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