Thursday, June 24, 2021

An Indian motorcycle: saved by a British ghost

<<Based on a decade old true story from Mumbai days..>>

From archives: One of it's mud rallies
There was a mild 'klunk' when I had driven over that particular pothole - one more abuse added to the billion shocks my poor machine had withstood. Sometimes it was the poor roads, sometime it was me venting out my anger addressed to rest of the world unjustifiably directed to the machine.

Though it had taken more than its share of hardships, today I was a bit worried for my bike.

And as I parked - the proof was there. The security guard came running to point out a trickle of petrol left in our trail. He shouted - 'Sir ji - kabse bol raha hoon. Nayi lo, ye bangar ko de do. Dekho khatra kar rakha hai iss building ke liye..' (been telling you - get a new one; this one ought to be scrapped. This is dangerous for the building/ society). 

 The words hit me hard. 


When you love someone or something, you are so lost in that journey of love that you would fight wars to protect them. But today, I was hit hard…. And was tired.. somehow I was not able to fight his words back..


Humbled in the parking

A sense of helplessness engulfed me. Looking around - my old love was humbled by a Hayabusa, a KTM RC 390, a Kawasaki Z 650 and a modest Yamaha R15; a BMW 3 series nearby. I saw the security guy's point - an aging Bajaj Pulsar 200 was not exactly glamming up the scenario, but now it posed a fire threat to the whole place itself. Hence his sharp words.

My casual analysis pointed to a fuel tank rupture. But I was tired because of all what the bike had been through:


Maybe Mr. Manohar (our security personnel) was right, maybe I had abused it more than it had to offer. Maybe it was time for it to go..

 Suddenly there was an alarming chill in the air... and I felt.. 

Something ….

something different..

I ran the facts again, it was a hot Mumbai evening, the security guy was sweating.. But yet, the chill was growing from a meagre nuisance for me to an intolerable ache in my body.. Increasing every second..

While the body took its pain, the mind seemed to be in a precarious state as well. Some hazy hallucinations came up. Something like flashes of an airstrip, view of the sea from a high altitude, and a union jack…

I never believed in 'Possession', ghosts or such mumbo jumbo that those cheap novels harped about.. Until NOW….

Of course we don’t like the idea of someone being in control of our body.. 

The hallucinations became more strong. Forget Call of duty, this was way more real than a first person video game simulation. I saw a whirring fan, with dozen of instruments, experienced a negative g-force effect of climbing an air pocket, and a thud with sounds of wheels over a long tarmac..


The helmet was taken off as the gentleman swung across the ladder to get off his airplane. We were at the Gravesend Royal Air Force airfield and the uniform name tag read 'James Harry Lacey' and with little knowledge of the emblems, I could not make out the rank. The mark on the aircraft he alighted meant that he was already a flying ace, downing at least 5 enemy aircraft. The aircraft seemed like one that I had seen in a book or a museum, but I could not identify it yet.

Suddenly, there was shrill of sirens. No mistaking the sirens - they were warning for an impending enemy air raid.. 

Sgt. Lacey's RAF 501 squadron 
Lacey could not believe it. He had just finished a sortie and thought his 501 squadron had pushed back the Luftwaffe's (German Air force) squadron over the English Channel. Pushed them back to France.. Or so it seemed.

Evidently, that was a decoy. The real attack was coming now! Lacey thought for a while. Logic and protocol demanded to abandon the aircraft and make a run to survive.

The future was pretty bleak. A quick fact check:

  • Regardless of what that ol' bloke Churchill said over the radio, Dunkirk had proved that the once mighty Britain was now embracing a retreat objective, going back from an offensive strategy.
  • It was an open secret: Unless it got help from some allies (those Yankees perhaps?), the days of Royal Air Force and Britain were numbered. Luftwaffe ruled the skies now. Hitler had deployed 2600 fighters and bombers, to best Britain's meagre 640. With France having fallen and most of Britain's European allies seemed to be following suit, it was only a matter of time before the Royal Air Force (RAF) would succumb with its dwindling number of aircrafts. General Goring and that funny moustache guy's Blitzkrieg strategy seemed to be working well, and our dear Lord Dowding for once seemed to be turning out a sod.
  • Having finished a sortie and some intense gunning, his aircraft was already low on fuel and ammunition. The starboard wing had taken some fire sometime back and he had not yet checked the degree of damage.


Wait.. I shook myself hard.. Why was I seeing all this? Experiencing things from history? 1940s perhaps.. The severity of emotions I felt made me convinced that this was not a movie, but a reality I was experiencing from a different era.

I remember the chill rising again, Manohar (our security personnel) looking at me in astonishment - as if he had seen a ghost, and when my mind could no longer battle on, I succumbed.

Sgt. Lacey looked around. The orders were clear: abandon the airstrip, it was too late to scramble aircraft to form a defense for the onslaught of enemy fighters. Not to forget the Junkel bombers, which were surely bringing up the rear to create havoc on the airfield once the frontline fighters had done their job. It was a no brainer- abandon your aircraft and try to save your lives.

That feeling that Lacey had.... It seemed way too familiar for me... Well yes! - it was exactly the same mix of despair & helplessness what I was feeling like moments ago!

Lacey fared better than me in getting out of that pit of pity and indecisiveness. He put his helmet on and made a dash for his Supermarine Spitfire.

Jump in the cockpit and start up the engine。。。

Move all the wheel blocks。。。

There's no time to waste。。。。

A war hero: V12 Rolls Royce Merlin engine

The Rolls Royce engine roared to life and he turned the rudder to direct the aircraft towards the empty patch on the right.

Got to get airborne before it's too late..

The sound of the German aircraft changed from a buzz to roar, and he could see with his naked eye a formation of BF109s nearing in. Machine gunfire followed and he sadly saw them strafing the parked RAF fighters. 

Next, that notorious shrill sounded. His fears were reality now, it was those menacing German Junkel bombers going into a dive.

Soon enough, the first set of bombs exploded. The airfield was being annihilated into nothingness. 

Too late for Lacey to change his plans though. The speed rose and he pushed the throttle to maximum and pulled the lever. The aircraft rose from the ground!


I was back in our time. Mr. Manohar was still frozen looking at me as if I was phantom. While I could see things, a new reality dawned to me: 

My limbs would not respond to my brain signals!  

I had no control.

However, the feet started moving to a jog. While I was not in control, someone else was clearly operating my body deftly. Now, my life seemed a movie: one which I could watch and experience, but without any control over the script.

Good God! It was possession indeed. My body was in this ancient war pilot's control!

I saw helplessly as my hands started pushing the bike, and the legs started moving, to a run now. Out of the gate, to the road and to that slope. After gaining some speed, Lacey made my body jump on the moving bike. With some momentum gained..

Clutch>>> Gear 2 >>> Clutch release

 The engine sprang to life!

Smart egg - this Sgt. Lacey.. I see he avoided electric start and chose the momentum jump start method. Sans electricals, there is one lesser way to catch fire indeed. But what were we trying to do here? He still wont give me control of my body and was gunning the engine - increasing speed. I grimaced: with a leaking fuel tank and a revving engine heating up, the bike and I were essentially a Molotov cocktail bomb - waiting to explode any second on the road.

As if he had heard me, Sgt. Lacey raised one finger to my forehead, picked up a drop of sweat. The bead of sweat was bent and put on the engine bay. I saw that the drop did not sizzle into steam, it flowed down. 

Point taken - engine was not that hot. Not enough to boil a sweat drop, perhaps not enough to set fire to the fuel trickle it was subject to. Yet…

The bike and I were gaining speed. The engine was being gunned well, though never reaching the redline, and upshifts being moderated at 4000 rpm; perhaps to optimize heat generation and speed generation.

As a mere spectator, I marveled at how my body and my bike were being driven swiftly with precision, under the command of Sgt. Lacey. Seeing the skillful operation, my mind (my own in this case) wondered why the spirit of a British flying Ace was out trying to help me here? As if a neuron of my brain connected with that of Sgt. Lacey’s, both the minds opined on the following:

  • Both of us had an indescribable love for our machines. We trusted them, and they trusted us.. Logic parked aside, this was a unique relationship of pistons, cylinders, and neurons.
  • From a British ace swearing by his hand built Rolls Royce engine on a British masterpiece: ready to battle the technically superior German; to an Indian retaining his Bajaj machine as against that Japanese & German onslaught, there was a lot in common. I was particular happy to possess an Indian machine with an indigenous engine, built in my country, by my country(wo)men.. We both had superior competition, but still chose to stick to our country: being patriotic, in our own ways.
  • Clearly, both of us were willing to risk it all for our machines. While Sgt. Lacey decision making was immediate, an external (or inter-dimensional/ ghostly) push was needed in my case. Live to fly, fly to live. Do or die..

As I was contemplating the situation, another challenge accosted us. A massive traffic jam could be seen ahead at the Saki Vihar road. Our engine was still heating up, ready to set fire to the fuel and a traffic jam would not just increase the heat, but also have ample of other live human beings - being risked with a makeshift bomb made of a heating bike and leaking fuel.

I was losing vision again.. from the present.. And gaining vision and senses:  Of the British air, from another era, flavored with war scent of bombs, gunfire and aviation fuel.

As British as one can be:
the Supermarine Spitfire

The Spitfire was in the air, increasing distance from the bombarding at the airfield. However, the sound of the Rolls Royce 10 cylinder engine that was not the only one to be heard. There was another. Lacey turned around. 

BMW powered FW 190: Nazi markings et all
Sure enough, at his tail was a Luftwaffe fighter! No mistaking that wretched turbocharged radial BMW 801 engine. Deutschland seemed to producing more of these Focke-Wulf 190 than what the Allied powers could shoot down in a day.

Though a rare phenomenon, I could sense fear building up in Lacey's blood. The chances were weighed, and they weren't bright - No Sir.. He was alone, low on fuel and underpowered form an engineering standpoint. If he went into a dive with the engine on, the negative G-force would flood fuel to his carburetor, choking and finally stalling his engine, while his enemy's turbo charger would have no such problem and dive in faster to gun him down.

Blimey.. To hell with it. Our dear mate 'logic' should take a back seat for a while..

He shut off the engine and commenced his dive. His nemesis from the Luftwaffe followed and as expected, was gaining on us. The FW190 started strafing, but we narrowly escaped.

1,030 hp Rolls Royce Merlin powered Spitfire,
with 1,530 hp BMW powered Luftwaffe on tail

Now Lacey pulled the lever fully. I cringed upon experiencing the massive organ crushing G-force as the aircraft swerved hard right. While the German FW190 claimed supremacy in horsepower, it was not was not the same case in agility, where the tables turned in favor of the British Supermarine Spitfire . Bracing the extreme centrifugal force,  Lacey completed a loop and was now successfully at the side of the German. The hunter had become the hunted! Why, he could also see the Hornchurch airstrip! As the war trumpet, he pressed down his guns at the German.

Poof.. I was back from the World War II and was now seeing my body mounted on the speeding Pulsar 200. Having just witnessed Lacey's tactics, a chill ran through my spine as I looked in anticipation what he was about to do to address this traffic problem ahead.

Sure enough, my wrist opened the throttle opened fully to gain as much speed as we could;
and then I saw my other finger hit the engine kill switch. Just like the Spitfire and Lacey, the bike and I were coasting as illegal speeds, with the engine shut off (See - Lacey did think about not putting innocent people in danger) towards the traffic. I was a tad scared considering my worn out tires and the limited grip they could offer but by now, I had faith in Lacey (and his spirit). 

That is the queer thing about Trust: Once one has won it, he/she could persuade the other bloke into anything, however absurd it may be.

And this is precisely what Lacey played on with me.

This time, I parked inhibitions aside, and let his spirit take full control of my hands and watched in awe as we leaned, swayed, bent the motorcycle - snaking nimbly through the crowd comprising of cars, motorcycles, autorickshaws, cycles, hawkers and everything else that Mumbai traffic has to offer.

As I was approaching the end of the road, the workshop was in sight. I was also beginning to sense control getting back for my limbs. The mind and the body were getting reconnected now. With a cold shiver, I witnessed a sight from the other era: the aircraft landing safely on the Hornchurch airfield and Lacey's victorious grin. Also an emotion of goodbye. 

Since I had control over my body again, and the workshop was 100 m away, I mustered all my energy and shouted: "Uday bhai! ***censored** tank phat gaya! Bachaao; aag pakad sakta hai".

{Help! Ruptured tank- fire risk!!}

Petrol tank's end of life

If Kimi Raikkonen or Lewis Hamilton were watching, they would boil in jealousy to see the speed and sincerity with which Chandru and Uday heard my voice and ran to tend to my machine before I could even fully stop. Within seconds, my pit crew had taken over and dismounted the fuel tank, flushed the residual fuel and dumped the ruptured tank. Few minutes later, we were discussing if the fuel line and valvetrain could be augmented, to push more fuel; to make the bike go faster. And other things that could be repaired & augmented- now that the bike was at the workshop waiting for a new tank. The new tank;  of course, could be scavenged at a fraction of the cost from the notorious chor bazaar.. 

Roads or not, we keep going
Moral of the story:

  • Love your machine well, and it will love you back…
  • Heavens forbid, if the spirit of  Squadron Leader 'Ginger' Lacey pays you a visit, tell him to go easy on the clutch, lest like me - you end up with a slippy clutch after his aggressive drive..


PS: In an era where new, manufacturers introduce faster models every month, a special thanks goes out to Uday, Anthony, Ganesh anna & Chandru: who managed to keep this Pulsar 200 one of the fastest machine on the streets for a decade.

1 comment:

  1. An exhilarating romp into the mind of a true automotive aficionado! Your most intense & riveting piece till date... literally goose bumps as you approached a jam running at illegal speeds with the engine switched off! What an adventure!!