Five of the seven riders from Kolkata with their machines before they were transported to New Delhi for the Desert Storm beginning on Monday. HT Photo
This city is associated with many things. 'Joy', football, cricket and its many eateries. Motor sport, however, does not hold any particular significance for this metro.
The city was briefly in the running to host the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix that ultimately found a home at Greater Noida near New Delhi. Motor sport is seen in a somewhat different light than cricket and football, Kolkata's two major sporting obsessions.
"Anyone here can block off an entire road to play football or cricket and they won't get bothered," says Subhodeep Ghosh, one of seven friends who will be competing on their production-derived motorcycles in this year's Desert Storm cross-country rally beginning on Monday.
"But if a group shows up in any part of the city with their cars or bikes, they are instantly taken to task by the police."
It's an odd predicament for Ghosh and Eric James Deverel, Jayant Dutt, Uday Ganguli, Prashant Dutt, Vishal Das and Mohammed Irfan Bhati. Especially since they make up over a fifth of the field of 32 bikers who are to line up for the ceremonial start of the rally in New Delhi.
Five of them, in fact, were among the 14 motorcycle and quad riders who met the deadline for early registration. All this despite none of the seven riders having taken part in an Xtreme event before. An Xtreme event is one that requires a competitor to cover a specified distance between two points as fast as possible.
By the time HT caught up with the group at a motorcycle workshop in Garia, their bikes had already been packed and shipped to Delhi for the start of the nearly 2,500 km long event (including timed and transport stages).
However, since the bikes were their own that had been slightly modified to stand the rigours of the dunes and off-road tracks of Rajasthan and Gujarat, there was an unfamiliar feeling of dependency within the group.
"I've never had to take public transport since I passed out of school," said Bhati before Ganguli chimes in. "It's a weird feeling to not know how much the fare of the bus is or not knowing which bus to take to get somewhere!"
"I've been riding since I passed out of school," said Deverell. "This is the first time I've ever been without my bike since but given the importance of the event, it's understandable."
While the temporary lack of personal transportation is a source of mirth, the lack of sponsors and riding infrastructure brought the mood right down.
No sponsors either
"Sponsors aren't interested in getting involved with motor sport," said Das. "Bengal and the East Zone is largely ignored although that might change as auto sales increase here."
Another more immediate concern is of not having a ready place to practice. While riders in the traditional cross-country motorcycling hubs of Bangalore and Chandhigarh have dirt tracks at their disposal, the riders from Garia have to ride nearly 200 kms outside of Kolkata to find a spot to put themselves and their machines through their paces.
"In Bangalore, for example, every weekend there are 50 or 100 km events that are held at entry fees around Rs. 75," said Prashant Dutt. "So while we play football or cricket every weekend, they rally."
The bikers stopped short of asking for a hand out despite their troubles, however. This despite looking at a personal cost of close to or over Rs. 1 lakh in preparation for and during the course of the Desert Storm.
"It is up to us to prove our potential to prospective sponsors and auto manufacturers who can help us out with things like spare parts," said Jayant Dutt. "If 100 riders turn up and start asking for help without showing what they can do, you can see why they'll get turned down.
"We're just hoping to finish the event even though one of us will be directly up against imported bikes like a 450cc KTM while riding a 150cc Indian bike. Just getting noticed is enough for us."