Monday, June 26, 2017

The Old And The Beautiful

Vijesh KV has an unusual passion: he collects scooters of earlier times 

Photo by Melton Antony

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Vijesh KV travels on his white-and-blue Lambretta scooter, in the suburb of Palluruthy, Kochi, the people do a double-take. It looks different from the scooters of today. And it has a odd-sounding horn, like an animal grunt. But it moves smoothly, and efficiently. It is difficult to believe that the scooter is 43 years old.

Vijesh, a tour guide, got it in a most unexpected manner. Two years ago, he was travelling from Thiruvananthapuram to Kochi. When the bus stopped at Kayamkulam, Vijesh saw a 70-year-old man riding a Lambretta. It had a bit of rust, some areas were dented and the paint was peeling.

Vijesh immediately got down and managed to meet the man, Ramachandran. “I told him that I have a collection of scooters,” says Vijesh. “He immediately said that he was not planning to sell his vehicle.”

Vijesh then showed the photos of the other vehicles on his mobile. Eventually, they exchanged numbers. “I told Ramachandran that whenever he decided to sell, he should call me,” says Vijesh.

One week later, Vijesh did get a call from Ramachandran. “He told me that he did not want to sell to youngsters, as he was afraid they would not look after the vehicle,” says the thirty-eight-year-old Vijesh. “He felt that I would care for it.” In the end, Vijesh bought it for Rs 30,000.

Incidentally, it was in 2000 that Vijesh bought his first scooter. Vijesh used to work in the sales department of a plywood company. Right next to it was a godown. Vijesh noticed a Bajaj Chetak (1987), lying in an abandoned condition. It belonged to an Army man who was working as a security guard.

When I asked him what he was going to do with it, he replied that he was planning to sell it as scrap,” says Vijesh.

When Vijesh asked how much he expected, the Army man said, “Rs 2000.” Vijesh agreed to pay the money. The scooter was rusted, and had no mud guard. “But there was a particular shape to it,” says Vijesh. “I felt that if I worked on it, I could bring it back to a nice condition.”

So Vijesh took it in an auto-rickshaw to his cousin Vinod's workshop. Vinod looked at it and told Vijesh it would be a costly affair to restore it to a good condition. “I am ready to spend,” said Vijesh.

In the end, the scooter was restored, but at a cost of Rs 24,000! 

When asked about his fascination for old scooters, Vijesh says, “These vehicles give a far smoother ride than the current models. One reason is that it is 30 kgs heavier. Secondly, there are spring seats, so you don't suffer from back pain. Thirdly, when you manually change the gears, you feel connected to the vehicle.”

However, it is not easy to maintain these scooters. Since production has stopped, it is very difficult to get spare parts. In fact, Vijesh has to go a particular shop in Thrissur, to get the parts. But they are quite expensive. “For example, the original price of an emblem is Rs 30, but I have to pay Rs 300,” says Vijesh.

Another drawback is that there are very few mechanics who would like to repair them. “They say it takes too much time,” says Vijesh. In fact, at this moment, there are only three mechanics in Palluruthy, who do the work.  

But that has not deterred Vijesh. He has set up the Old Town Scooters Cochin page on Facebook, where people who have the same passion, exchange news and information, and help each other.

There have been a few moments of serendipity. Last month, Vijesh went to Thrissur on his Lambretta to buy some parts. On the way, a car, with some youngsters, began following him. He could see that they were filming him on their mobile. After a while, they came abreast and asked him to stop.

They were a group who were interested in old two-wheelers. They invited Vijesh to take part in a vintage scooter show at their home town of Mallapuram, 80 kms away. Vijesh agreed. One day, he loaded his scooters on a tempo and took them to Mallapuram. “It was a good experience,” he says. “More than 200 people came. I met a lot of scooter collectors. And we have stayed connected.”

Vijesh, a father of two young girls, pauses and says, “Many people have different type of enthusiasms. My passion will always remain for the old scooters.
So, I will continue to add to my collection.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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