The rapid proliferation of Western brand names on Indian streets is nothing new; it's been happening since the beginning of the "LPG" era (thanks to my mass comm students who taught me that acronym for liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation). Coca Cola, Pepsi, Levi's, etc. And more recently, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, and other such motorables. But this morning as I was driving to work I saw one that threw me just a little bit--the iconic motorcycle company, Harley-Davidson, has a showroom in (where else?) Banjara Hills! While one might say that the VW Beetle is as much a style and attitude product as the HD, the latter belongs to a culture that somehow feels a bit out of place in the rarefied corporate environs of main street Banjara Hills. Okay, accepted, the motorbikes perhaps got very bad rap based on mythologies created by Hollywood, of biker gangs and Hells Angels being the primary HD clientele, but that too is an image that is hard to wipe out of the imagination, which often turns into memory. And my own imagination -spiced memory cannot rid itself of images of leather-clad, chain wielding gangs of long-haired tattoo-armed men looking for vacant car lots and junk yards in which to to commune. But clearly, at an Indian price tag ranging between close to Rs 700,000 and 3.5 million, those who buy these bikes in Hyderabad are not going to be looking at raising dust storms on outer ring road! And truly speaking, Harleys have had more to do with the police force in the US than with violent biker gangs (largely a creation of cinema). I have friends who are devoted Harley owners, and who use their heavy bikes to explore the countryside and seek "wholesome" outdoor adventure. In fact, the more recent HD ads note "millions of Harley Davidsons, and not a leather jacket in sight." To be honest, neither of the two HD owners I know wears leather or has a tattoo, and one is a smiling grandfather who rides with his lovely wife and a group of friends on weekends, just to feel the wind on their faces and the sun on their backs!
So it's time to set aside my erroneous and imagination-rich ideas and accept that Harley Davidsons are just as likely to be ridden by the youngsters populating the glass palaces in Hi-Tec city as by forty-somethings who once idolize Peter Fonda. In fact, market research shows the average age of a HD biker is now 46, compared to the late 20s of three decades ago! Perhaps that's where the money is...but it's also where the imagination is!
And the HD showroom in Banjara Hills...well, I guess in a couple of weeks it will be just another sign joining the blur that borders my drive to work!