‘The Bicycle Diaries’ is a fabulous piece of research work done in tracing the history of India Cycling by a retired journalist couple Anoop Babani and Savia Viegas. Post retirement, the Mumbai duo settled in Goa in 2005 and started pedaling for recreation and soaking in the solitary lanes of Goa. The idea of writing a book struck when Anoop had a tragic fall and was advised rest for several weeks. This period of inactivity turned their attention towards reading. Subsequently, their interest advanced into a deeper investigation on Indian Cycling, thus, ‘The Bicycle Diaries’ was constituted.
‘The Bicycle Diaries’ is an immersive chronology of 12 Indian cyclists who embarked on five separate global cycling expeditions; eight of them succeeded. Each of the journeys of these globetrotter cyclist was undertaken around the intensifying periods of the two World Wars – 1923 and 1942 and was filled with innumerable challenges.
The book highlights the profound contribution made to Indian cycling by the Parsi community and their leadership in adventure sports. They were the pioneers who kick-started a whole new culture of bicycle-touring; turning Bombay (Now Mumbai) into an epicenter of planning and executing long-distance adventures – particularly ‘The Bombay Weightlifting Club’ and ‘The Bombay Scouts Club’.
Critical events in history run parallel with the stories of the ‘Bombay Boys’ who circumnavigated the world on two wheels; almost appearing like pop-up reminders of the past incidents in text and visual formats. Precise dates, enchanting episodes and life-span of the brave-heart cyclists is thoroughly visible in the chapters testifying and authenticating the glory of Indian Cyclists.
The book sheds light on one of the appalling episodes – ‘Raleigh Cycle Company’ in Bombay refused to sponsor bicycles to the Parsi boys underestimating their prospects. But, when the boys pedaled and reached London a year and a half later, the company had a complete ‘change of heart’ and proposed them to use their brand . And more such absorbing incidents of varied emotions are described in this book.
In a separate journey, the book reveals about ‘The Royal Benson Company’ which sets a remarkable example of ‘client-service’ by not just giving complimentary bicycles to the explorers at the start of their journeys from Bombay; but also overhauled the bicycles when they reached London. A copy of the company letter which communicates about the ‘service provided’ is published in this book.
Bicycles manufactured in those days were clearly resilient, ‘built to last’ and aided the users accomplishments. They had a character to survive during the most arduous journeys which is demonstrated in ‘The Bicycle Diaries. I was also introduced to classical brand names such as the Singers, Humbers, Elswick, Wearwells bicycles; and the pictures taken with Kodak cameras added value in the history of time.
In the era of slow communication, the contribution of press media strongly emerges in a supportive role with adequate coverage of the developments in the cycling space and the records are very-well put together by the authors.
‘The Bicycle Diaries’ broadly encapsulates the uprising of ‘bicycling’ in India and is a good read for all category of cyclists and book lovers interested in sports and history. For ordering a copy, write to the author firstname.lastname@example.org or call +91 9324614861.
A photo exhibition was organized by the authors in Mumbai in May 2019; glimpses of the work displayed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Photo credits to the authors.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai