An adventurer never ages, he only gathers miles

M ajor General Rajendra Kumar Jain stands out in a gathering of motorcycle travellers. He is 84 years old, stands quite tall, and carries himself with the distinct air of a military man. There is one more thing – he doesn’t ride a motorcycle. His claim to fame? After over 40 years of service in the Indian Army, at the age of 59, he treated himself to a post-retirement ride on a Kinetic Honda scooter, all the way from India to England. On this journey, which he made in 1992, he travelled the 9,000-odd kms in – hold your breath – 33 days.

Like many of the travellers one meets, RK Jain is wrapped in a thick blanket of good humour. His incredible memory for detail indicates that only an autobiography will do justice to his stories, but there are endearing little moments that one is likely to miss in a book. Like the gently nudging wife at his arm who knows all the little details and dates, and the 21-inch suitcase that held everything he needed for his journey. An ex-army officer wanting to ride a scooter through Pakistan and Baluchistan would ordinarily be cause for enough suspicion in our cynical world, but not only did the Major General receive a no-objection certificate with ease, his passport also had a stamp that saidExempt from reporting to police’.

“Yeh bandha ab vaapas nahin ayega!”

RK Jain’s astounding feats do not end there. In 2004, at the age of 70, he wanted to test if he could still be adventurous. So he set off from India to Singapore via Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia with his son. From there, he flew solo to Australia thanks to Singapore Airlines , which he says was kind enough to give him a “complimentary air lift”. He chuckles at the memory of a worried friend exclaiming, “Yeh bandha ab vaapas nahin ayega” (“This guy will not return”). Meanwhile, his frantic wife would sit before a map of each country he was riding through and weep, imagining horror after horror during the travails of her cheerful and brave husband who simply never worried.

Once in Australia, RK Jain realised that the highways there had a minimum speed limit of 100 kmph, and that overtaking outside designated sections of the road was illegal. RK Jain realised that travelling around Australia on a scooter would most certainly result in traffic jams. So he travelled by bus to understand traffic patterns and realised that the only way a faster vehicle could overtake him anywhere, was if he stopped and got off his scooter on the side of the road. And so in a series of polite fits and starts, he made his way gently through Australia.

After a complimentary air lift into Australia
The most dangerous nut and bolt in a vehicle is a loose nut and bolt Major General RK Jain

Rides: Kinetic Honda

Age: 80

Travelled over 9000Kms: India to Australia via Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore

Words he lives by: Retirement is not a bar to adventure

Hear him speak at MTM 2014

“The most dangerous nut and bolt in a vehicle is a loose nut and bolt”.

Besides his obsession with taking off on his scooter, the Major General was also a hobby flier when younger. It wasn’t enough that he learnt to fly, he managed to coerce his wife into flight training as well, memorably refusing to eat a single meal until she relented. To keep her husband from starving, Mrs Jain learnt to fly, completing one unforgettable flight from Patiala to Delhi, before hanging up her wings permanently!

RK Jain’s advice to aspiring adventurers is grandfatherly, and often, hilarious. Wagging his finger at an audience, most of which was less than half his age, he said, “The most dangerous nut and bolt in a vehicle is a loose nut and bolt”. He talked about his 2007 ride to South India at the age of 73, during which he travelled 4,500 kms. “Retirement is not a bar to adventure,” he said. “The word ‘risk’ need not frighten us.” The Major General insists on adventure being a part of a youngster’s life, because he believes that adventures help people learn to meet adversity head-on at a young age.

At 84, RK Jain is convinced, much to his wife’s distress, that his travelling days are far from over. At MTM 2014, he was soaking up information on where, when and how to travel.

I should close with the image in my head of Major General RK Jain. On the morning of our scheduled interview, we walked up to his tent – the pair of us noticeably younger, bleary-eyed and exhausted –only to find the Major General and his wife impeccably dressed and waiting for us. I can’t remember now if I was embarrassed for us or hopeful that we would grow up to be a little bit like him. However, I do remember thinking “an adventurer never ages, he only gathers miles.”