Tag Archives: Chennai roads

The Great Pink Scooty Mystery

There’s a strange trend I’ve observed on our roads for some time now. I don’t know you if you’ve noticed it too. But everywhere I look, I see balding middle-aged men on Barbie-pink Scootys or their equally girly violet counterparts. The roads are filled with them. They seem to be all around me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’ve seen more greying, pot-bellied gentlemen riding these scooters than the young women the two-wheelers are apparently targeted at. (This is not me gender stereotyping. I know for a fact that young girls are supposed to want these scooters from those ads of Priyanka Chopra/Preity Zinta driving around on them, hoodwinking silly men and basically going ‘Woot woot! Girl power means pink bikes!” or words to that effect).

So how do we explain this phenomenon? One answer could be that these are old dads and uncles and grandpas borrowing their daughter/niece /granddaughter’s scooter at a pinch. Maybe they live in a middle-income, two-scooter household and some other member of the family (a virulently anti-pink brother, for instance) has made off with the staid grey Activa, leaving said old man with no choice. Could be. Maybe that explains some of the sightings. But I’ve seen too many cases for this to be the sole explanation. I mean, could there really be that many stranded old men in our city going pink against their wishes purely out of desperation? I think not.

Then there’s the look on their faces. I’ve seen men forced into embarrassing situations deemed too ‘feminine’ for them. I know how they react. Like the man forced to be at a sari blouse fitting with his sister. Or the newly-wed husband forced to buy feminine hygiene products for his wife at the local convenience store. Or the man who has to to put on his girlfriend’s fluffy pink bathrobe after a shower. Whatever. The bottom line is, they squirm. They shrink within themselves. They mumble. They fidget. They sweat. And they always, always avoid eye contact. But these old gentlemen, they’re different. They sail past confidently, back ramrod straight, head held high and if you stare, they look you straight in the eye as if to say, “That’s right biatch, I’m ridin’ pink. You got a problem with that?”

I don’t think these fine upstanding gentlemen are on these scooters as a last resort (or as part of some sort of mass expression of latent homosexuality — even Freud would agree that’s somewhat unlikely). No. I think they’re just riding the family scooter, bought by them to be shared with wife and kids and extended family, and that the old guys are proud to be on their shiny pink/purple purchase. And I’ll tell you why.

These grey-haired gents are a product of old India, India in the time of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana and the License Raj, India pre-Westernisation and globalisation and all those other big words. They grew up in a time when wearing pink or purple or any other colour of the rainbow didn’t make a man any less of a man (evidence: any of our good old Sambar Westerns or any desi film post the black and white era and pre 1990, for that matter). This was a time when two guys holding hands on the streets didn’t mean they were gay, just best friends forever (and ‘gay’ just meant happy). Gender-specific colour coding was unheard here of back then; it’s really mostly a Western concept — pink for girls and blue for boys and cursed are those who cross the divide! — that’s seeped into Indian society slowly since the economic liberalisation of 1991, along with McDonalds, cable TV, Loreal and Levis jeans.

Not buying the theory? Look out the window and tell me how many guys of age 30 or below you can see riding one of these bubblegum-coloured scooters.

I rest my case.

And I’ll tell you something else. I applaud the old guard for it. I think this colour coding business is silly. I don’t see why, for instance, the toy section for little girls  has to be painted over in a sea of blinding pink (and this coming from a girl who made her room so pink in her teens that her dad felt nauseated stepping in). What I mean is, it’s a choice. If you like bright pink, good for you. Even if you’re a 45 years old and a father of two. That was the M.G.R. way. If you don’t, ditto. I say, good for these guys, sticking with the old way that’s rapidly being lost to us. Like the men who don’t let the safari suit die, the middle-aged male lover of pink lives to fight another day in modern India, through the Scooty Pep. You go guys!

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Highway to Heaven: The Gang of Biker Vadhyars

It’s a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Chennai and we’re in our car, making our way back home after lunch through the sparse traffic. I’m twiddling with the radio dial, he’s making desultory conversation, and both of us are already halfway into our Sunday afternoon nap mode when we suddenly hear a throaty vroom vroom from somewhere behind us. Not good. It’s a sound familiar to any Chennai-ite and usually signals the arrival of one of those greasy-haired, too-tight-jeans-wearing bikers who gets his kicks by flouting road rules to such an extent that auto drivers seem positively staid by comparison. And if there’s one, there’ll be more; they invariably travel in packs.

“Uh-oh,” I begin, “it’s one of those crazy biker gan–”

Before the words have left my mouth, he’s streaked past us in a blur, a flash of pristine white. It takes my somnolent brain a minute to process that there’s something rather different about this biker. It isn’t his attitude; no, he’s loudly signalling his fellow bikers across the three lanes, zipping in and out between vehicles, and being quite as obnoxious as the worst of them. But this one’s hair is pulled back in a tightly-coiled kudmi, not a tendril out of place (I spend a moment admiring the sheer staying power of that knot). And no jeans, tight or otherwise or t-shirt with lewd slogan in sight. No, this guy flies by with his panchakacham flapping briskly in the wind, his poonal streaming devil-may-care somewhere past his left ear and his angavastram bellowing behind him like some sort of weird Tam-Bram version of Batman’s cape.

“Do you see what I see?” I ask the husband falteringly.

Before he can answer, the scene takes on an even more surreal feel. Vadhyar Biker No. 1 has now been joined by two others in equally complete priestly garb (though their kudmi-tying skills aren’t quite on par — definitely some frizz happening with one) and they all three zoom into our field of vision, gesturing, hooting, and generally behaving as if Lalitha Sahasranamam is the last thing on their minds . Dear God, I think. It’s a whole gang of them.

“If you mean the Hell’s Angels of Mylapore, then yes,” he says, sounding as shaken as I feel.

By this point, the Gang of Biker Vadhyars, led by he of the perfect kudmi, have congregated at one point for a U-turn, and when we last see them, are high-fiving each other and laughing fit to fall off their bikes. No religious ceremony will never be the same to me again, I think dazedly, as we continue our journey in stunned silence. The next time I see three vadhyars sitting together at some solemn occasion like a shraddham, I’m not going to be able to get the image of them doing wheelies out of my head. 

Okay, so our society is changing fast. In the US, I once saw a vadhyar arrive at my aunt’s house in jeans and a t-shirt, change into veshti etc. to conduct the poojai in her fireplace and then zoom off again in his Toyota Camry. We got to change with the times, I get it. Take the vadhyar at my friend’s recent engagement, who stayed plugged in to his MP3 player (ear phones dangling stylishly off one ear) the whole time. That I can understand — he’s only human, he needs to listen to music during work, yada yada. We all do it.

But this? Even typing ‘Hell’s Angels’ in the same sentence as ‘vadhyar’ feels faintly blasphemous. And yet, those three were the veritable embodiment of biker ‘tude.  Then a small voice in my head says, why not? Just because a guy’s day job involves piety and prayer doesn’t mean he can’t be a bad-ass biker by night (or in this case, by afternoon). We all need a way to unwind. Yoga or meditation seem a little more apt, perhaps, but hey, who am I to judge? Maybe guys with a direct line to God are the only ones who should to be zipping around at those speeds on our roads anyway.

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