Photography and other experiences.

Drive & Ride

“Well! the R1 takes off faster. But the Busa will fuck its mother to 300.”

“Have you done 300!!??”

“I’ve done 300, 300 times.”He replied nonchalantly.

Man! someone has lived my dream 300 times.

This is testosterone for you. This is what bikers are famous for. It warms my heart. And if the conversation happens under a sky which is hell bent upon narrating a tragic love story, it is invigorating.
Sunday was the day I was supposed to shoot Vintage cars with super bikes. It doesn’t take a highly perceptive mind to realize that the two belong to the opposite ends of design and technology spectrum. In fact a super bike belongs to another dimension. Two hundred and sixty kilo Suzuki Hayabusa makes about one hundred ninety seven horsepower. It does 0 to 100kph time in about 2.6 seconds. A vintage car meanwhile is all about beauty, style and personality. Its design reflects the time when human beings had a different relationship with space . Super bike on the other hand fulfills a baser human instinct. That being a rapier. A go fast, reach anywhere ‘tool’ of masculinity. A beast of prey. An expression of arrival and an expression of an ‘out of reach’ existence. Whatever is your take, ultimately  both represent passion and what exists beyond, ‘average’, ‘profit & loss’, ‘practicality or impracticality’, or ‘resale’ value.

Since I was invited by Rajeev Joseph to cover their second event and it was to include the super bikes, I went with a preconceived notion to find a relationship between the form of a vintage car and the hyper-velocity of the super bike. What kind of an image will bring the two forth? Another thing to capture was the involvement of people with these machines. Not just the owners, but onlookers and bystanders. Images existed in my mind before I took a single photograph. Images with a blue sky, but that was not to be.
Talking of the sky, it can best be described as an unwilling woman. No point telling your wants here. Satisfy yourself with your own imagination. One look up and it was clear that shadows were not going to be a part of the narrative. An even, dull canvas painted in gray to scratch my picture in, was the best on offer. So, whatever was available had to be understood and used  judiciously.

The starting point was Magique restaurant at the garden of five senses. On my way there, I was counting my senses. Touch, smell, vision, speech, and taste. How many will I use that day? My vision was disappointed and the touch was a bit numb with cold. However I liked Magique for its ‘in the middle of a desert oasis’ look. Large wax candles molten after long hours of burning on impressive art noveau style candelabras had turned into vicious white hair locks. The image was straight out of a Gothic nightmare. I liked that! A young Banyan tree with large leaves spread over the courtyard dining area. Tiled pathway ran adjacent to the restaurant. A wall with an old fort-like surface demarcated its space from the outside world. Two overhead tramlines completed a quaint other world feel. Keekars lined the outside boundary of the complex, whispering like old witches, conspiring, casting a spell on those who ventured under their canopy of naked ridged limbs.
Perfect! I thought. My subject was otherworldly and my canvas was otherworldly too. I wished, that the leaves were not so dust laden. The quality of trees was impressive. Khirni, Banyan, Papdi, Amaltas and a Siris were easy to recognize and there were more. Keekars were a plenty. A bougainvillea creeper lent some color to a sparse hairdo of a siris.
Anyway, the cars began to roll in soon. The drive way was not wide enough to accommodate two alongside so they lined up in a queue. Their color and demeanor began to spruce up the atmosphere. Yellow, russet, plum, cream, violet, black, blue stood up one by one. The lovely Morgan in its scarlet hue stood nicely against the  monochrome backdrop.

People who were warming their hands on charcoal braziers abandoned everything to witness the event. I noticed a young couple who was warming itself in a dilapidated tram, venture out of its cozy environ to acquaint itself with the lovely beauties. It is not them in this picture though.

Some checked the cars a bit more closely.

The place reverberated with the enthusiastic overtones of the participants. No one bothered or complained about the weather. It was chilly and foggy, but the spirits were high.

Rajeev’s wife lamented that she could not drive the sunbeam. Its starter motor got burnt. I marveled at her spirit as the little sunbeam is an open top car with nary a spectacle for a windshield. It has hardly any brakes either. Soon there was a conversation amongst the participants, offering her their cars to drive. She settled for the yellow Bel-Air.

I got busy finding moments to capture. Since I had got a lot of close ups and details of the cars in my last shoot, the emphasis was to create a dark story-like atmosphere in the pictures. Mind you, the mood was exactly the opposite. Dark in the sense of history, a sense of time with legs, silhouettes and specific light, dark cues for elements of narrative. Twisted spines of keekar was essential in creating the atmosphere. Have a look. Hope it makes sense.

I tried including everything I saw, but one thing simply eluded me. Call it brain fade, but I missed the emotion these beauties evoked in people who gathered around them. A few such pictures don’t do justice. There was a horde. Taking memories of them floating in time represented aptly by these cars. Memories captured on their cell phones. I’ll not miss this opportunity again.
Half an hour later, it appeared that a jet was  taking off nearby. Nearly everybody’s head turned in that direction. The super bikes had arrived. A super biker is compelled by a desire to twist its throttle. Moving or stationery, it doesn’t matter. The note of the exhaust is so addictive. More so if you have an after market Acrapovic’s installed on your Hayabusa. Acrapovic is a straight through muffler, so the sound is only absorbed by about twenty inches of steel and glass wool mix. How long would an exhaust gas traveling at eighteen hundred feet per second spend in those twenty inches? How muffled can it get? Imagine the sound. It was thunderous.
Dressed in black leathers, the gentlemen of the super bikes entered the arena like starship troopers.
Super bikes display their character in a not so subtle way. There are cruisers like the Harley Davidson V-Rod, Triumph Rocket, Suzuki Boulevard and somewhat debatable Yamaha V-Max. The V-Max is styled as a cruiser but doesn’t behave as one, so I think it is called a sports tourer. Now the engine of a cruiser is an important part of its design element. Its an object of display. The forms of the head, exhaust pipes and various covers and nick-nacks are carefully crafted and chromed. Just the air-cooling fins are so beautifully machined. The bend of the pipes are a peice of art (believe me, I haven’t met a person in Delhi who can bend a pipe without pinching it at the bend itself). The leather on the seat, and the trims are carefully stitched, handlebar covers are designed to evoke a sense of loving relationship with time and the machine. Its a symphony of metallic forms, accentuated with the organic feel of leather.

Then there are  super bikes which fall in the category  of space travel. The Suzuki Hayabusa, Yamaha R-1, Kawasaki Ninja, Ducati 996 etc. On this day,  were  two Hayabusa’s. These machines are designed for speed. Their form is governed by aerodynamics. The petrol tank and the back rest reflect how fast these things can take off and stop. The engine is barely visible under the fairing. Most of the design characteristics happen at the headlight area. Amongst the various brands of such super bikes, the side profile would display only subtle difference, but the front element is unique.
Soon the participants congregated to acquaint themselves with each other over a cup of tea. The car owners presented the bikers with gifts of calenders, photographs and bottles of wines.

Conversations began. The bikers were more animated and gesticulated one by one on the experience of their rides.

Conversations were largely about full throttle.

Biking has its own culture of accessories. Some to keep you safe and others make you look good. But who says biking is only about men.

The car owners were largely involved with the events of the day and other things. It was as festive as last time, only a bit tight.

The drive started, and I followed in my own car, sometimes driving, and looking through the viewfinder of the camera. Fortunately the windscreen of my car was clean enough to get some images of the drive.

It was a bit scary , but this image more than made up for it.

Am I scared of the future and look too much in the past? Sometimes, especially when it comes to colors and design of things on offer. We are becoming too obsessed with functionality I guess.

We stopped on the way for a get-together. A well wrapped scooterist pulled up and asked me what was going on. The bikes, the cars and the people were all alien to him. That’s when it dawned that for so many a world outside their own is so unfamiliar.

I was able to take some images which pitted chalk and cheese together.

I thought I’ll take a panned shot of a Hayabusa in action but before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’, he was gone.

The ride ended at an avid biker’s residence in Gurgaon; a lovely large house with a pyramid for skylight. The biker is Laxman. He was riding a Harley V-Rod that day. I was told that he has more than twenty bikes. Someone pulled up on a Victory motorcycle. A cruiser like no other I have seen, resembling a boat, it has ample space to carry a full week’s ration for you and your beloved if you ever decided to take off on a private sojourn at the back of beyond. Its so huge that my super wide angle had difficulty capturing its beauty without distorting its form. Have a look at its tail pipe; reminds me of those rocket launchers on MiG 21s. But such a fluid form! Organic and sensual! I’m sure it is the modern day Santa Maria (One of the ships Columbus set sail on, looking for India), but hopefully no-one gets lost so badly riding this bike.

Then there is the very intriguing Triumph rocket. Look at its exhaust pipes; must be running a zero degree valve overlap for such a manifold. No wonder its 2.3 liter engine makes 146 horsepower at a mere 5700 rpm. My car in comparison only makes 98 Bhp at 6000 rpm and its  engine displaces only 1.6 liters. Phew!

Later at the terrace of Laxman’s house, I acquainted myself with Shamsher. Shamsher has driven the 1931 model Ford from Magique. He told me about his dream to drive in his Ford from Paris to Peking. Now that is brave. In a modern fuel injected car it is quite a challenge, but in a carburetted vintage one, it is insane. It really speaks of the love and passion of owning, restoring and riding these cars. Shamsher likes to keep his car authentic to the last bolt. Apparently, even the spark plugs are original. His father is also an avid car restorer.
The afternoon brought together two different breeds of passionate people. They mingled freely, but their attitudes and demeanour was starkly different. The bikers were extroverted and animated, while the car owners were more ears than tongues. Both respected each others passion for their machines and were looking forward to driving together on another event.

The food was good and the mutton biryani delicious. It had long grain rice in three different tints of saffron. The shammi kebabs were perhaps one of the best I had eaten.  From where we were, I could see the skyline of Gurgaon. A mix of high rise apartments and office spaces– a sign of emerging modern India. It gave me mixed emotions. Much like the event that day. There was a time, when I was a biker and just a glimpse of an ‘imported’ bike was a luxury. Now on a sunday, one can see quite a few of the latest bikes zipping about the town. I also came back home happy that in this mad rush of life, there are many who keep their hearts alive with what they are passionate about.


11 responses

  1. Dinesh Khanna

    Hi Prateek,

    I am absolutely in awe of your photographs and words. The passion and the involvement of the car and bike lovers is mirrored perfectly in the eloquence of your words and the brilliance of your photographs.

    One of these days this is going to make one helluva fabulous coffee table book. And I am waiting for my copy signed by you and Josie.

    January 16, 2011 at 8:16 am

    • Dinesh,
      Its an honour for me that you visited the blog and liked the work. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

      January 16, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    • Noni Chawla

      I echo Dinesh’s sentiments. Not because I am too lazy, but because I can’t put it better than he did.

      January 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm

      • Thank you so much Noni. I’m glad you liked it.

        January 16, 2011 at 9:52 pm

  2. Rajeev

    I just finished reading an interesting article, Let’s go beyond ‘I’, in Times Life and was considering making an attempt at decreasing the use of the ‘i’ word in my conversations, just then happened to read your blog. I have to admit that ‘i’ am one lucky guy to have you as my, Friend, Photographer and Writer!
    Great stuff.

    January 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    • Rajeev,
      The pleasure is mine too. Good things happen when people meet to do good.
      Thank you so much for being a wonderful friend,

      January 16, 2011 at 5:56 pm

  3. Shamsher Shahani

    great narrative as always…and capturing the spirit of the moment in fine photography.
    As promised, check out my dream

    I dont think I’ll ever do it in a Chevy since I dont own one, but one day in my 32 Ford Model B. If I can drag that puppy across the globe, you’ll be joining me to videograph the ride.


    January 16, 2011 at 6:33 pm

  4. Shamsher,
    I think my brain fade wasn’t fading too fast. Don’t know how I got so confused, but I’ve rectified the mistake.

    January 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

  5. Varun Bahl

    Hey prateek beautifully narrated…
    your photography itself speaks a million words and reading this was awesome….
    thanks for being there.

    January 18, 2011 at 12:55 am

    • Thank you so much Varun. Thank you again for giving me the pleasure of taking pictures of your wonderful car.

      January 18, 2011 at 4:10 am

  6. Gaurav Gulati


    January 24, 2011 at 4:04 pm

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