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‘Uncle’ and his Motorcycle Diaries

india Updated: Feb 27, 2009 22:55 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah
Mini Pant Zachariah
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

With a salt-and-pepper stubble, a quiet demeanour and his 54 years sitting lightly on him, Parasnath Mishra, a motorcycle mechanic from the cantonment town of Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, is often called ‘uncle’, that Indian address to show respect to someone young enough to be a friend.

Young lads in 150-cc motorcycles drive up to him when he rides into a new town in his 350 cc BSA motorcycle of 1942 vintage, his sari-clad wife as the pillion rider. “They often ask me, ‘Uncle, how often did you have to stop?’ And I love their amazement when I reply, ‘not once’,” says Mishra.

The question is asked often because Mishra uses his BSA as a personal taxi — to drive around Mhow and visit places a 100 km
away. For a bike he bought for Rs 800 from an army man in 1980, and spent Rs 12,000 repairing, Mishra’s BSA gives him an average of 67 km per litre, thanks to his tinkering with the machine.

And it is this tinkering with motorcycles that recently got Mishra his greatest opportunity — of restoring, albeit with some modifications, a World War II-vintage Triumph that is a rare pleasure to ride. He fitted the shock absorbers and cushion hub to minimise jerks on this powerful machine. He fitted a Harley Davidson rotary oil pump on the magnet port and converted the machine to an electronic firing system.“The oil efficiency has increased 60 per cent now, and improved lubrication has enhanced the engine life,” says Kunal Mulgaonkar, whose brother Rahul owns this vehicle. He adds that the bike now gives an average of 60 km per litre compared to 15 earlier.

It took Mishra close to 18 months for a job of two months because “I have to run my garage business, my bread and butter, too”. But Mishra is one of those who do not live by bread alone. Innovation is in his blood and there are many instances of these in his garage-cum-workshop. Like the air cooler he has assembled out of a discarded fan and motor in his workshop. Here, surrounded by nuts and bolts, screwdrivers and spanners, and two wheelers in various degrees of disrepair, Mishra’s brain is constantly at work.

Spare parts of old vehicles are difficult to come by. If he cannot find some part, Mishra is known to sit on a lathe machine and actually make them. Of the bikes he repairs, remodels and retrofits, Mishra says, “I cannot guarantee against a puncture, but the vehicles I maintain will run a thousand kilometer without a hitch.”

And this technical expertise did not come from some fancy degree in automobile engineering. Mishra has studied only up to
higher secondary (Class XI) at the local Arya Samaj School. What he knows is what he learnt from his late father who worked at the EME station workshop in Mhow and later in Burma Shell. Mishra’s father had fashioned from discarded metal pipes that could “run a kilometer on just a spoonful of petrol”. “My brothers and I learnt to ride a motorcycle on this contraption,” he adds.

Among the many new-generation motorcycles in the garage are some vintage beauties waiting for Mishra’s touch — a Norton, another 1942 model BSA and even a 1952 Italian-make Lambretta scooter. “Working on these old vehicles is much more challenging. Sometimes it is very frustrating because an unavailable spare part can hold up work for a long time. But it is also very satisfying because I have to think how to get that machine working,” says Mishra.

And his mind is always at work to do something new — recently, Mishra designed a remote mechanism to start his beloved BSA. What is the use of a remote for a bike? “None. I wanted to try and do it and succeeded,” he simply replies.