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“With the sky above and the road below, the destination is where the Bullet takes you.” That’s the creed followed religiously by bike riders. The 2013 Malayalam road film Neelaksham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi (‘Blue Sky, Green Sea, Red Earth’), in which two friends Kasi (Dulquar Salmaan) and Suni (Sunny Wayne) ride their Bullets from Kerala to Nagaland in search of Salmaan’s love, captures some of that spirit, making it a cult film among Bullet riders. Not many in Kollam missed that film—hardly surprising, as the Kerala sea town is home to the largest number of Bullet owners, according to a 2009 survey by its makers Royal Enfield. Bulleteers—for want of a better word for Bullet riders—say state capital Thiruvananthapuram is now giving Kollam stiff competition.
P. Thankamani Mani aka Bullet Mani, 64, has been a Bullet mechanic since he was 10. He puts the number of bikes two years ago at about 60,000 in Kollam city and nearly a lakh across the district. The two major local dealers average about 850 Bullets every month. “I started working on Bullets from 1965 and, in 1976, moved to Kollam,” says Mani. “I have 300-odd customers anytime. This is the third generation and I wish I get to see the fourth generation too. I have seen a lot of bikes, but only the Bullet has lived on. Others have fallen by the wayside as newer models entered the market.” So popular has Mani become that engine oil companies seek him out and send him samples to test.
Rajkumar Thomson, 71, one of Mani’s customers, used to be a professor of botany and has been using the same Bullet since 1965. That was before the manufacturing unit Enfield India was set up in Chennai and there were just five Royal Enfield Bullets in Kollam “I have a special bond with my Bullet and I wouldn’t know better because I have never bothered to ride other bikes,” says Thomson. “Two things are special about it: the speed I used to achieve back when the traffic was usually thinner and how the bike behaves as it hugs the ghat roads. I’m a member of the Kollam District Bullet (Royal Enfield) Users’ Club and last year we rode to the Ponmudi hills. It was exhilarating.”
Cyndrella Shenoy, 19, is one of the seven female Bulleteers in the 1,600-member club. “I started riding when I was 11 years old,” says Shenoy. “I used to sit in front, with my father guiding me from behind. I ride to college and am so proud of it. It’s fantastic to ride by myself to Thiruvananthapuram and around the countryside. Only when you ride a Bullet do you enjoy the journey completely—the breeze on your face, the landscape, the road below and the bike. And the total freedom that comes with it.”
Club president Maraptattu J Ramesh, 52, who is also manager of Royal Enfield dealer Marikar Motors, says the Bullet is almost accident-proof. “Our club also trains a lot of young people to ride Bullets,” he adds.
Unlike the vicious bike gang in cult classic Mad Max, Bulleteers are gentlemanly. “When the police stop Bullet riders, the riders never raise their voice,” says Thomson. “The police say they are gentlemanly. Even the younger ones are polite.” And the gentlemanly riders rarely change their brand. Once a Bulleteer, always a Bulleteer. Go ask Thomson.
By Minu Ittiyipe in Kollam