I recently stumbled on an article about a village in India that has a shrine to a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle. Surrounding the shrine, along with the colorful scarves and bangles and flowers that adorn trees, is the myth of how it came to be. The legend is this: In 1988, the son of a local village leader, Om Singh Rathore, was riding his beloved Bullet when he slid out and hit a tree, killing him on impact. The police recovered the body and took the bike back to the police station for investigation. But the next morning, the bike had disappeared from the station and was found back at the scene of the accident. The police again took it back to the station. The next morning, it was gone. Again, it had somehow returned to the place where its owner had died. This same pattern recurred for some time, with the police going as far as emptying the fuel tank and chaining it in place. But the Bullet still returned. Eventually, the police resigned to giving the Bullet back to Rathode’s family, who then created the now frequented shrine. There is even a full-time priest to take care of it.
So could this mystical legend possibly true? Probably not, although he did die in a motorcycle accident, but withhold the skepticism. I have yet to find a story that better illustrates the spiritual connection between a man and his bike, and it’s no surprise that it comes from the more spiritually in-tune Eastern country of India. I read something recently, from an American company, that I believe offers a similar, westernized insight. It was a picture a man on a motorcycle and a slogan that said: “Therapy is expensive. Wind is cheap.” Once beyond the monetized treatment of the joy of riding, which I doubt is on a billboard anywhere on Rathode’s continent, lies the sentiment that riding soothes the soul. And that’s hard to disagree with. This could just be a declaration of my preference for stories over cheap marketing, but I like to think there’s more to it.
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Motorcycle culture in America is often portrayed as reckless, riotous, and, presumably, in need of therapy. Obviously, this cannot possibly apply to all motorcyclists, although many seem to embrace, even revel, in the role–minus the therapy. But despite the outsider aura of motorcycles, one not shared as strongly, if at all, in other parts of the world, there remains the feeling of thrill and freedom associated with motorcycles that I have to believe everyone shares in some fashion. Some find it swimming, hiking, running, or doing nothing, but it’s a fundamental human craving. Rathode’s story makes clear that this Bullet, this motorcycle, that he loved so much, was what allowed him that feeling. He lived to ride, and rode to live. After his death, I like to think then that only his motorcycle could symbolize that freedom, and so returned again and again to the location to show the eternal connection.
Now comes the irony of it all. Those skeptics who dismiss the tale as hogwash–which, to be fair, it probably is–claim the story is a fabrication meant to attract tourists to the village, which it does. To them, the story is nothing but a moneygrabbing ploy to promote a local, pseudo-spiritual attraction that may in fact mean nothing more than a billboard playing off American stereotypes. So the question then, is what is worse? An Eastern embellishment of a fatal motorcycle accident as a symbol of freedom, that could just be a mere marketing ploy; or a mere marketing ploy playing off westernized stereotypes that removes the fundamental feeling by filtering it through a stigmatized institution? My opinion is that the (possibly) made-up legend cuts to the core of the joy of riding a motorcycle and celebrates its eternal freedom through symbols, while the ad needs stereotypes to attempt to represent the same feeling. The slogan loses its universal appeal by doing so, and plays up a stereotypical culture that may actually prevent someone from riding a motorcycle out of a self-conscious attempt to resist an outsider labeling. In this way, it goes against the spirit of riding, one that embraces and relishes that thrilling, freeing feeling. My final point then is that this story and shrine better embodies the joys of motorcycles in a way that nothing within the American stereotypes can, and that these stereotypes only remove people, even if just slightly, from those joys. As I work for a motorcycle accident law firm, dedicated to helping injured riders, we constantly have to fight these stereotypical views of motorcyclists to recover a fair compensation for clients. So embrace the feeling, not the stereotypical portrayals of it. It could have real-life, and spiritual, benefits.