7 Parsis cycled around the world a century ago. Check out photos from their tra…

Our Saddles, Our Butts, Their World: Global Rides on Humble Bikes by Indians in 1920s

  • WHEN: May 10 to May 14, noon to 8 pm
  • WHERE: Piramal Gallery, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point
  • ENTRY IS FREE

Did you know that seven Parsi cyclists from India travelled the world — a total of 265,000 km — some 100 years ago? A first-ever pictorial narrative on their incredible journey will go on display at the NCPA’s Piramal Gallery on May 10.

The exhibition is quirkily called ‘Our Saddles, Our Butts, Their World: Global Rides on Humble Bikes by Indians in 1920s’.

The show has been curated by writer Anoop Babani and his wife Savia Viegas, an academician-turned-painter. It features three groups of cyclists: Adi Hakim, Jal Bapasola and Rustom Bhumgara, who explored 71,000 km between 1923 and 1928; Framroze Davar and his Austrian cycling mate, Gustav Sztavjanik, who rode 110,000 km across 52 countries and five continents, between 1924 and 1931; and Keki Kharas, Rustam Ghandhi and Rutton Shroff, who cycled from 1933 to 1942 and traversed 84,000 km across five continents.

Framroze and Gustav atop Andes Mountains in South America. They rode 110,000 km across 52 countries and five continents, between 1924 and 1931.

When Babani shifted from Mumbai to Goa 10 years ago, he took up cycling and began researching the sport. He first read about these cyclists in a book by Hakim first published in 1931.

“Then I found out about the second group and then I learnt that there was a third gang,” he says. All the Indians were Parsi, all from Mumbai, and all has been in their mid- to late-20s.

The only way to know more was through their families, so Babani and Viegas spent about 18 months contacting descendants in countries around the world. So far they have traced members of five of the seven families.

“When I convinced the families that what we were doing was genuine, they opened up their archives to us — letters, diaries and most importantly the photographs,” says Babani. “We collected 60 photographs, all of which will be exhibited.”

Adi Hakim, Jal Bapasola and Rustom Bhumgara, who explored 71,000 km between 1923 and 1928.

There are pictures taken on these journeys around the world. Among the most interesting are the ones of Davar and Sztavjanik making their way into the Amazon forest, and to the tops of the Andes.

“The first group travelled extensively in the US, the second explored South America in considerable depth, the third group also travelled to Australia,” says Babani. Babani and Viegas call them unsung Indian heroes and hope they will get, at least posthumously, some recognition from the government and the Parsi community.

“In my 40 years of photojournalism, I never saw such pictures. It’s important for people alive today to know how these cyclists pushed the limits,” says Mukesh Parpiani, head of photography and the Piramal gallery at the NCPA. “No one seems to know this happened, and we hope the exhibition will change that.”

First Published: May 06, 2019 20:32 IST

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