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 Song of the Open Road



 By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

 Peggy taught us the song.

Peggy is our Italian-made Vespa scooter who purred like a kitten and fled like a wild stallion. She came into our lives at the right time. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper had just made their cult film Easy Rider as a statement against the increasingly fascist tendencies of American rednecks against anyone who was ‘different’. The Open Road represented the freedom of thought, expression, faith, belief and worship also enshrined in our Constitution but in danger of being eroded worldwide. Fonda and Hopper rightly show the two-wheeler as an expression of that freedom. Two wheeler riders have to stay alert at all times and remain unblinkingly conscious of a rapidly changing environment. There is no room for drowsiness or complacency!

We were DINKS: Double Income No Kids. We blanched asparagus in our minuscule back garden, had a fish pond in our tiny front garden, and parked Peggy in our veranda under climbing pink roses where sparrows nested. And every long weekend we topped Peggy up with petrol, added a tot of oil and fled home to Mussoorie on Peggy; and she protected us.

Two wheelers create their own little swirling cyclones. Do these spinning molecules project a sub-conscious picture of the terrain around? A snake’s swiftly vibrating forked tongue picks up such molecules which its Jacobson’s Organ swiftly interprets as three-dimensional taste-pictures. Do we have such an organ inherited from reptilian ancestors still warning us? Is this what a Sixth Sense is? Once, on Peggy, we came to a crossroads. The right and left roads were clear. And yet we braked, instinctively?  Just then a heavily laden truck sped down the cross-roads, its horn blaring. If we had been at the crossing we would have been crushed!

Does two-wheeler driving sharpen the senses, activate vestigial abilities lying dormant in our bodies, our genes? Butter-yellow mango blossoms in a densely packed grove have a distinctly hot wax taste. We have not heard of any car drivers expressing this.

The mango blossoming season is also the time of dust, heat and insects and we have to drive with masks. The dust is fine and touches our skin like the soft abrasiveness of hemp based Irish Linen. We pass streams of tractors laden with sugarcane creaking to factories. In roadside hearths, sugar-cane juice bubbled and thickened clear sugarcane juice into succulent, golden gur. Sugarcane was brought to our land by ancient African immigrants, an anthropologist told us. It is now planted and harvested by the descendants of people who trace their bloodlines to infiltrators from the steppes. Their product could be marketed by a Mediterranean people who set up India’s first export-oriented industry in the superbly planned cities of the Rann of Kutch.

Those ancient skills still lie in the genes of our many distinctive communities.  At one junction, we saw a line of artisans waiting to be contacted for work. A bystander said, “There are many other such technicians lined up in the Kasbah.” That is an Arabic word that one of us had last heard in Cairo. The richness of the Indic vocabulary has to be experienced to be believed. It will resist all attempts to force it into a bad, politically correct, sarkari bhasha.

We were now nearing the final lap of our journey. We stopped to buy honey from an old ex-serviceman who had a contract to extract honey from hives in the forest. And then we started climbing into the old Shiwaliks.

There is a mystery here which our scientists must unlock. Unearthed in this range there have been the remains of a little, pre-human which its discoverers named Rama pithecus.   After that find, however, there seems to have been no further revelations of human evolution in our land. That is particularly strange when our traditions speak of the Dus Avataras which predated Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and went beyond to the social and spiritual evolution of human beings. Hidden in the Shiwaliks, are there remains of Homo indiensis, the human evolved in India?

We were still thinking about that when we reached Ockbrook. We had covered 300 kms and millions of years of history in 8 hours, and Peggy had brought us home.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)