atmosphere using all sorts of fuels and their adulterated versions. But they proved to the world that any liquid will make their adaptation work. The Gulf Sheiks were shaken.

 Given permission or not, the bike will be converted into a tractor by changing the wheel and other related parts to meet their agricultural needs. On the spot!

 Solar powered bikes are in their brain. During acute summer, when the mercury touches 48+°C, they expect the bike may even take off from the ground level due to overcharging.

 Just to bring back the old tramways, they are thinking of improvising an overhead electric line with a current collector, a telescopic panto graph attached at the rear of the bike!

 To defend their violation rules, they can hang on the real fact that Orwell and Wilber, The famous Wright Brothers, refurbished a bike engine from a bike work shop and after providing wings to it, the first flight of an airplane was made a reality after seeing the sketches of Da Vinci. 

 Thus the solo two wheeler became a carrier of uncountable number of pillion riders.  Whether there is economy in running like this under different categories is there or not, there is a thrill and an equal amount of danger lurking with it.

 The soaring prices of fuel and the depleting resources will compel man to come back to the cycle level of transport. The SURRY BRAND of multi pedal drive cycles, affectionately called as ‘Beer Babies’( as they circle around the big lawns of open air resorts serving beer at every table),  will be the kings on the road, for solo and for the family and friends. Like share auto, it will be share cycle. Hope the last man to reach the destination will not abandon it like the trolleys in the railway stations and the airports in INDIA, as they are “FREE”.  Even our men will find pleasure in selling them for a few date fruits! Otherwise we can have collector’s hub at every nook and corner. Really an Incredible India indeed!

Dated   22nd Jan 2014.

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