Tuesday, April 15, 2008

#50 Super Sprint: Vespas

If you're from America Vespas are what you associate with insufferable hipsters too in love with the past to acknowledge the merits of a ten-speed. If you're from Europe, on the other hand, Vespas conjure an image of young Lotharios parading past side-walk cafes smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and stealing your girlfriend. Perhaps in every country, culture, and locale around the world, Vespas stand for what is cool and hip. Except in India where the only thing cool are the Limcas, and the only thing hip is what your grandmother broke while sweeping the stairwell with a handmade broom of reeds.

Vespas enjoy a popularity in India that may take some by surprise. Founded in Italy in the mid forties, Vespas sprung to popularity as a cheap mode of transportation in war-torn southern Europe and as a stylish accessory after prominent placement in Hollywood movies in the 1950s. In India, however, Vespas rose in popular use as a result of a tried and true Indian formula- we stole them. Bajaj Auto acquired the rights to sell Vespa technology in the sub-continent, but later faced litigation from Piaggio, the Italian creators, after it ventured into North American markets unlawfully. LML Motors, a parts supplier to Piaggio, also broke into the business of peddling Vespa clones before closing due to labor strikes in 2006.

People who visited India in the '80s and '90s will have noticed the popularity of Vespas among the Indian population. Vespa riders often fell into 2 categories. First, there were the young, Indian men inspired by the burgeoning forms of cool, popularized by such icons as Jaidev in Sholay and John Travolta's Vinny Bobarino. This first group would often times take their young, American nephews around the city on the back of their Vespa, stopping for petrol, paan and cigarettes before turning to the child to beg through a thick Indian accent, "Ey, don't tell your Mudder, okay?"The second group of Vespa riders in India were also young Indian men, but who had recently been married. These users were usually seen on the road with at least four members of their new family piled on the rear along with groceries, shopping bags, furniture and clothing. The wife would sit sideways demurely, a child or two on her lap, her long hair streaming out from beneath her helmet and flapping in the wind with the shawl of her pink salwaar khameez.

As you sat in the backseat of the Tata Sumo barrelling through the streets of the city, you would see the veins in your father's temple flare at the sight of this young man, most likely unable to upgrade to a four-wheeler with the other demands made on his income by his new responsibilities as a breadwinner. "Buy a Maruti, stupid!" your dad, a Neurologist now practicing in America, would shout at the unsuspecting husband on his Vespa, "You are threatening the physical consistencies of your childrens' skulls!" He would lean back into the car and shake his head disapprovingly, but in the reflection of the rear view mirror you swear you could see the glint in his eye as he remembered the days when he rolled confidently around on his lime green Vespa channeling his inner Barbarino and telling condescending adults to shove it, "Up their nose with a rubber hose." In India, he was as cool as cool could get.

20 comments:

Subhash said...

can we keep the father/son moments to a minmum? Sorry, my dad is too rolly polly to be serious so I get jealous.

Mahotma in Herre said...

Keep the father/son moments to a minimum? Tell that to George Lucas. Or the Bible.

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adham said...


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