“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.