Mahatma Gandhi marched on foot and defied an imperial power to break the Salt Law. Eighty years later, we retrace his footsteps albeit astride the TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS
Photography: Sanjay Raikar
About eighty years ago, the Father of the Nation staged what would go down in history as one of the most extraordinary rebellions ever. Unique in a number of ways, but foremost on account of the fact that the rebellion, right from the outset, set out to achieve its objectives without the slightest trace of violence or a voice raised in anger. That against a repressive government – a vast empire upon which the sun was rumoured never to set.
Cue back to the present. The January issue being sent off to the press, the entire office took a collective break and started planning for the holiday season. The western part of the country being hitherto alien to me, I decided to go there. Acting on a brainwave, we decided that I would attempt to retrace the route that the Father of the Nation had taken during the Dandi March. I would start my roughly 390-km-long trip from the Sabarmati Ashram, near Ahmedabad, to culminate at the Saifee Villa at Dandi Beach, the very same house where Gandhiji broke the Salt Law.
TVS Motor Company Ltd very kindly agreed to provide us with a TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS at our intended starting point and we were all ready to go. Arriving at Ahmedabad, we went straight away to the TVS dealership where a pearl-white RTR 180 ABS stood gleaming in the winter sun, ready to be our companion and steed for the next few days. Having ridden the ABS version hard in the twisties around Mahabaleshwar earlier, I was glad of the added safety that the anti-lock braking system had to offer. By eliminating wheel lock-ups and skids, the ABS transformed the character of the TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS,making it a more forgiving long-distance tourer.
The Sabarmati Ashram, our starting point, was just a few kilometres from the city. After the requisite photography around the Ashram, we went inside to glean more information on what the life of Gandhiji was like, for Gandhiji had spent a major part of his life at this Ashram.
The first thing that strikes one upon entering the Ashram is the sheer sense of calm and peace that pervades the entire atmosphere, rendering even the squirrels and various species of sparrows a quiet dignity. It almost seems like an anachronism compared to the hustle and bustle of Ahmedabad that we had just exited and the presence of which was still just barely audible on the banks of the River Sabarmati. Parking the RTR in the shady two-wheeler parking lot, we went inside and immediately to our left lay the Gandhi Sangrahalaya, which housed the library, visitor centre and photo gallery. The large, airy courtyard was adorned with large black-and-white photos of Gandhiji as well as some of his most famous quotes – quotes that helped define the views of an emerging nation, quotes that shaped the lives of millions of followers not only in India, but the world over.
Gandhiji made the march on foot in 24 days, with a number of stops en route to address the nation. We, not being mission-bound and having the RTR at our disposal, made swift progress, covering the same in one day, passing through four districts and 48 villages. The added power of the 180 made the highway jaunt seem like a walk in the park, passing lumbering trucks and tractors as though they were standing still and I found myself keeping up with the speeding cars without even realising it.
Approaching the coastal area, the pleasant breeze on the visor turned into disquieting crosswinds and, thankful to the RTR’s sporty riding posture, I crouched a bit forward and kept on riding with almost no drop in the average speed. Taking the advice of the local people, we halted for the night at Navsari, the last town near Dandi.
The next morning, we woke up early to catch the first rays of the sun as it touched the Dandi Beach. Our lensman was a little sceptical about the aesthetic value of this endeavour considering that we were in the western part of the Indian peninsula, but, nevertheless, we rode out into the dawn. The 40-odd kilometres to the beach snaked through a smoothly paved single-lane road rendered even more dark by the overhanging branches of large, evergreen trees. With the razor-sharp and agile nature of the RTR 180 egging me on, we raced onwards to the beach, the sonorous burble from the exhaust providing acoustic accompaniment.
Bikers being bikers, we couldn’t resist playing a little on the beach with the RTR 180 and the white beauty responded beautifully. With ample torque throughout the rev range, getting ourselves out of wet sand was never a bother and we confidently ventured upto the water’s edge. After having our fill of drifting in the sand and completely ruining the office camera, we headed to the Saifee Villa, the house where Mahatma Gandhi had stayed on the night of April 5, 1930. A kindly gentleman clad in khadi explained that the Saifee Villa had fallen into ruin after its moment on the world stage and it was only a few years ago that it was restored to its former glory, thanks to the efforts of the Archaeological Survey of India. Today, there is a statue of the great leader in the courtyard while, inside, visitors can still see the iron trough that Gandhi personally used to make the first handful of salt.
It was time to head back after paying our obeisance to the Mahatma and, oddly enough, I was eager for more riding. The Apache RTR 180 ABS is a truly sterling machine, a track beast that can also take on long hauls and the open highways with equanimity. It is comfortable enough for such a focused and sporty bike and reliable to boot. The added benefit of the ABS system, coupled with wider tyres at both the front and the rear, also inspires greater confidence than before, which is saying something, because the RTR 180 was no slouch either.
Although the Salt Satyagraha did not bring about the Independence our forefathers were after, it went a long way in showing the British that Indians won’t be repressed for much longer and it was only a matter of time before they had to concede independence to the Indians. Time magazine declared Gandhi its 1930 ‘Man of the Year’ and American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr, cited the influence the March had on his own fight for civil rights for the blacks in the 1960s. Mortals perish; their legacy remains.