Duo retraces route of Lithuanian who rode to Calcutta 90 years ago

Motorcycle diaries, then and now

By Sudeshna Banerjee in Calcutta
  • Published 27.02.19, 3:04 AM
  • Updated 27.02.19, 9:39 AM
  • 2 mins read
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Aurimus Mockus (left, seated) and Rimas Bruzas film the plaque dedicated to Antanas Poska in the Calcutta University library as Lithuania ambassador Julius Pranevicius and honorary consul Arvind Sukhani look on. Gautam Bose

Ninety years ago, an intrepid biker from Lithuania had set off by road for India, intrigued by the similarities between his mother tongue and Sanskrit. Antanas Poska rode across 15 countries till he boarded a ship from Kuwait to reach (then) Bombay and from there Calcutta. Two men, who have followed his tyre marks in a BMW R1200 GS, landed in the city on Monday morning.

“We had to change our route a bit from Israel because of geo-political situations. While Poska had proceeded to Libya and travelled through Syria, Iraq and Iran before taking a ship from Kuwait, we went through Turkey and Iran, took a ferry to Dubai and then a flight to Calcutta,” said Rimas Bruzas, a 46-year-old journalist who plans to produce a series for the country’s national television. With him is Aurimas Mockus, a 38-year-old businessman.

Poska had travelled with journalist Matas Salcius in his bike’s side car. But the duo did not end the journey together. “Salcius had deserted Poska when he was down with malaria for 102 days in Iran and sold off his bike. His travel account does not even mention Poska, though he could not ride a bike himself,” Bruzas said.

If Poska’s plans were stung by malaria, prohibitions and paperwork put a spanner in the works of the modern-day duo. “It took us 35 days to get permission to cross the Sinai peninsula,” said Mockus. As for the Suez Canal, Poska had taken a boat with his bike but now a motorable tunnel exists under the 2km wide stretch.

Bruzas book The Biker’s Story about the motorbike movement in Lithuania had a chapter on Poska. “I did a presentation on the book at a biker’s club in Klaipeda. Mockus, a club member, asked me many questions about where MSC Memelland, Lithuania’s first bike club, was located,” Bruzas said.

Aurimas Mockus shows a tattoo on his arm of the statue of Antanas Poska installed at his initiative in his hometown Klaipeda in Lithuania.
Aurimas Mockus shows a tattoo on his arm of the statue of Antanas Poska installed at his initiative in his hometown Klaipeda in Lithuania. Bishwarup Dutta
The BMW stands parked at Yezd, Iran.
The BMW stands parked at Yezd, Iran. Aurimas Mockus

The city of Klaipeda underwent several changes in street names when it went from the Germans to the Lithuanians to the Soviets. It had also been bombed during World War II. So even when the location of the old club could finally be pinpointed, nothing, it was found, had remained of it.

“I decided to build a bike installation at the empty spot as a memorial. And with it, who better than Poska, our first long-distance biker?” The statue, made of 600kg bronze on a 30-tonne stone pedestal, was inaugurated at the city centre on July 22, 2016. “We were planning this journey even as the statue was being built. Poska was single. We have our families. So it took a while to set off,” Bruzas said.

After three-and-a-half months and 15,000-plus kilometres, the two reached their journey’s end when they stepped into Calcutta University on Wednesday, along with ambassador Julius Pranevicius and honorary consul Arvind Sukhani. They shared their story with an auditorium full of students.

The closing sequence of Bruzas’s film was shot in front of a marble plaque in the library dedicated to Poska on the occasion of his getting a posthumous honorary DLitt from CU in 2014.

While their bike set sail for home from Dubai, they would take a flight on Wednesday. “Poska spent five years in India. We need to come back to film another series on his stay here,” Bruzas said.

“Poska was sidelined by the Soviets and forgotten. We want to celebrate his achievements,” he said.

“He is a very important figure in Lithuania-India relations,” ambassador Pranevicius added.