Getting Ready: Baba Che Guevara and the imam zamin
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Once upon a time a saintly man, Baba Che Guevara, dressed in a red robe visited me in a dream. His solemn face glowed in the dark, he raised his finger towards me: Eh man, thy shall follow me on the road to revolution!
Nay, that's not how it started. Motorcycle Diaries is the title of the memoirs of the famous revolutionary, Che Guevara, the present day T-shirt icon. He travelled on his motorbike across Latin America in early 1950s and the journey transformed him into an anti-imperialism guerrilla fighter. While I may not agree with many of the ideas of Che, I am inspired by his urge to understand the fire not by reading about it but by burning his own fingers.
But that's not all. I have my own reasons to plan it this way. I have been to villages while working on the many projects of my organisation and I know that your vehicle matters. It decides and determines the behavior of the people you plan to meet, before you even shake their hands. Their expectations from a person riding a bike are much lower and they mingle easily, making communication more effective. Moreover, motorcycles are more agile and handy than four wheelers.
Since my stay and exact route is not planned per se, I need to carry a number of things. But I don't want to waste time and energy in guarding my belongings. I mean, if I am always afraid of losing my iPad or something, how will I work? I decided to add a lock and key box to my bike. I knew that the motorbikes of cops have those attached to the sides so I talked to one of them but he had no clue about how to get these. I tried the cyber shops where 'everything sells', except what I needed. I made many trips to the motorbike parts and accessories markets. I realised that in this market anything other than a barely functional two-wheeler is for machos. I was not interested in an elegant horse but in a diligent donkey.
I had no choice but to test my product designing skills and stretch my relationships with a host of mistrees to the limit.
Most mistrees are not scientifically trained in their trade. They instead, have learned and mastered certain chores that they happily repeat for you. But making a steel frame for me was unlike any of the daily tasks of Rashid, the steel fabricator. We struggled for days, finalising an armature for my boxes, the one that could make them road-hardy and also make them stick to the bike.
Rashid's bigger worry was however electricity. As I spent hours at his workshop, I noticed that they divide every job into tasks that are manual and ones that depend on an electricity-driven tool like a welding plant, grinder etc. In other words, the division is between what will they do in the bijli hour and the load-shedding hour. It was no surprise then that all my attempts at discussing politics and elections ended up in the lamentation of innumerable conspiracies behind the energy crisis.
Carpenter Shakeel proved to be more responsive, besides being careful about his political views. He was frank in discussions but preferred not take sides. He clad the steel armature with wood and board, keeping the provision for a lockable lid. His trade was a bit less dependent on electricity and he had a UPS on which he could run smaller electrical tools. He was generous with offering tea and meals always. I learned that tea here is not about caffeine, it's about the sugar level in your blood!
Woodwork covered the steel frame and gave it the shape but this material cannot withstand the shocks of roads. So I decided to get it enveloped with a layer of fiber-glass. I would have preferred a die and cast in fiber-glass but that process was more tedious and demanding on time. Farooq was anyway too busy with his other orders. "Sahab is going on a world tour of Pakistan," is what he told a curious chhota at his workshop, the 'world' here implied grand.
The boxes seemed alright but too dull and there is only one way to brighten up and beautify things while on the road. So I went to the truck and bus body making market on Bund Road. Interestingly, some art shops there now employ computers attached with an automatic cutter. But they mostly use it either to cutout complex Arabic calligraphy or other non-traditional images that their clients demand. I bought a few strips made by Mumtaz Mughal but I collected some from other shops as well.
I had to remove the back indicators on my motorbike to make room for the boxes but certainly could not go without these. As no variety of bike indicators fitted, I went for the rickshaw ones.
As I went on a test drive, I was asked questions from fellow bikers at each traffic signal or wherever I stopped about the unique accessory. Many were quick to make a suggestion. One surprised me by asking me to start a motorcycle accessories business!
I posted the test drive picture on my Facebook and that was my first public announcement of the tour. I had discussed it with some friends and family members but did not share it with some important near ones, just to keep their period of anxiety short. I got a call from my mother early next morning ... yes, she is a FB friend. I held my breath as she inquired about the details but, thankfully, she only suggested one addition to my motorbike – an imam zamin tucked in some corner and repeated the directions that I needed to follow to dispose the ‘divine protection money’, also known as saadkah, in an appropriate manner.
I intend to do that as maa ki dua is very important while you are on road.
April 16, 2013