From Maruti to SUVs will we now trace our steps back to bicycle?
For anyone old enough to remember India in the 1980s and early 1990s, you can still
vividly recollect the roads primarily populated with some low end vehicles including
hand pulled rickshaws, the ever popular autos, cycles, handcarts and sometimes even
bullock carts. The slew of cars was limited to Maruti 800 and the more posh Premier
Padmini and Contessa.
Then liberalization happened and the Indian economy opened to receive goods from
the foreign market. Every top automaker slowly and surely started setting up operational
lines in the country. With globalization, multinational companies made their foray
in other sectors as well resulting in an increase in per capita income.
The middle class educated Indian could afford more and wanted more. The Maruti 800
which dominated the auto market was soon relegated to antiquity and was instead
replaced with swankier sedans and SUVs. Every few months a new version hit the market
creating a stir.
The narrow Indian roads never designed for this mass influx of big wheeled giants
huffed and puffed as they struggled to cope with the numbers that plied on them
Traffic snarls which first started at city centre slowly spread their wings to the
periphery. Rush hour commuter traffic became the order of the day. With all this
the Indian economy was also growing. The demand for oil rose to never before heights.
The oil producers had to up the ante since populous China and India needed more.
The OPEC cartel produced and Asia and other parts of the world consumed. This status
quo remained till suddenly there were uneasy whispers.
Some said that Saudi Arabia had vastly overestimated its reserve capacity. Other
oil giants claimed that tapping oil from far reaching depths was posing issues and
becoming more difficult. Fuel, the lifeline of modern civilization may soon not
be produced at the same level and with the same ease.
But where does that leave us? We have our fuel guzzling SUVs, every family owns
two cars and public transport is for the unfortunate and not for us says the educated
All this holds well for as long as oil remains below the $100 per barrel mark. The
first few weeks of February have already seen this level rise marginally and some
investment bankers placed in Dubai believe that in two years it may yet reach the
$200 per barrel mark.
At that point all of us may well have to face the harsh realities of life, give
up our ecologically insensitive lifestyle, save our fuel and save our planet.
The day is not too far when the “fashionistas” will claim that riding a bicycle
is so much more cool than a SUV. The wise will of course agree because they always
knew that natural resource is scarce and must be used wisely.
But using a bicycle may not after all be such a bad thing. The 21st century will
see roads having designated bike lanes and also “greenways” which prohibit movement
of automobiles. This eco-friendly mode of transport is a great exercise, does not
use any non-renewable source of energy and saves the earth from perils of global
While the future may seem grim, maybe humanity needs to be pushed albeit by sheer
economics to actually change their ways and protect the earth. We owe it to future
generations to leave behind soil, water and air they can use and biking may just
be the answer.
Taken in the right spirit, a bike ride can be an exhilarating experience and promises