The Legend of Om Banna

It was yet another normal day in the life of Om Singh Rathod. He was to meet some of his friends and as always never missed the opportunity to ride his bullet. This 350cc Royal Enfield motorbike was his prized procession and he was just short of worshipping it. Everyone who knew Om Singh also knew how passionate he was about his bike. Even though everyone joked that it was Om Singh’s first love, deep within Om Singh knew that such comments were not very far off from the truth. After checking for the umpteenth time that the bike was spotless, he set off with that unmistakeable glow on his face. He was riding on the road connecting Pali and Jodhpur. During the ride, he enjoyed the company of the rhythmic sound of his bike and the winter chillness sweeping across his face. Out of nowhere a dog darted across the road. Instinctively, Om Singh tried his best to avoid a collision and in the process lost control of his bike. Within no time, his bike collided against a tree. Om Singh was thrown against the stony impoverished pavement and his bike landed in the adjacent drain. The accident proved to be fatal for Om Singh, who lost his life instantaneously. A tearful and agonized funeral followed the next day attended by all and sundry. And that was the end of yet another life lost to Indian roads. Or at least that is what everyone thought.

The local police completed the required formalities and kept the bike at the police station. After the funeral the police could not fine the bike though. They were bemused when a local shepherd informed them that he saw the bike near the tree where the accident took place. And yes… he was indeed speaking the truth. The bike was indeed at the same place from where they had picked it up after the accident. Brushing it off as an antic by some pranksters, the cops took the bike back to the police station. However what appeared to be a prank took a sinister outlook when the bike returned to be same place the next day. The bike was taken back to the police station and this time it was locked in chains after emptying the fuel tank. All the villagers were spooked, when they got to hear that the bike yet again managed to reach the place of the accident, mysteriously unshackling the chains and getting their on its own.

Repeat such occurrences glorified Om Singh and his beloved bike. The villagers responded to the mystical events by worshiping Om Singh. The bike was not moved thereafter. Instead it was installed alongside a portrait of Om Singh, just near the tree which nipped his life. Very soon people started worshiping this troika… the tree, the bike and Om Singh [who was now revered as Om Banna]. Thereafter, Om Banna’s soul accompanied all travelers on that fatal road and protected them from any eventualities. After more than two decades, his legend and prowess continue to help one and all!!!

What I have written above is a figment of my imagination based on what I heard from my driver [during my Rajasthan vacation] and whatever I could find using Google.

We had finished our visit of Jodhpur and were on our way to Udaipur, our final sojourn before returning to Bangalore. When driving on NH62 towards Pali, our driver casually mentioned that we should visit the Om Banna temple. This was not in the travel itinerary and hence I was not sure whether to accede to him. However he insisted that we should visit it and went onto say that he will visit the temple, whether we are interested or not. That is when he narrated the story on Om Banna. The driver clearly believed in this fable and wanted Om Banna’s blessings when driving on this highway. So we had little choice than to see the temple.

When we reached the destination, there was no temple in sight. The place was far from looking like a traditional Indian temple. Instead it had an elevated platform on which framed photos of Om Banna were placed. There was a small bust of the man as well. And this is where we had to offer our prayers. Just behind this platform was the famed Royal Enfield bike. It had a registration number of RNJ7773 and was looking classy. The bike was housed in a glass-covered enclosure. And finally at the entrance of this place, was that fateful tree itself… or whatever remained of it now. All of this was in an idyllic setting just off the highway. We ambled all around this temple soaking in its simplicity and aura. I felt some kind of a joy out there along with reverence. I was watching the tourists turn devotees as they neared Om Banna’s picture and bust. To my surprise one of them opened a bottle of whisky and poured a few drops of the spirit on the bust. The driver explained that alcohol was allowed as an offering to Om Banna. Thus my initial scepticism about this place was finally replaced by amusement. In an age where people spend most of their time glued to their cellular phones, here was a place almost frozen in time. It was hard to believe how this temple was formed and even harder to imagine that it has not only survived, but flourished for more than two decades now. When I heard someone say that Vasundhara Raje and Narendra Modi had also visited this temple, I just nodded my head in disbelief. Yeh mera India!

We finally bid Adieu to Om Banna and continued on our journey to Udaipur. The entire incident reminded me of my bike. I was determined as hell to buy an Enfield as my first bike. I had thwarted all attempts from my dad who wanted me to settle for something else. Finally in May 2002, I bought an Enfield Thunderbird. For about the first six months, I used to clean it every day; ride it every day and it was as though nothing could separate the two of us. Riding the bike was so damn liberating to me. But after about five years, I had to cut down on riding the bike due to chronic lower back pain. With time, I have stopped riding it altogether now. I think it has now been more than 10 years since I rode my stunningly beautiful bike. However, the bike is still with me… parked in the garage for all these years. I have not been able to convince myself that I should sell it. A few years ago, I decided that I will keep it with me forever… even if it means I do not ride it at all.

With such a history on my side, I could empathize with Om Banna and his beloved bike to some extent!

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