Friday, 6 February 2015

Souvenirs From India

Of course I would have loved to
have had my Enfield with me but
it wasn’t that sort of trip to India
this time. It was a ‘proper’ holiday with my
daughter who had said she wanted to go
to Jodhpur in Rajasthan. So Jodhpur it was,
and motorcycling would not be a feature of
it although we both agreed that if there was
a possibility of hiring one, we would. Abby,
who has a motorcycle licence too, had visited
me before whilst I’d been in India and like me,
wanted more of it.

I couldn’t help being drawn to the few
Enfields I saw whilst we were walking about,
far fewer than when I’d been in India for so
long between 2000- 2002. Now Japanese and
Chinese motorcycles outnumbered them
but the Enfields I did see were in immaculate
condition, obviously loved and valued by their
owners. In Jodhpur, whilst we were choosing
which spices to buy, amid the market mayhem,
I heard the unmistakable sound of an Enfield
which drew up alongside us. Shining despite
the dust, it rested and tinkled as the hot metal
cooled and, ignoring the spices, I couldn't resist
having a good look and a chat with its owner
who invited me to ride it there and then! Such
is the generosity of strangers. Reluctantly, I
had to refuse as I was wearing flimsy sandals
and tourist clothes, not the usual sturdy boots,
jeans, fingerless gloves and long-sleeved tee
shirt I’d always worn in India on my own Enfield.

A look through the guidebook revealed
an unexpected delight. Not far away from
Jodhpur was:

Diary entry 8.1.2013.

Today was Enfield Shrine Day- an easy
excursion to Om Banna Shrine from Jodhpur
bus-stand.  We hopped on a bus going to Pali
and our arrival at the shrine, near Chotila village,
was announced by the bus conductor. It was
a much bigger spectacle than I’d imagined,
recalling roadside shrines in Catholic countries
but people were queuing to pay homage .
In 1988 a 28 year-old man from the village
had crashed into a tree whilst riding his 350cc
Enfield Bullet and died instantly. People said
they saw the spirit of the man after his death
and he is now revered as a god because
miraculously, (and miracles are very popular
in India) when the Enfield was taken to police
headquarters, it ‘made its own way’ back to the
scene of the accident. Despite being chained
up and drained of fuel it happened TWICE! Now
it is a deity in its own right, enshrined in a glass
case behind the tree where it crashed, with
garlands of marigolds all over it. We stayed for
a couple of hours observing the spectacle of
droves of people arriving to see the Enfield. Two
musicians competed loudly with each other
with Indian keyboard/bellows instruments,
one man and one woman both looking devout
whilst an attendant accepted 10, 20 and 50
rupee notes and placed a vermillion powder
bindi spot on the forehead of devotees. I
received one as well. Incense sticks burned
and people shuffled round silently in single file
touching the shrine, barefoot and obviously
moved. There were many dozens of people
there plus sellers of cold drinks and little boys
selling stickers.

 On the other side of the road was a
dhaba, India’s rural equivalent of a motorway
service station, but without fuel pumps at
this location. In addition to the restaurant and
snack-shop and there were many stalls next to
each other selling identical memorabilia of the
deceased. Om Banna pictures, stickers, clocks,
posters and key-rings. I ate a lentil curry lunch
there. Abby’s appetite was a little ‘off’ that day
and she had a safe canned soft drink! We talked
with the waiters. They explained in very good
English that Om Banna was a popular man,
the son of local landowners, almost of princely
status and very generous to the villagers. He
had been drinking on the night of the crash
and would I please like to buy a sticker?
The tree he rode into is now decorated
with sparkly coloured ribbons and rope.
It is necessary to honk your horn as you
pass the shrine as doing so may prevent an
accident. With all the buses and cars pulling
in and people wandering into the road as they
disembarked from buses and cars which were
drawing up and parking in some disarray, we
wondered if it might be more likely to cause
one. It was a really interesting experience to go
there and couldn’t leave without buying an Om
Banna sticker as a souvenir.

Another day’s outing, a tourist trip in a jeep,
(which I’d had to help push to get started!),
to an ‘ethnic village’ was a poignant journey
for me. It took us on quiet, out in the country
roads, just the sort of roads that years before,
Hendrikus and I had tootled along in no hurry
to get anywhere in particular. I realised how
very lucky I’d been to have that experience
with all the time in the world just being on our
Enfields. “Mustn't be greedy!” I said to myself.
I’d had the best part of seven years wandering
around the world by motorbike before riding
back to the UK with my constant mechanical
companion. That’s what I call a souvenir and
now I have an Om Banna sticker, too!

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