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Phat Phatis of Delhi

By: Toothless Posted Sep 28, 2012 General 4172 Views
(Updated Sep 28, 2012 07:50 PM)

The year 2002 will be remembered by some as the year the city of Delhi lost one its most popular ride – the Phat Phati. For the kids who do not know what I am talking about, this may be a valuable history lesson. During the Second World War, Harley Davidson saw a huge upsurge in manufacturing. Harleys and Jeeps were crucial towards the success of the allies and after the war ended, the Harley’s that were no longer needed by the military were auctioned off. In the US, many war veterans who had served in Europe and were impressed by the speed of the British morotcycles, purchased these and they chopped off the unwanted parts to reduce weight and increase speed – This gave birth to the Chopper.


Many of these Harley Davidson motorcycles were also sold in India and well being Indians; business was more important on the agenda than fun. Quite a few of these Harley’s were purchased by businessmen in Delhi and they were painted yellow, a carriage was attached at the back and Delhi got its very own, indigenous (Jugaadu) invention – The Phat Phati. The name Phat Phati was coined because of the noise these incredible machines made and they were very quick, they had the legs over any other mode of public transportation that Delhi had ever seen.


The original bikes were Harleys however parts were inadequate for these in India and during the course of their lifetime serving as Rickshaws; the Phat Phatis were modified and fitted with so many indigenous parts that they evolved into a completely different machine. The only thing that remained was their characteristic sound. Most of these Phati Phatis operated around the major shopping districts of Karol Bagh, Palika Bazaar and Darya Ganj . As I lived in South Delhi, I used to get to ride these only rarely when we went shopping or visiting some relatives who lived in Karol Bagh.


The first joy ride : I was only a lad about 6 years old when I got my first ride on a Phat Phati and it is an experience that will stay with me forever. Apart from my mom, myself and an aunt, there were if I am not wrong around 4 others in the big yellow carriage. The sound was deafening, but I loved it, the speed was thrilling and in the 80s and early 90s, Delhi was not as crowded as it is now and the Phat Phati dirvers could test the limits of their priced processions on a daily basis. The ride lasted maybe a little over 5 minutes but to a 6 year old it was as good as being on a rollercoaster.


The aging fleet of these machines was finding it difficult to cope up with the pollution norms, the noise they made was also getting more and more irritating to many, they were bad with fuel economy and frankly it was impossible for a technology developed during the Second World War to compete with the latest stuff in the market. Almost everyone in Delhi knew this day would come as we had seen the Phat Phatis gradually reduce in number until there was only a handful left by 2002. Finally in 2002 the Phat Phatis were banned in Delhi. Those that were in terrible condition ended up as scrap while some lucky ones which were in good condition were sold to collectors.


Death of a Rock Star : The Phat-Phati which was a darling of Delhi’s residents and envy of the other cities finally disappeared from the streets. With the Phat-Phati gone, Delhi lost a key part of its heritage but while it was around, it did lead the life of a Rock star and whether you were a resident or a tourist, the Phat-Phati never failed to put a smile on your face every time you took a ride.


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