Beginning in December 1951, Ernesto “Che” Guevara took a nine-month break from medical school to travel by motorcycle through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. One of his goals was gaining practical experience with leprosy.

Being in contact with people who were poor and hungry while they were sick transformed Che. He envisioned a new medicine, with doctors who would serve the greatest number people with preventive care and public awareness of hygiene. (This is from a recent article in Monthly Review) A few years later, Che joined Fidel Castro. And his work laid the foundations for Cuba’s pro-people health policy which is winning world wide acclaim today in times of Covid 19.

Che’s Bicycle Diaries based on his rides are the stuff of legend and have inspired numerous people worldwide. For many years the motor cycle as a vehicle had very positive connotations, freedom, rebellion.

But it has all changed over the years with increased commercialization and the cult of bike gangs. Fuck the World is the main motto of these riders and their decadent world is well portrayed by Bernard Rollin , a philosophy professor and motorbike enthusiast, in the book Harley Davidson and Philosophy. Full Throttle Aristotle.

The human skull is the touchstone, the icon of these bike enthusiasts fascinated by destructiveness. So there is a major transition from Guevara, the life saver, to those are fascinated by destructiveness.

Now, the picture of Mr Sharad Bobde, chief justice of the Supreme court, sitting on a very imposing, very expensive American motor bike Harley Davidson in Nagpur on June 29 has attracted nationwide attention. He is not exactly riding the monster vehicle, it is stationary. So no problem if he is not wearing a helmet. The picture has gone viral on twitter and elsewhere and commentators have observed that he is not wearing a mask.

I am not at all commenting on the controversy. I just want to put the motor bike issue in some sort of a perspective.

The Indian Express Mumbai edition put the picture on top of the front page on June 30. What is the new value here ? it may be pertinent to ask. This vehicle costs a staggering Rs. 49 lakh or so. Even lesser priced vehicles are now beyond the reach of common people in these days of economic slide, job losses and salary cuts.

This issue is also a little different because Harley Davidson has been through history a very controversial vehicle. It has a very bad boy image because of two popular Hollywood films Wild One and Easy Rider, the first of the fifties and second of the sixties. These deal with crime and gang warfare and the main vehicle here was Harley.. The vehicle’s manufacturer was disturbed by this image and strenuously sought to refurbish it. It was even banned in the U.K. for some time. But then another generation of the family down the line is said to have incorporated the Fuck the World attitude for commercial ends. Some of these motorbike riders assemble in lakhs during the bike week and are considered by many as a big menace.

More relevant to India is the recent controversy involving U.S. president Trump. He has almost chided Modi, to use the expression from the media report , for not giving import duty concessions to the brand. It is said that Trump took up the issue with the Indian Prime Minister in the so-called Namaste Trump meeting in Ahmedabad in February.

Even Obama, former U.S. president, wanted to sell Harley to India and has been criticized by the distinguished consumer champion Nader who has relentlessly exposed the crimes of the automobile lobby in the U.S.

The problem is motor bikes or even cars are no longer the dream of youngsters in the U.S. and other Western countries accounting for their falling sales causing consternation in the automobile lobby. So they are eyeing the Indian market.
.
That apart such monster vehicles are criticized by mobility experts and psychologists for promoting a very false macho image leading to toxic masculinity. The trouble is a person with such a macho image does not like to complain about health problems as he is afraid he will be seen as weak. It does not fit in with his aggressive image. So his health suffers.

The problems of mobility in India are entirely different. Common people are now stranded more than ever. Most trains have stopped. Outrageously expensive brands of motor bikes with their huge size are ill suited for Indian roads. These are mainly status symbols for the wealthy. But the wealthy want to look adventurous and macho with these false symbols and impress women. In the times of Covid when physical distancing is the norm the bicycle would be the ideal vehicle for India.

Incidentally, former chief judge of the Supreme court Lodha had asked the court lawyers to use bicycles when they complained in 2015 of shortage of parking space for cars in the premises and outside.

Kabir Dixit , Supreme court lawyer, had welcomed the statement. He said the Supreme Court has become one of the biggest concentrations of luxury cars in the city. Taking their cues from observing senior advocates, junior counsels begin to perceive very early on that they must also afford the best possible cars as an important marker of the status of a lawyer.

Some members of the bar must take the initiative of cycling to court. This will set an example and encourage others to do the same.

To be sure, there are practical hurdles. Many lawyers stay far from the courts, Delhi roads and Delhi weather are both not best suited for cyclists, and lawyers, typically, have many briefs to take to court everyday. But a beginning can be made, specially by those who stay close or have offices close to the court complex.

Cycles will be environment friendly and healthy for the lawyers. Their popularity may also remove the perception of luxury cars as a valid professional differentiator among lawyers from different backgrounds, he said

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport, walking and bicycles


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWSLETTER


 

Comments are closed.