Review: The God Who Loved Motorbikes by Murali K Menon

Updated on Feb 28, 2020 08:07 PM IST

Crisply written, colourful, and humorous, Murali K Menon’s novel is a must-read for anyone who loves motorbikes

Road gods: German Hanni Koehler being pushed back onto a trail in India. Koehler was the first woman to travel overland on a motorbike - a 500cc Ardie Silberpfeil (Silver Arrow) - from Europe to Asia. Kandakarnan Swamy would have approved.(Getty Images)
Road gods: German Hanni Koehler being pushed back onto a trail in India. Koehler was the first woman to travel overland on a motorbike - a 500cc Ardie Silberpfeil (Silver Arrow) - from Europe to Asia. Kandakarnan Swamy would have approved.(Getty Images)
Hindustan Times | ByLamat R Hasan
213pp, ₹499; Juggernaut
213pp, ₹499; Juggernaut

Kandakarnan Swamy (KK) is a bored local village deity in Kerala “who is unsure about this entire god business”. Installed in Kollengode around five centuries ago and symbolised by a stylized phallus like Shiva’s, KK is finding it difficult to kill time. He spots a Norton Dominator in his village, starts lusting after it, and is gradually sucked into the biking world.

The rather powerless and mostly forgotten god befriends Koman Kutty, the young owner of the Norton Dominator, and “requests” him to teach him to ride. Kutty isn’t impressed with his godly tantrums: “I don’t mind helping you, whoever you are, but god doesn’t exist – any god, big or small”.

By the third week of training, KK, who is more human than godly, is a bona fide biker. An unmanned bike zipping past ferociously may have spooked villagers, but it affirmed KK’s belief - “I exist because I ride”. Thereon, the love of bikes consumes KK. He even agrees to Koman’s ungodly plan of raising money for his temple, but re-channelling it to buy a bike/s.

KK, who had hitherto found great pleasure in reading books such as those by Roald Dahl, does take time off to introspect: “Would I be spending the rest of my life talking about acceleration times, clutch adjustments and blow gaskets?”

There are other existentialist questions gnawing him too. “…do I exist because my devotees think I do? In this unflattering form of a stout, dark-complexioned man with long hair, a grand, upturned moustache, and with golden danglers, and anklets that are supposed to go ‘jilm, jilm’?... Or, I am literally here, an entity independent of the feverish imagination, anxieties and hopes of a thousand human beings? Am I f****g there or not?”

KK’s biking ambitions grow and he takes off for “pilgrimages” to other states and then countries (no one would have missed this forgotten deity in Kollengode anyway) riding new bikes – always hankering after the mythical four-cylinder Velocette Venom Thruxton HT. The prototype of the best bike ever, that flies at 10,000 kph, and that went missing mysteriously.

The hot pursuit of the Thruxton HT begins after KK reads about it in an automobile magazine. The chase, unlike KK’s sad godly existence, isn’t unidimensional. It takes him back and forth in time. However, he never gives up on the leads, even when he turns into a zipfile.

He “steals” and rides the best bikes in the UK and Europe - Ariel Red Hunter, Velocette Venom, a Panther Model 100, BSA Rocket Goldstar, Moto Guzzi V7 750 Special and Ducati 250 Mach1. “We endure the dull agony of existence because we know that soon, we will ride,” he tells himself.

KK may be a neglected god in his village, but the readers are going to love him for his vulnerabilities, his candidness and his childlike innocence. Chowfin Singh, the man who tamed Thruxton HT and vroomed across galaxies, tells KK, “Neptune and Uranus were peaceful compared to Saturn, but the rings around Saturn were madness. Just too many asteroids, and too much dust, you had to keep making a million corrections as you rode.” “This guy, not me, was god, I thought. He could do just about anything,” KK rues.

It is especially heart-rending when KK decides to take his life, but is unable to. He hates his inability to translate his thoughts into action, and that he is condemned to live in a one-dimensional world.

Author Murali K Menon (Courtesy the author)
Author Murali K Menon (Courtesy the author)

In this thrilling work of magical realism, debut author Murali K Menon has scored well. His writing is crisp and colourful, his humour is stark, and he knows a biker’s mind inside out. He also somehow manages to not overdose non-bike loving readers with technical details.

He is at his best when he takes pot-shots at the current socio-political scenario. As KK settles down to watch a movie, Koman asks him, “Did they play the national anthem back then?” “No, back then we were a more civilised country.” Or as the former underworld don of Mumbai, Salim Petrol, a fellow-biking enthusiast, remarks, “The authorities were never able to arrest me all those years ago, but today I feel scared they will create trouble for me because of my religion.”

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Murali’s metaphors are sharp: “Impeccably maintained silver Rolls-Royce, with a hood as long as an insomniac’s night”. The narration is a drag after the half way mark in this adventure, which is otherwise mind boggling, but this is still a must-read for anyone who loves the sight and smell of bikes.

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