Friday 27 December 2013

Recce ride tracing the origin of Madras

                   The Recce to Pulicat was at last accomplished on 15th December 2013. Along with fellow cyclist friends we started our ride from Madhya Kailash and reached the National Highway near Padi at around 6.30 am in the so called Chennai's winter morning, from here it was a ride midst the greenery through Puzhal, Redhills and Thachoor where we had a pit stop for breakfast. Taking a right and on to Ponneri we reached Pulicat by 10am, knocking onto few Heritage spots like the Portuguese built St. Antony's Church of 1540 AD, the Dutch Cemetery of 1658 AD and 17th Century Periya Pallivasal (Mosque) but to understand these vestiges of time the history now came into reckoning. 
                   The history of Pulicat can be traced to the Chola Kingdom (10 century AD) when it was major port city. the presence of a Chola period Samayeswarar temple in Pulicat  bears testimony to the region being an active trading port during Chola period. Later Pulicat came under direct rule of the great Vijayanagara Kingdom from 14th- 17th Century, the history of Pulicat available with local Muslims which is written in Arabic Tamil script, reflects the view that Muslims had a major presence in Pulicat for centuries. The start of the 16 century saw Europeans (Portuguese) entering the trading scene. Pulicat acted as the major port of the Coromandel Coast at that time, under direct influence of the capital city of Vijayanagara.  The reason for the decline of Pulicat, from a major trading port city to a place of lesser importance, was the battle of Talikota which took place in 1565 AD. This battle took place between the Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagara and the grand Alliance of the five smaller Muslim Sultanates. This grand alliance defeated the Vijayanagara Kingdom which led to the downfall of the mighty Hindu Kingdom. After this war Vijayanagara was no more the capital and hence Pulicat which was directly under its rule also started to lose its importance. 
                  Around 1609 AD the Dutch landed in Pulicat,when they landed it was not an important trading post as it was before. The Muslims helped the Dutch to set up a factory and start trading from Pulicat. Once the Dutch established their trade links with the city of Pulicat they faced pressure from the Portuguese who wanted to have monopoly of this place. To attain their goal of monopoly the Portuguese attacked the Dutch factory and caused much loss to the Dutch. Feeling threatened the Dutch to consolidate their position in Coromandel they decided to fortify their factory at Pulicat and in 1613 AD a fort was constructed. This was named Fort Geldria.  Soon Pulicat again became an important trading post of the Coramandel coast.The English also tried to establish their position in the  Coromandel Coast but only in 1619 AD the English were allowed to keep a garrison and trade at Pulicat. However after the massacre of Amboyna in 1623 AD, the English were not to be seen in Pulicat for a century. In 1639 AD, the English established Fort St. George a place little southward of Pulicat and of less consequence at that time. 
                       Pulicat became the headquarters of the Dutch Government of the Coromandel Coast in  in 1616AD. The chief of Pulicat was the Governor of the Coromandel Coast. From then on all the official decisions regarding the region were taken at Pulicat. Factories were set up at Nagapattinam, PortoNovo, Devanampattinam, Sadraspattinam and other places. Pulicat maintained contact with all the factories in the region and also with the government at Batavia. The growth of Pulicat was at its peak during the time when it was the head quarters of the Coromandel Coast from 1617 AD – 1689 AD. The seven decades long period saw Pulicat as the most important port city of the eastern coast of India. The fact that Pulicat minted its own pagodas from a mint established as early as 1615 AD, supplied with enough gun powder from the factories to Eastern countries, was one of the major producers of textiles, had a fort garrisoned bear testimony that Pulicat was a major and important port city during the seven decades in which it was the capital. Pulicat was an important city as long as it was the headquarters for the Coromandel Coast. 
                        It lost its importance once Nagapattinam was made the headquarters of the Coromandel Coast in 1689 AD and Pulicat was reduced to a rank of a mere principality. The reason cited for the shifting of the Capital was the advance of Mughal army under Aurangzeb down southwards.In Netherlands the VOC decided to concentrate on Bengal in the Indian coast rather than the Coromandel Coast.  Thmajor factor leading to reduction in Dutch power was the destruction that took place in Pulicat during fourth Anglo-Dutch war in 1781AD and the second Anglo-Mysore war. At that time the troops of Hyder Ali Khan destroyed most of the southern Dutch factories including those in Pulicat. The town was taken by the British in 1795 AD. But during all these times Dutch presence was always there in Pulicat. A peace treaty was signed between United Kingdom and States general of Netherlands united provinces. Through this the Dutch again sought to establish their power in Coromandel with Pulicat as headquarters. But this was not to happen because of the destruction of infrastructure caused during the war. Finally in 1825 AD Pulicat was ceded to the British. Throughout this period when Pulicat was losing its importance for around a century and Madras gained prominence under the growing British power. Pulicat was reduced to a small fishing village and was occasionally used by some British as a tourist place for fishing in Pulicat Lake and hunting in the forests of Sriharikota. The only major addition by the British was the construction of Light House in 1895 AD which later made way to the present Light House constructed in 1980's. 
                  Noting these acts of time we peddled on the new scenic route connecting Minjur halting there for lunch and taking up the challenge posed by the container lorries and potholes we cycled past Manali, Tiruvottiyur, Royapuram and reached Parrys Corner by evening 3pm. The return route through the North Coastal regions of Chennai was indeed an unique experience if not for the roads which proved to be a dampener. With the southern region highly developed to capture tourism its now time to we take care of this poor cousin who too has an history to speak. Till next time ... 

(Reference: Pulicat History, Aarde Foundation)      

At 17th Century Dutch Building (Picture: Sundar Rajan)

Thursday 29 August 2013

Madras Week Celebration on Bicycles 2013

               This years Madras Week Celebrations in commemoration of 374th Madras Day had two heritage rides on bicycles to offer and the double bonanza kick started with an Heritage Ride to Royapuram on 18th August 2013, cycling enthusiast from different walks of life gathered on a Sunday morning at the entrance of Madras University relinquishing their precious early morning slumber and even before the arrival of twilight with the accompanying welcome drizzle a peleton of 30 plus cyclist took off from this starting point to explore and relish the past vestiges of Madras. The first place to visit was the Plaque at High Court Compound Wall Judges entrance the Plaque mentioning Bombardment of Madras on the night of 22nd September 1914 by the German cruiser "Emden" and how the missile fell at this spot and took away the portion of the compound wall. Next on line was the nearby Obelisk adjacent to Dare House (Parry's Corner) it mentions the Boundary of Esplanade as on 1st January 1773. Soon we rode past a series of Heritage buildings located on this part of Rajaji Salai earlier called First Line Beach, the SBI Local Head Office and the GPO, then came the Cupola of Lord Cornwallis in front of Chennai Collector Office an empty cupola consisting of the Statue of Lord Cornwallis till 1925 which was later moved to the Museum. After these came the HISTORY in making a visit to the Royapuram Railway Station the oldest operational Railway Station in India which became functional in June 1856. The station was the gateway to Madras and it was at its grandest when Prince of Wales Edward VII visited it on 17th December 1875. Now entering Royapuram our next stop was the St.Peters Church built in 1829. The finish point of the Heritage Ride was at Parsi Anjuman, Royapuram which houses an 100 year old Heritage Building and nearby is located the Parsi Fire Temple called Dar-e-Mehar it was built in 1910. At the end there was a vote of thanks to the sponsors of the ride, all the participants, a group photo session and distribution of refreshments.
History at Royapuram Railway Station 
                 On 25th August Madras Day Heritage Ride to Triplicane and Mylapore, the route was a replica of the Madras Day Heritage Ride 2012 and around 25 of us began from Madras University proceeded to Sri Parthasarathy Temple, this ancient Vaishnava Temple has its earliest inscription reference to Pallava King Dantivarman (795-846 AD) apart from the songs of Vaisnava Saints the Alvars nearby is the Bharathiyar Illam where the national poet Subramaniya Bharathiyar spent his last few years of his life during early 1920's. Next was the Vivekanander Illam known as Ice House which was built by Frederic Tudor in 1842 and used as an ice storage facility it was purchased by one of the Mandyam Iyengars living in Triplicane, Swami Vivekananda who stayed in Triplicane for some time owes much to these Iyengars for his presence at the Chicago Parliament of the World Religions (1893). Riding through the Marina Beach proclaimed to be second longest beach in the world owes its name as well to its first beautification project with promenade in 1884 by the then Governor of Madras Elephinstine Grant Duff we reached Santhome Church built over the Tomb of St.Thomas in 16th Century by the Portuguese and later rebuilt by the British in 1896. Zipping past Dabba Chetty Shop famous for its country drugs and herbal medicine since 1885 we halted for some time at Pey Alvars Birth Place where the 6th Century Vaishnava Saint Pey Alvar was born, The finish point was Sri Kapaleeswarer Temple Mylapore built in 7th century by the Pallavas, to the famous Saiva Saints of Tamilnadu called the Nayanmars the temple was located on the sea shore setting aside the debate we ended the ride with a cup of coffee at the nearby popular mess.
At Vivekananda House
                       The bonhomie, camaraderie and most importantly the feeling of bliss in getting transported to our wonderful past was what all of the participants would have cherished to take back as memories on return and trust these two heritage rides which were orchestrated to perform those tasks with efficiency would have accomplished. Once again thanking all those who were involved in making the Madras Day Heritage Ride's 2013 a grand success. Till next time ... 

Thursday 8 August 2013

Higgs Boson & Must See Series for Cyclist

During the month of July 2012 when the monumental discovery had taken place in search of the Elementary Particle or God Particle in the world of physics called Higgs Boson, I had done a series in Cycling Yogis called "Higgs Boson Must See # 1 - # 7" it was about how our ancestors who had lived hundreds of years ago also thought if not precisely on those similar lines of Scientific Reasoning and I identified around 7-8 places which I felt had in them those attributes of Scientific Reasoning going beyond the barriers of caste or creed. After personally visiting these places the thought of our ancestors quest for scientific reasoning became a source of pride about our glorious past and thus came forward a clarion call to all my cyclist friends as "Must See" places to Ride in Tamilnadu. Now I am compiling these short tit bits into one condensed article.

Higgs Boson - Must See # 1 
Tiruvellarai near Tiruchi Swastika well, also known as Marpidugu Perunkinaru, was dug by Kamban Araiyan. One inscription found in this well is in poetical form and describe the immortal life of man. It belongs to 8th AD. This is also called locally as the Mamiyar-Marumagal Kulam (Mother-in-law Daughter-in-law Tank) since when taking bath in this tank both of them are not visible to each other. 
Swastika Well

Higgs Boson - Must See # 2
Mahabalipuram, the Krishna's Butterball in this place is a giant natural rock perched on a hillside, seemingly in defiance of all laws of physics it's a common sight to see visitors placing hands under the stone posing for pics, which looks as though they are holding it.The rock provides welcome shade if you dare to sit underneath it, and local kids have discovered that the slippery nearby hillside also makes a great natural slide.

Krishna's Butter Ball
Higgs Boson - Must See # 3
Nachiyar Kovil near Kumbakonam  the Kal Garudar which is the vahana for this temple at Nachiyar Kovil . A magical event during Garuda Sevai, Garuda increases in weight manifold. During street procession (Margazhi and Panguni), an unbelievable event takes place at the Nachiyar Koil. While only 4 people carry Garuda out of his Sannidhi, as the Lord goes out of each Layer and prakaram, he is said to increase in weight, that 8 people, 16 and then 32 people are required to carry Garuda out of the temple. Finally, when the Lord is taken outside the temple, Garuda increases in weight so much that 128 people are required to carry the Lord. On his way back, it is said that Garuda mount decreases in weight and finally when he is back in the Sannidhi, only 4 people are required to carry him.

Kal Garudar, Nachiyar Kovil
Higgs Boson - Must See # 4
Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar Temple also called the Big Temple, its widely believed that the shadow of the Gopuram (pyramidal tower usually over the gateway of a temple) never falls on the ground.

      Thanjavur Big Temple  

Higgs Boson - Must See # 5
Iyengar Kulam near Kanchipuram, the Mandapam in the basement (underground) was filled with water on its sides during the festival days. The famous Nada Bhaavi Utsavam (festival) of Kanchipuram Sri Varadaraja Perumal takes place here during Chitira Pournami (April/May) 

Iyengar Kulam near Kanchipuram
Higgs Boson - Must See # 6
Sri Rangam, here its widely believed that the physical body of Bhagavad Ramanuja is preserved even today in a sitting posture in the Sannidhi (Sanctum Sanctorum) dedicated to him on the southwest corner on the fifth round opposite to Sudharshana Alwar Sannidhi, within the Srirangam temple Complex as ordered by Lord Ranganatha himself. The whole world is wonder struck at the feat of preservation of the mummies of Egypt and the body of St. .Xavier in GOA in India. There is no Thirumanjanam (bath) for this Idol. Yearly twice it is Thirumanjanam of Pachai Kalpuram and Kumkuma Poo (Saffron).

Bhagavad Ramanujar at Sri Rangam

Higgs Boson - Must See # 7
Thirukazhikundram near Chennai at Vedagiriswarar temple in Thirukazhkundram the priest feed a pair of eagle like bird every day. Exactly at noon, the birds would fly down from the sky to partake of a prasadam of wheat, rice, ghee and sugar from the temple’s priest.The pair of birds have been fed many generations of priests counting years to many centuries.It is still a real puzzle for the Scientists about this unusual fare for the vultures, at Thirukazh. Specially the fact that and only two birds used to show up, although vultures are fond of gathering in goodish numbers to feast on corpses is a mystery to the scientists. As the tradition continued for centuries, many generations of vultures must have been involved int the fair, passing on the tradition, perhaps from mother to son, or husband to wife. Zoologists define this culture as an imitation of patterns of behaviors of one animal by another. Viewed from this perspective, the vultures of Thirukazhkundram certainly qualified as rather unusual animals of high culture.But it is really sad the centuries long tradition is lost and probably never be recreated as the unusual vulture also must have fallen prey to the human civilization since 1998.

Priest feeding the Eagles at Thirukazhikundram
The eighth Must See could be the Statue of Sri Atti Varadar placed inside the Kanchipuram Sri Varadaraja Perumal Temple Tank which is taken out for worship once in every 40 years. There could be many more such Must See in our wonderful Tamilnadu which I have not overcome or heard perhaps if you have a story to furnish its always a welcome. Trust my cycling friends would pose with some lovely photographs at these locations in the days and years to come. With this I conclude these little tit bits that came as a series in Cycling Yogis during July 2012 which is now been compiled as a single article. Till next time. 

Thursday 1 August 2013

Recent Recce to Royapuram

"It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of the country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle" 
- Ernest Hemingway

The recent few recce to Royapuram along with my cyclist friends in connection with the Madras Day Heritage Ride brought new insights on the way I had perceived our city over the years first being a pity that I lacked total awareness about this Northern part of Chennai and secondly I came to know how strategically important this region was in the making of the present day Chennai. Our recce rides always began from the Gandhi Statue at Marina Beach and we crisscrossed through the landmark sites located all along the beach notable being Ice House (Vivekananda House), Chepauk Palace, Madras University, Napier Bridge and Fort St George. Pedaling onto the Rajaji Salai subway at RBI possibly the oldest in the city only to resurface near the entrance gate for the Honorable Judges of the Madras High Court and standing beside the plaque just adjutant which mentions about the bombardment of Madras by German cruiser 'Emden' on the night of 22nd September 1914, my mind conjures with this region and its surroundings which are replete with history. On my left stands the George Town earlier called Black Town which housed the first settlements of Madras and the Port of Madras to the other side of the road, briefly looking into the history of the Madras Port which is possibly the second largest in India and nearly 130 years old, it was simply an open road stead and sandy coast swept by storms and occasional monsoon. This man made port had its first constructional activities from 1861, in the year 1881 it faced the wrath of a storm the worst in Madras History, to reputed historian S. Muthiah it was Sir Francis Spring who during his tenure between 1904-1919 as Chairman of the Port committed himself to the meeting the challenge flaunted by nature in creating the Madras Harbor, it was also him who nurtured the talent of Mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan who worked in the Port for some years. Riding through Parry's Corner junction we now come across a series of Heritage buildings located on this part of Rajaji Salai earlier called First Line Beach, a few notable being SBI, the GPO, the erstwhile Bentinck's Building where now stands the Chennai Collectors Office, Customs House and HSBC, the opposite side contained the Beach Station and eastern entrance to the Port, to historian V.Sriram the road meant "in its time it was the most important road of the city" riding further across and with a mini climb over the bridge we reach our destination Royapuram. This part of Chennai could have perhaps got its name from Rayyar the Tamil equivalent for Peter in whose name exist the church built in 1829 called St.Peters Church which is inseparably connected with the Christian Boat owners and men who worked for the East India company during 18th century. Royapuram also houses the Parsi Fire Temple Dar-e-Mehar constructed in 1910 and after a visit to these places our last stop was the one and only Royapuram Railway Station, this station came into beginning on 1st July 1856 and is the oldest operational station in this part of the world, leaving rest of its story to history we concluded the nearly 15 km recce inclusive of the return with some awesome breakfast at a famous eatery in Triplicane. Till next time ...
At Royapuram Railway Station

Thursday 18 July 2013

The Bicycle Legend from Chennai

Being a resident of Urur near Theosophical Society at Adyar my childhood memories are filled with our early morning errands to this sprawling green campus with my uncle to bring drinking water from Bharata Samaj Temple and my favorite shikari (ride) on those two carved elephants in the temple stairways, known for Banyan Tree and Head Quarters Hall it was also home to stalwarts like Annie Beasent and J.Krishnamurthy. Bicycles played a dominant role in this nearly 400 acres campus and if the Adyar estuary region came to be associated with this hallowed institution another part of Chennai called Ambattur containing few mango grooves also shot into prominence due to its connection with the legendary TI Cycles Ltd. The Indian bicycle industry came into reckoning with the advent of Hind Cycles Ltd in Bombay (1939), Hindustan Bicycle Corporation at Patna later the Sen Raleigh Group in Asonsol (1949) and others including the presently renowned North Indian based bicycle houses in 1950's. To the reputed historian S. Muthiah, after closing their business operations at Mouliem a port city in Lower Burma due to Second World War the Murugappa Group (founded earlier in 1898 by Dewan Bhadur A.M.Murugappa) and now consisted of three brothers began their business ventures in India. Soon under the able leadership of the eldest brother A.M.M.Murugappa (1902-1965) whose vision was to manufacture a product for the common men which could be sold in large numbers they established TI Cycles Ltd with tie up from the British giant Tube Investments in July 1949, the factory became operational in 1951. Till the years 1953-54 Hercules bicycles were manufactured with the name Hercules India and by 1956-57 the entire bicycle was being manufactured, it came out from the completely indigenous plant of TI Cycles. Such was their progress that Sir Ivan chief of Tube Investments (UK) urged them to produce Philips and BSA which was rolled out in 1959 and 1964 respectively. Moving on to details from their own sources we get to know their Avadi plant became operational in 1957 and they tied up with Wright Saddles and Diamond Chains in 1959. The one millionth bicycle was manufactured and they also started the production of TI Miller dynamos and lighting in 1960. The year 1975 marked their 25 years of service and with passage of time they began to expand. They were the first to come out with bicycle in each category be it the MTB, Geared Bike, Light Roadsters, Girls Bikes or Kids Bike from 1980-90's. After their Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1999, they came up with "BSA Go" and "BSA Zone" series of exclusive showrooms across the country from 2006 which became a shop for all bicycling and fitness requirements. In 2008 they started the "Track and Trail" outlets which offered international range of bicycles for the discerning cyclist and also introduced the India's first cycling cafe. In 2011 they launched the "Montra" with international standard carbon frame ingeniously manufactured for the first time in India. Having briefly gone through their six decades of glorious history and contribution to bicycling I conclude this rhetoric by dedicating it to our great city which has produced numerous legends, pioneers and doyens ... till next time. 
A.M.M.Murugappa Chettiyar (1902-1965), Pic:India Post

Thursday 11 July 2013

Glimpses from Chennai's Bicycle History

The Aavin Ice-cream Parlor at Adyar shot into prominence during the mid 1970's and along with it came a lovely park and children play area. My mother along with her friends would bring me to this place on certain weekends and most importantly during the visit by any national leaders to Chennai who's convoy crossed this place en route to attend public gathering at Seerani Arangam in Marina Beach from Governor House (Raj Bhavan) where they stayed. Adyar of my younger days was a green sheltering space because of the lesser traffic and fewer people. Bicycles almost dominated the road space and one could count the number of cars, ironically if we look into the history of bicycles in Chennai these car sellers and manufactures were the ones who made initial forays into selling of imported bicycles and its spares. The Addisons was bought by Mr. Tom Luker in 1886 and imported bicycles, watches,clocks,books and fancy items for sale. In 1889 they opened their new showroom in Anna Salai and became the first company to import and sell pneumatic cycle tires before getting into Car sales and service or the eventual take over in 1942 by the Amalgamations group. In 1910's R.Nataraja Mudaliar closely relative of Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar (doyen of theater) started Watson and Co which sold imported bicycles from Britain before venturing into car dealership and film production. Be it for economic activity or leisure ride, in merry times as against the adverse days of Japanese attack on Chennai during 1942 bicycles always had takers in the city. There were few success stories associated with bicycles, Nalli Chinnaswami Chetty founder of the famous Nalli Silks started in 1928 visited his customers houses on a bicycle to collect the monthly installment payments or the luxury Hotel Ambica Empire in Vadapalani proclaims that its founding owner a native of Eluru (AP) made daily errands across streets of the city on bicycle selling its branded Agarbathie's in mid 1940's. Cycling on the city roads to some was a joy since there was hardly any traffic and one could continuously ride without stopping, the Marina Beach of 1940's for few meant mobile canteen, the music band, horse riding and cycling till the Iron Bridge. The 1950's saw the emergence of TI Cycles Ltd, we shall look into this along with the history of bicycle as a sport in Tamilnadu during 1970's on another occasion but for now lets move on, since mid 1980's with the growth in automobile industry, the aspiring middle class disregard to cycling and lack of safety for cyclist brought about decline of bicycling in Chennai. A survey by the CCTS indicate that number of person trips using bicycles had come down from a healthy 20% in 1970's to 6% in 2008 the prime reason being facilities provided to cyclist being grossly inadequate. But things are changing for good since late 2000's there has been growth in cycling across Chennai with many combining it as a physical and leisure activity going by the statics of high end bicycle sales. For now I conclude this rhetoric with a note on bicycle in Chennai by the greatest film director of our times as told to Sudhish Kamath. Till next time.

"In the night, if spotted a policeman, I would get off and walk along my bicycle, my cycle did'nt have a Dynamo.
I would get back on the seat only when he's out of sight
One day the Policeman laughed at me
Out of habit, I had got off even during daytime"
- Film Director K. Balachander 

Film Director K.Balachander (Pic: The Hindu)

Thursday 4 July 2013

A retrospect on Cycling Races, Legends and Cyclist Janaki Das

    Except for the week long International Convention held at Theosophical Society in the fag end of December which played host to a few Kutcheries and Dance Dramas inclusive of canteen facilities or the local Amman Temple Adi Festival in August there were not much of events to look forward during those television less days or rather evenings at Adyar in late 1970's, thus our school Sports Day and Annual Day came into prominence, my school located on banks of Adyar river had athletic track big by any means and was also used for two bicycle races as a run up to the annual Sports Day, the slow bicycle race which had lot of fun elements became a regular event but the speed race for seniors students vanished within few years of its inception due to lot of safety concerns echoed by senior teaching staff. Keen to know more lets get rolling. 
    Cycle races have their beginnings to Western Europe and they were of many types a few noteworthy being the Criteriums,Time Trials and Stage's, the Cycling Hall of Fame mentions them as Grand Tours and One Day races which included the Classics. The Grand Tour (three week races) consisted of the most prestigious Tour de France (1903) in France, the famous Giro D'Italia (1909) in Italy and renowned Vuelta A Espana (1935) in Spain. While the single day races constituted the World Championship every year and Olympics, the classics also called Monuments contained Liege- Bastogne- Liege (1894), Paris- Roubaix (1896), Milan- San Remo (1907) and Giro Di Lombardi (1905). Nothing on racing can be complete without mentioning about the legends who pedaled these speed machines to the podium, few of them according to Cycling Hall of Fame are Gino Bartali (1935- 50,Italy), Fusto Coppi (1940-55,Italy), Jacques Anquetil (1957-67,France), Eddy Merckx (1966-76,Belgium), Bernard Hinnault (1977-86,France) and Miguel Indurain (1991-95,Spain), keeping aside the scandals and controversies which hit the cycling world on few occasions lets move forward.
   In India the history of Cycling Federation mentions about cyclist Janaki Das instrumental in bringing this sport to our country by mid 1930's and he was the lone Indian who participated in British Empire Games later called as Commonwealth Games at Sydney (1938) where he missed the medal narrowly due to injury caused during a crash, later the Indian Cycling Teams participated in World Championship (1946) at Switzerland and in London Olympics (1948). Cycling was one of the sports in the First Asian Games at New Delhi (1951), except for a brief period of stalemate Indian team participated in various international events from Bangkok Asian Games 1970 almost regularly. The first Arjuna Award for cycling was given to Amar Singh in 1975, from 1982 New Delhi Asian Games to the recently concluded 33rd Asian Cycling Championship 2013 again in New Delhi cycling as a sport has developed leaps and bounds but we still have miles and miles to go, I conclude this rhetoric remembering the contribution by Cyclist Janaki Das if not for whom many of us Indians would have been only reading about this sport, awaiting your additions. Till next time ...
At the finish of Team Time Trial on 4th December 2011 at ECR 

Thursday 27 June 2013

Romance with the Road Bicycle

At Mahabalipuram (ECR) Pic: Viswa Aditya 
The ECR Road has now become symbolic with road bikes, time trials, training sessions, road races and importantly being host to all these activities around the year, my memories of this road dates back to late 1970's when on weekends my mother would take me on visit to this place where my grand parents resided, the local bus (PTC) painted mostly in red and cream would bring us to the last point Tiruvanmiyur Temple Tank bus stand from Adyar ticket costing around 20 paisa, walking towards Clock Tower where the present day buses to Puducherry stop one could see a row of Jatka (Horse Carriage) for hire, to me travelling in them was always memorable, I always made it a point to sit in front so that I get some best view of the running horse especially the sound emitting from its hooves or be it the excellent view of single lane road, the visible sea shore, those ponds with Dhobi's busy at work, the occasional cluster of casurina trees and farming activities on the other side of the road before reaching our destination, remembering those wonderful days and feeling disgusted that not even an iota of them now remains lets move forward, unlike other bicycles for Road Bicycle, Racing Cycle alias Road Bike the components played a vital role in its history, even though we find the first recorded history of bicycle race dating to 1868 the winner riding a wooden bike and bicycle racing was added during the first Olympic Games in Athens (1896) or the long distance races from city to city like Paris-Brest-Paris and numerous other events gaining popularity by 1900 including the race of all the races TdF (Tour de France) which started in 1903. The year 1937 marks the most important year in the history of these speed machines when "Derailleurs" were permitted for use in major events like TdF though they existed since late 1900's. Campagnolo of Italy contributed to this racing bicycle by producing world class derailleurs like Cambio Corsa (1940), Paris Roubaix, Gran Sport in 1950's and Nuovo Record in late 1960's, few other manufacturers of these components over the period of time included Simplex, Huret, Suntour and Shimono. Lastly mention must also be made of few road bicycle manufacturers having history like Bianchi founded in 1885 possibly the world's oldest existing manufacturer, BH Bicycles (Beistegui Hermanos) and Colnago. Thus I conclude this rhetoric on the brief history of road bicycle having mentioned the salient features which I presume are important, if you can add something more to it you are always welcome. Wishing you all a happy viewing of TdF 2013 over the next few weeks. Till next time ...

Thursday 20 June 2013

A tale of Bicycle and Cities

The evenings at Adyar in late 1970's would be buzzing with activity at the arrival of Mobile Post Office Van stationed for a limited time under the canopy of huge trees near the then Udipi Hotel Vani Vihar (evening special menu always contained newly launched sensation the Chola Poori colloquial of Chaana Bhatura) this red color van with counters and bright interior lights would usher in many people on bicycles thronging this place some rushing and in the melee jumping the queue or few creating ruckus to make last minute changes in the letters to be posted by placing them to write on the bicycle saddle/seat before the Van finally disappearing into darkness to reach another part of the city, languishing on memories of those unforgettable days lets get on with our story. In his article "Social Movements and the Bicycle" by Dave Horton one gets to know that across many cities in Britain following First World War (1914-18) bicycle became means by which vast number of ordinary people conducted their ordinary lives and by 1930's exploring countryside became a popular leisure pursuit, in 1930's over 1.5 million bicycles were sold annually and in 1936 there were 10 million regular cyclist compared to 6 million in 1929. He concludes by mentioning about how the decades following the Second World War (1939-45) the massive popular embrace of automobile led to huge fall in fortunes of bicycle across cities and in 70-80's witnessed the rising environmental concerns across Europe and aftermath of Rio Earth Summit (1992) bringing in new wave of direct actions towards the cause of cycling. Thus getting to know the high's and low's of cycling in West and skipping Copenhagen and Amsterdam the best bicycle friendly cities on the globe for another occasion let us proceed with the Indian scenario, though not much information is available before 1950's we get to know that in 1960-61 bicycle production in India was 10.71 lakhs and during 1960's bicycle accounted for 60% of all commuting trips in New Delhi which had drastically fallen to 4% in the recent past.To Dr.Sreenivas Kulkarni the owner of one of the oldest bicycle shops in India at Pune and the first Ph.D holder in the country to take up Bicycle as his thesis mentions how in Pune the city of his study there were 53,886 bicycles to only 56 motorcycles in 1959 and how in 1980's there were around 2000 cycle repair shops which later shrunk to 200 shops. According to CMDA in Chennai there has been a steep decline of people who opted to use bicycle as transport from 21.3% in 1970 to 12.8% in 2005. Looking into these figures would deter many of our passionate cyclist hearts but indeed there is ray of hope one such hope according to TI Cycles Ltd being the demand for premium bicycles had grown by 50-70% in 2010 and they sold 3.6 million units in that fiscal year, there could be many more hopes to pen down but having had phobia for numbers since my childhood I am ending this rhetoric and eagerly awaiting the start to the event of the year which all the cycling maniacs like me look forward especially being in its 100th edition ... till next time.
Bicycle's in Mount Road, Chennai (1905) 

Thursday 13 June 2013

Women and Bicycle an enduring History

Having been in a boys school and men's college during most part of my student life, my memories of women on bicycle is very less except for few initial years of school when my class teacher Mrs.Lotille came riding in her ladies bicycle to school and followed by the evening classes at her home where a sound thrashing awaited me from her daughter Miss.Honourine also my English teacher, sometimes this spilled to the weekends when my grandfather would throw open a party to these two gracious women who commuted on bicycle. These stories apart the bicycle played a vital role in woman's emancipation, the introduction of Safety bicycle by J.K. Starley in 1885 and invention of pneumatic tires few years later gave western women an unprecedented freedom and with mass production it became cheaper that soon more women got access, in fact many women started learning to ride and ushering with it changes to their costume. Possibly the earliest lady bicycle (perhaps an upgrade of Rover Safety with pneumatic tires) with drop frame came to the market by around 1888-89, followed by a series of production (random order) like Rambler Ladies, Sunbeam, Raleigh Ladies Roadster, Stearns (USA) and BSA Ladies Roadster etc, but one must mention that from the period of safety bicycle till the Second World War or even later there seems to have been not much of major changes to the ladies bicycle, in early 1970's we here the name Mixte's probably a Unisex bicycle having step through frame it must have been in existence till around 1980's after which there is not much information. In India apart from emancipation bicycle also had to play the role of empowering women, Mahatma Gandhi in his reply to Maniben Patal (daughter of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patal) in 1926 mentions about riding bicycle as a good form of exercise after she wrote to him about her purchase of bicycle. Even though the earliest bicycle and bicycle parts industry in India originates to Kolkata around year 1910 where manufacture of bicycle components and manufacture units was set up, imports of bicycles from UK, Germany and Japan flourished but there seems to have been a drop of sales during the Second World War. From 1950's till the present day ladies bicycle is being produced by all the major Indian bicycle brands, over the years these bicycles would have witnessed many technological development and upgrades an example in this direction being TI Cycles Ltd producing an exclusive girls bike BSA Ladybird in 1994. Even as we stand today being the second largest bicycle manufacturer in the world, Indian women owe much to the Bicycle as much has it owes to Annie Londenderry, Maniben Patel or to the saga of many unknown women riding bicycles in rural India, ending this rhetoric and awaiting the traffic of information from your side which is still on the one way ... till next time.   
A lady riding bicycle (Robin Wahengbam, 2012)

Thursday 6 June 2013

Triumph of bicycle during School Days

The reopening of schools in June would usher in children having mixture of emotions visible on their faces as they arrive at school every day morning and during my school days for most of them Cycle rickshaws was the main medium of transport while some students living in the nearby vicinity commuted on bicycles. Having a spacious parking stand for bicycles our school always conducted its Annual Sports Day by the end of July and there used to be two events associated with bicycles the slow cycle race and the speed race, lets devulge into those details on another occasion but for now among the teenage students after a great struggle in getting parental permission for commuting to school on bicycle there was much more fun elements in store, bicycles was meant for performing never ending stunts like wheelie, carrying doubles or triples has payloads and promoting group rides. The cycles mostly used were SLR (Sports Light Roadster) and few other small framed adult bikes who's brand names I do not remember but one thing coming into aid of memory is the advertisements of Indian Cricketer Kapil Dev with the BSA SLR bicycle during the early 1980's in the Tinkle magazine for children. In the late 1940's Raleigh Bicycles became famous for its lightweight Sports Roadsters since these bikes were considerably lighter and quicker than the other heavy forms of Roadsters the multipurpose utility bike, soon these bicycles were exported from United Kingdom to many parts of the globe. Around the same time Schwinn Bicycles came out with a few notable being Black Phantom having balloon tire, head lights, tail lights and other ingredients it was a sensation among the boys in USA. During 1970's the iconic and all time famous Raleigh Chopper which I missed to mention in my earlier rhetoric titled "Tribute to Summer Vacations"  (Vol: 2) took on the center stage but to what extent these bicycles would been used for commuting to school is a paradox to answer. In India apart from TI Cycles Ltd who brought in the first BSA SLR for teens in 1980's, Hero Cycles also came up with  junior bikes in 1990's, references available towards this end is scarce and from nearly a decade till the recent times there seems to be preference for MTB and its variants among the student community. School life is remembered till the end of our lives, trust this rhetoric would be a catalyst for recollecting your memories of cycling during school days, till next time ...
My School

Thursday 30 May 2013

A date with History of Bicycle Shops

Established in 1910's at Mount Road, Madras  
After a break of more than 20 years I began riding bicycle from 14th February 2010, it was puzzling and shocking to hear the names of Cannondale, Bianchi or Schwinn and most importantly the cost of the bikes, my friends bicycle shop with swanky interiors, air conditioned and having huge TV screens was a sea change to the shops I vividly remember as a child. Located in the neighborhood these shops would be small mostly with shed type structure and thatched (Pandal) or tin roof extending to the front, my wait here was with my uncle and his cycle or during later days to rent a hire cycle, most of these shops usually had tools in tin boxes with a aluminium vessel containing dirty water used for identifying punctures and the same old red color rubber solvent for fixing it, few youngsters would be seen requesting for worn out tires and tubes to use them for their solo tire races, making catapult or soft ball. A peep into its history shows that these shops usually had its share of humble beginnings and ran through generations of the same family. Possibly the oldest bicycle shop in the world is Pearson Cycles in United Kingdom (1860) while Kopp's Cycle Shop (1891) claims itself as the oldest in USA. In India to mention which is the first bicycle shop is a daunting task and secondly its doubtful that it could have survived till this day, a Raleigh cycle advertisement of 1930's mentions of one Wellington Cycle and Motor Company having branches in cities like Mumbai, Kolkatta, Delhi, Nova (Goa) and Chennai (Mount Road), on further study we get to know that it was started in 1900's at Mumbai before they ventured into manufacture of Record Discs, others of the time included Singh & Co in Railway Road, Jalandhar and Kulkarni & Sons in Pune, here in Chennai at Mount Road (Anna Salai) P.Orr & Sons the timekeepers dabbled with bicycles for a brief time.In 1910's R.Nataraja Mudaliar closely relative of Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar (doyen of theater) started Watson and Co in Anna Salai (Mount Road) which sold imported bicycles from Britain before venturing into car dealership and film production. He could possibly be the first Indian to dabble with Bicycle sales since P.Orr & Sons (1873) the time keepers of Chennai also took a short excursion from their traditional business into assembling of bicycles and Addisons (1889) were the first to venture into import and sale of Pneumatic tires. But it is in Broadway also called as Parry's Corner which has the distinction of possessing the oldest bicycle shops since 1930's named Best Cycling Importing Co and another B.M. Davey & Co, they imported bicycles from abroad until 1950's before venturing into sell Indian made bicycles, from 1950's onward with the booming domestic bicycle industry there came into existence many shops around every nook and corner of India which included our friendly neighborhood bicycle shop but the upsurge of two wheeler automobile segment by mid 1980's brought about dramatic changes leading to vanishing of many road side bicycle shops by 1990's and thereby making major bicycle manufacturers get into retail segment in the later years, TI Cycles Ltd opened their first retail outlet "BSA Go" in 2006 at Ahmedabad followed by many across India. I conclude this rhetoric on a nostalgic note remembering the neighborhood bicycle shops and trusting you will share some of your experience on the shops you had known, till next time ...
During GT & Mongoose launch in India with Edward Vlutters (Director) GT Bicycles on 29th Oct 2010


Thursday 23 May 2013

Chennai's tryst with Bicycle History

From early morning hawkers on their daily errands selling Kolam Powder (Rangoli), Keerai (Green Leaves), Flowers (Malli'Pu) and Waste Paper Merchants with their ever familiar voices and tinkling sound of their bicycle bells merging in with the bizarre sounds of the metropolis to the first generation entrepreneurs, aspiring intelligentsia, upcoming artisans or be it with the reminiscence of ester year black and white classics of Tamil cinema portraying the grandeur of cycling notable being the immortal song with the lyrics of Kannadasan in the legendary Sivaji Ganesan starer Pava Mannippu (1961) "Vantha Nal Muthal" (From the day of Arrival) bicycle has evolved and integrated with the daily life of the people in Chennai. Such was the co-relation between both the C's (Chennai & Cycling) that when I was gleaning through The Hindu archives I came across a weekly column of Madras Miscellany dated 16th December 2002 in which S.Muthiah Sir mentions about one S.A.A.Annamalai Chettiar as the pioneer of bicycles in India and how during on of his sojourns to Great Britain for the Wembley Exhibition in 1924 he tied up with a German firm and on his return home started manufacturing the frame with other parts being imported from the collaborators and in 1925 was born the "Swan Bicycle". Thus he started the assembly of Indian Bicycles but unable to compete with the imported ones like Raleigh or Hercules he had to close it down. Another interesting information available in that weekly column of Madras Miscellany is of how the founders of TI Cycles Ltd especially A.M.M. Murugappa Chettiar provided an helping hand to Hero Cycles Ltd during its formative years. On reading these interesting revelations perhaps felt that "Swan Bicycle" could have been the first Indian bicycle but one thing for certain was the role of TI Cycles Ltd in making Chennai the powerhouse of bicycles from 1950's, we can divulge into their history on some other occasion but for now my mind conjures with the silence of the night remembering this great multifaceted personality S.A.A. Annamalai Chettiar and his contribution to cycling, till next week ...
An artistic imagination of Swan Bicyle

Thursday 16 May 2013

Nostalgic Rides and History of Bicycle

The recent night rides to meet my cycling community friends at Beasant Avenue brought forward many of my childhood memories with bicycle during late 70's, occasionally my uncle was given the job of dropping me home after my evening class,one late evening while he was bringing me home on his bicycle the front light was not functioning properly and the Cop clad in Khaki Shorts uniform with an unique cap stopped us and book him on another occasion in spite of repeated warnings I just crazily kept my foot into the running wheel causing injury and followed by a strong reprimand. My uncle kept his bicycle in an meticulous condition and loved his daily commute sometimes taking me on those almost lonely roads having the occasional two wheeler or car passing by with cycles and rickshaws ruling the road, most of these bicycles looked the same to me be it with the morning newspaper guy, the milk man bringing the milk supplied in bottles,my school teacher's or the Ice cream vendor and many more such sequences through the day.The lingering image of this cycle which played a pivotal role in daily life of the people propelled me to know more. This bicycle called "Roadster" has its origins from United Kingdom, with the invention of pneumatic tires, starting of Raleigh Cycles in 1887 and fast growth of bicycle technology in the early 1900's there began mass production of these bicycles which had impetus on safety,utility and durability, until mid 1940's these were the most sold bicycles and had already become practical form of personal transport, other cycling houses of the time like BSA, Hercules and Phillips also played a major role in its innovation and production that some of them were inducted into the services of few armies. In India cycles were imported from beginning of 1900's till the complete ban on it by the government in 1953, TI Cycles Ltd established their first A factory in 1951 and the first to roll out was Hercules Bicycle along with the then best seller Phillips, by mid 1960's Hero Cycles started exporting bicycles, others like Atlas Cycles soon joined the bandwagon. And as the night gets deep its time I conclude this rhetoric eagerly awaiting some more info on this great common man bicycle, till then ...
A Sadhu with modified Roadster at Kumbh Mela

Thursday 9 May 2013

Tribute to Summer Vacations & Brief History of Kids Bicycle

                   Summer holidays have always been instrumental for many children to learn and develop their skills to ride the bicycle. If not on tour to relatives place,summer holidays always meant waiting patiently at the cycle shop for my turn to pick up the Hire Bike its rent being around 50 Paisa to Rs.1 per hour based on its size and after the hectic ride in our locality with fellow friends the cycle would be returned or time extended depending upon the pocket money but one thing mandatory was the Nanari Sharbate drink for 75 Paisa at the end and return home with some bruises. 
              Carrying on these vivid memories lets now get into a very brief history of kids bicycle, perhaps Kids bicycle had come into vogue by 1920's itself but its was Huffy's who designed bikes specifically for children, in 1949 Huffy Convertible with rear training wheels revolutionized the market, Huffy's also followed up with a series of bicycles for children between 1963- 1967. Few more famous bicycles to enter the fray were the Schwinn Sting Ray with banana seat and high rise handlebars in 1963, its upgrade the Krate (1968) was a sensation among both Kids and Teenagers, perhaps these type of bicycles soon paved the way for BMX revolution in the USA. During 1970's the iconic and all time famous Raleigh Chopper was launched it was branded as 'THE HOT ONE'. The Chopper bike was the "must have" item and signifier of "coolness" for many children of the time.  
                In India kids bicycle history is bit obscure the manufacturers should have imported till 1953 and perhaps customized it locally for sale till the 1960's, on its side TI Cycles came up with a exclusive kids bike named BSA Champ in 1983, I end this rhetoric awaiting for some more info on kids bicycle from your side and as the heat soars to 37 Degrees Celsius due to the Kathiri Veyyil, its now time for me to take a break, until next week.

Kid riding the Bicycle 

Thursday 2 May 2013

The Mall at Shimla and History of Bicycle

Was pondering what to write since this is the first of the Weekly named Ram's Rhetoric, should I start with the nuances about the evolution of bicycle and the list of contributors but felt can keep it for some other occasion, few things which made me curious to know about the history of bicycle in India happened during my MTB Himachal sojourn of 2011, this event was flagged off from "The Mall" (also called Ridge) Simla and my interaction with TI Cycles folks incidentally it was TI Cycles who sponsored my trip, came to know that the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were the biggest markets for bicycles in India and Hero Cycles and TI Cycles are the major players in this region and how a popular yesteryear brand Philips was being re-marketed apart from other brands, having no source material on cycling as I had very little time to compile this story I breezed through website of Hero Cycles assuming I can do a write up about TI Cycles and its role in the annals of Indian Bicycle History some time in the future as it is based in Chennai. The Hero Cycle website mentions bicycle was seen in India in the year 1890. However import of cycles started in 1905 and continued for more than 50 years. Complete ban on imports was announced by the Government in July, 1953, but cycle kept on simmering in the country till 1961 and mention is made about prices of cycles so on and so forth. The most important and interesting information I found was about a mention that in 1919, five persons in Punjab imported cycles and used them on "The Mall" Simla. These included one Bishop, two military men and two contractors. Under special permission of the Governor,they were allowed to cycle on 'The Mall' only for one hour in a day. They imported B.S.A. Cross Bar Cycle from U.K. and it used to be a kind of Mela at that particular hour on "The Mall" in Simla,the scene watched by hundreds of people everyday. Thus I conclude this first edition presuming someone would add some more spice and zing to this story of the past perhaps not rigidly about "The Mall" only, till next time its Adieus Amigos ...
Before the start of MTB Himachal at The Mall (Ridge) Shimla  

Monday 22 April 2013

World Heritage Day Ride on the Mount Road 2013

In commemoration of the World Heritage Day which was on 18th April Cycling Yogis organised an Heritage ride of Mount Road on 21st April 2013. As the name suggest Mount Road is itself synonymous with British India, the road starts near Fort St George and reaches St. Thomas Mount running past some historic landmarks of which only a few have withstood the times, barring the sudden spell of showers early in the morning which caused delayed start a group of 20 cyclist started from Munro Statue at 5.30 am and rode past Mount Road visiting the Heritage Buildings of 
The Mail 
P.Orr & Sons 
The Trio called Christ Church, Suguna Vilas Sabha (SVS Club),Cosmopolitan Club, 
Dargha of Sufi Saint Syed Moosa Sha Khaderi (17th Century),
Heritage Building of Bharath Insurance 
Heritage Buildings of Agurchand Mansion
Cuddon / Gove Building 
Riding across Saidapet we reached the King Institute of Preventive Medicine Guindy where a small interactive session with refreshments and photo shoot was organised, 
The grand finale was the climb to St.Thomas Mount and finish at the top of the hill by around 8.00 am.
King Institute, Guindy