Priscilla’s curiosity about strangers and their bullets leads to a freewheeling conversation in Akkithimanahalli
Thursdays are really long. All of us try to stay awake by gulping cups of coffee and bottles of water, battling sleep on one hand and trying to figure out the severely muffled words spoken by the teachers on the other. On one such Thursday, as we were slowly dozing off into deep slumber because of the April heat and the intoxication of rolls we had an hour ago when we were told to walk around Akkithimanahalli for our Archiving fieldwork hour.
The plus point of being a Bangalorean is the same as not being a Bangalorean – not knowing anything about Bangalore. Even so, I am still jealous of all my non-Bangalorean friends because they know more about Bangalore than Bangaloreans do. I knew Akkithimanahalli as Smoker’s lane because many people called it so because of the many shops that sold cigarettes. But as I came to learn, Akkithimanahalli is more than just cigarettes.
When Ms. V asked us to go out and explore the lane we were happy to be out and observing rather than trying to stay awake. So two friends of mine and I set out to explore the lane. We walked into it like people who are new to Bangalore.
We walked past the small- cigarette and paan shops and saw much more than that. We saw small saloons which are slowly disappearing everywhere else in the city, shops that sold vegetables and groceries together, a mosque, locked up temples which are apparently open only on specific days, butcher shops with skinned goats hanging upside down, a few abandoned buildings and also shops selling pillows and mattresses.
We spoke to a few people who owned shops in the lane for almost 40 years, the shops being passed down from father to son. The people had seen their lane slowly change and give way to more and more houses as the population increased.
We walked a little further and saw a smaller lane next to the mosque and decided to walk into it. We saw a small distinctive temple for Lord Vishnu as there were small stones with carvings of snakes which had traces of milk.
We proceeded forward into the lane, like Dora the Explorer and clicked pictures of things and places that intrigued us. We also tried to dodge a cow that was trying to walk past us and had a good laugh as we walked and suddenly saw an old metallic-green Royal Enfield and that made our evening a great one.
My friend and I were excited about this Royal Enfield and wanted to know more about it so we went closer to find more clues that could prove it was an old model and not a modified one. We saw the worn-out leather of the seats and the metal a little rusted, but that didn’t really prove much. As I was slowly inspecting the engine to see if there was any serial number, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t checked the number plate of the bike. What more evidence is needed to prove the age of a vehicle? I went in front of the bike to the plate and there was a new burst of energy as I deemed it old and worthy of archiving. We were surprised by how good it looked despite being old.
We decided to explore further and wanted to speak to the owner of the bike. I opened the gate and went on to climb the stairs and reached the veranda of the house. A small but homely little space it was. My friend nudged me to go ring the bell and I did so. There was a mesh window attached to the door and I could see only the light from a cell phone as it was dark. We heard a man’s voice asking who we were and we answered him. Then he switched on the lights and his wife opened the door. We were a little relieved and comfortable to see his wife around.
I told them that we were there to talk about the bike he owned and that we were happy to see it, his wife smirked at him and welcomed us into the house. We told them that we were okay with standing and talking to them and also mentioned that we didn’t want to disturb their evening. Both the man and his wife urged us to come in and ultimately we gave in and went into the house.
There were mattresses on the floor, the fan was turned off but the air cooler was on, the man was sitting on a stainless steel sofa which was placed right in front of the glass showcase which had many pictures and awards arranged asymmetrically. Just next to the man was a cage with five cocktail birds, he said that they were just two months old.
We made ourselves comfortable on the floor and I explained to the man that we were students and wanted to know more about Akkithimanahalli. I also mentioned his bike and revealed my fascination with it. He laughed and was ever ready to talk about it. He told us how he became passionate about the brand, Royal Enfield. It was when he was a young boy and he saw his uncle who was a police officer owned a Royal Enfield. He was amused by the bike’s sound and was hell bound on getting a Royal Enfield of his own.
As the man was telling this story, his wife stopped him and served us cornflakes mixture, good day biscuits and also got us coca-cola from the shop. She asked us to have our snacks but we were interested in the story and asked the man to continue it. He told us that he won’t start until we have something to eat and so we did. As we were eating the man told us that his wife worked in Baldwin’s Girls school and how she would identify the sound of his bullet and leave the classroom on time.
When the man told that his wife worked in the school, I remembered that my neighbour and family friend also worked in the same school and asked the woman if she knew her. To our shock and surprise she told me that my family friend was her sister in law. I was happy and I got more comfortable talking to them.
Uncle told us that he was my neighbour’s maternal uncle’s son; that is his cousin brother. I told them how his cousin brother’s family knew me from when I was a little girl.
We proceeded with the Royal Enfield story and he told us that the bike he owns is the 1986 model. He joined the police force in the year 1981 with a monthly salary of 625 rupees. With the passion to own a bullet still in his blood, in the year 1986 he took his first loan to buy the bike.
He bought his bike in the year 1986 on the ninth October from the Kalyan showroom in Bombay. He told us that there were two types – the standard and the deluxe, the only difference being the colour. The standard was black and the deluxe were colours other than black. He said that the standard was priced at Rs. 19,600 and the deluxe was at Rs. 20,715. Uncle bought the deluxe model. He said the original colour was red and he changed it to metallic-green colour.
He tended to the birds in the cage as he was talking to us. They were chirping all the while we were there in the house. And he chided them like they were his kids. Speaking of kids, uncle and aunty have a daughter for whose health, they moved from Mumbai to Bangalore. They had been here since she was born, he said.
He said that the original Royal Enfield was manufactured in England or by the English in India. In the 1960s to 70s, the English gave the manufacturing rights to the Indians. The Royal Enfield manufacturing unit was in Chennai. So, when the manufacturing changed hands, Indians reduced the engine crank’s weight to cut down on production costs and to increase mileage. The original weight of the crank was 10.5 kilograms and they reduced it to 8 kilograms and uncle was disappointed because he wanted the original one.
As soon as he purchased the bike he decided to increase the weight of the crank and through his police connections, was able to find a workshop which was famous for doing it. The workshop was in Thrissur, Kerala he said, behind Elite hospital. Uncle said he removed the engine from the bike put it on a train to Kerala and dropped it off at the workshop and the engine was ready within a week. So basically to increase the weight of the engine, liquid lead was used to coat the interiors of the crank. Uncle proudly said that he never modified his bike after that.
The bike has a ‘Mikarb’, Mikoni Carburettor 41 kilometre per hour, petrol engine of 350 cc, and once in every five years the bike’s fitness is renewed. He said that after twenty long years he will be taking the engine back to the workshop in Kerala for a small modification this December.
So as we finished talking about the bike, uncle opened the bird cage and let the birds out and they began fluttering all around the house. He said that the parents of the birds were inside the bedroom as there were more eggs to be hatched. The birds sat on our bags, books and one even climbed my hand and I couldn’t resist playing with them.
So I asked him how he started liking birds to which he laughed loudly and said he was a dog person, and back in Mumbai he had two German shepherd dogs which he had trained to give the laundry, and retrieve newspapers from the entrance. He had to give them away after they bit a few people.
When uncle moved to Bangalore, he learnt that his pastor passed away and his son owned a handicapped cocktail bird which was left without an owner, so he took it and started raising it. He told that it was a part of the family and would sit with them out of the cage and wander about minding its own business.
Pocky was its name. One year during Diwali, Pocky was left to roam out of the cage and he was sitting on a mattress next to his wife and daughter, he said. All of a sudden, someone in the area burst a loud cracker that scared Pocky and he flew straight into the fan and died. This explained why the air cooler was on and not the fan. So after Pocky died, their daughter who was attached to the bird was constantly crying as she missed him. So uncle found someone who sold cocktail birds and got one, followed by another and over the years a few of them passed away and this was the third generation of cocktails, he said.
It was a great evening talking to someone who was ready to talk to us and give out such specific details. Both uncle and aunty told us that their daughter would have been happy to meet us and also asked me to give their regards to my neighbour. Uncle retired from his service in October 2021 and he said he had also worked for the CBI. We were awed.
They asked to take the snacks that they served us but before we could one of the birds swooned in and started feasting on it, we had a good laugh and as it was getting late we told we would visit them some other time. I wished them advanced Easter and they gave us a warm send off. Uncle also warned us not to enter any house if there were no ladies around. He asked us to visit them for lunch someday and we promised we would. He asked us to contact him if we had any problem and he told he would help us.
I returned home with the same excitement and energy I had in the beginning and was pondering on how small the world is. To me Akkithimanahalli is no longer smoker’s lane but a lane with someone who fondly remembers me as their cousin brother’s neighbour. In the lane, I found a friend, a bird, and a family.
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