For Narayanappa Srinivasan, his beloved black Royal Enfield was much more than a motorbike. So much so that his son, Arun, spent 15 years looking for the motorbike after it went missing in the mid-90s.
“Bullet bikes were costly then. The bank gave me the entire amount as a loan to buy it,” Mr Srinivasan, now 75, recalls.
This was the 1970s and he borrowed 6,400 rupees – what would now amount to nearly 300,000 rupees ($4,000; £3,000) to buy the Royal Enfield.
This was a hefty price in those days, before India had opened up to the world and buyers like Mr Srinivasan had few options. The Royal Enfield, famous for the “dugh, dugh” sound of its exhaust, was a treasured purchase for many at the time.
Mr Srinivasan was 24 when he bought the bike – it stayed with him for over two decades. His job, as an agricultural officer facilitating bank loans for farmers, took him across the southern state of Karnataka where he lived. And the bike went with him everywhere.
“My sisters and I grew up on that bike. It was the family’s first vehicle,” his son, Arun Srinivasan, a 38-year-old software engineer, says.
But then in 1995, Mr Srinivasan’s bank transferred him from Manipal city in Karnataka to Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
And Mr Srinivasan couldn’t take the Royal Enfield with him. So he sold it to a friend – on the condition that he could buy it back when the friend no longer needed it.
But then the following year, the bike was stolen from his friend’s home. Mr Srinivasan immediately filed a police complaint but they found no leads.
He spent years wondering if his bike still existed in some corner of the country.
His son, meanwhile, was regaled with stories of the bike. “The one memory I have always had was of the bike being parked at home,” Arun said.
Eventually the family moved back to Karnataka – they now live in the state’s capital Bangalore.
And every time Mr Srinivasan saw a “bullet”, as these bikes are called in India, on the road, he become nostalgic about the one he lost.
“My son enjoyed riding on that bike when he was young,” he said. For him, the bike was tied to so many fond memories.
So, he never gave up hope that he might spot it on the roads of Bangalore some day.
“If I was driving with him, I would deliberately slow down [the car] so that he did not notice a bullet bike ahead,” Arun said.
He says his father’s ears would perk up at that characteristic sound of the exhaust and his eyes would strain to identify the bullet among all the bikes passing by – and then, he would be disappointed when he realised it wasn’t his old bike.
Finally Arun, who also loves old vehicles, decided to track down the bike.
He began his search in 2006 when he was 22 years old.
“I still have my dad’s old car and my uncle’s car from 1960 as well. We have about six to seven vehicles parked at home,” Arun said.
The only one that has been missing, he added, was the Royal Enfield.
He began in Manipal where he spoke to garage owners but they couldn’t tell him much.
There was no data available in regional transport offices or local police stations.
Then, he says, the state’s transport office went digital – which meant all the data connected to vehicles registered in Karnataka would now be available online.
So, in early 2021, using the vehicle’s registration number and insurance details, Arun tracked down the Royal Enfield.
After months of visiting transport offices, he found that it was owned by a farmer in Mysore district.
He called the farmer and explained that he had been looking for the bike to make his father happy. He then learnt that it had been purchased from a dealer who, in turn, had bought it from an auction by the police to dispose of stolen or abandoned vehicles which were unclaimed.
The dealer bought the bike for 1,800 rupees and sold it to the farmer for 45,000 rupees.
Arun says the farmer was initially reluctant to part with the bike, but he agreed several months later.
“I had to pay more than 100,000 rupees for it,” Arun said.
When he finally called his father with the good news, Mr Srinivasan was overwhelmed with joy.
The Royal Enfield returned to the Srinivasan home last year, more than 15 years after it left.
An elated Mr Srinivasan did a thorough check to make sure it was, in fact, the same bike he had bought some 50 years ago.
“I did not believe it was my vehicle. I checked the chassis number with the old registration card I had,” he said.
The family took turns sitting on the bike.
“I am a short man for a bullet but it was very comfortable and I felt the same comfort level. That was another confirmation that the bike is, indeed, mine,” he said, his excitement still evident.
“It was like our missing horse had come back on its own.”