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The ‘white Indian’ from France who loves biking

Brian de Souza | Updated on April 19, 2018

Two to tango Legall with fellow biker Vigil

Patrick Legall is passionate about travelling in India on a Royal Enfield

Patrick Legall has been a regular visitor to India for nearly a decade now.

An expert in tooling from CooperStandard France, the 58-year-old automotive professional works closely with his counterparts in the Indian joint venture, Sujan CooperStandard.

“I have helped the team make moulds for Mahindra, Maruti and Ford,” says Legall. Over the years, he has developed over 100 moulds for European brands and adding Indian auto brands to his repertoire has been a rewarding experience.

Legall volunteered to come to this part of the world to provide training for toolmaking even though he did not know too much English. Typically, his visits were perhaps thrice a year and lasted a month apiece on an average.

Interestingly, Legall has won a few strength contests back home in France which is not entirely surprising given his build and six foot-plus frame. You might see him leaving work with a jar of whey protein.

Yet, beyond the brawn is a man who sees his role in India as a teacher at the workplace and a traveller once he is on his own. He makes it a point to take time off to wonder around the country on a Royal Enfield along with his colleague and friend, Vigil.

The avid biker that he is, India has given him an opportunity to experience this passion to the hilt. “I have travelled up to 100 km on a bike and enjoyed the countryside which I prefer to traffic-filled and noisy cities,” says Legall.

Hitting the roads

While India’s rich diversity clearly had him hooked, it was surprisingly the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and not the touristy Taj Mahal, which left a deep impression on him. “I have been to many parts of the country. The journey began with Tamil Nadu which gave me the opportunity to see the Royal Enfield facility in Chennai,” says Legall.

The adventurous Frenchman has also visited Kerala’s backwaters, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Jim Corbett National Park and the Wagah border. Not all of these were made on the Royal Enfield, though.

Legall’s most memorable trip was to Lavasa, the residential community near Pune. “It reminded me of my hometown, Guignen near Rennes, with its rivers and mountains,” he says. His companion to Lavasa was Vigil, who “was my hitman and took me to a whole lot of places in Pune”. This included Juna Bazaar, the local used market (like Mumbai’s Chor Bazaar and Chennai’s once celebrated Moore Market) where Legall picked up gramophone discs and a whole lot of other stuff for his kids, Jeremy and William.

Some of these trips have had more than their share of excitement. In Goa, he suddenly discovered that his debit card had got blocked since he had exceeded the number of ATM withdrawal attempts. “I was stuck for two days with just a hundred rupees but managed to survive,” he recalls with a laugh.

The Goa experience may not have been so pleasant but it did not deter Legall one bit. “I consider Indians as my brothers. I am a white Indian,” he insists. After the Goa drama, it was only a matter of time before he set off on another trip to rural Bihar with a colleague to see how people live in villages.

While travel keeps him in a state of excitement, India’s spicy food can be a different ballgame. “Breakfast is no problem as I can manage comfortably with an omelette. However, my colleagues are horrified to see me eat white rice mixed with cheese, and maybe dahi, at lunch,” he laughs.

Loving restoration

Outside of work, Legall’s life revolves largely around bikes. He restored a 1974 Dnepr (a motorcycle brand produced in Ukraine) which took two whole years, and a Honda of the same vintage. He also got a customised silencer for his Dnepr from a local parts company (at a fraction of the cost he would have had to pay otherwise) in a Paris flea market.

Legall owns six bikes, including a BMW and a vintage Peugeot model that is no longer produced. He rides his favourite brand, BMW, to his workplace in France. While Vigil’s Royal Enfield is his preferred companion in India, he is equally at home in the Mumbai locals which carry millions of people back and forth every day.

Legall also collects scale models. “As I work with toolings, these models are in a sense connected with what I do professionally. The use of steel and the attention to detail resonates with my job,” he says.

Legall is now taking a break from his India assignment thanks to his growing work responsibilities at CooperStandard France. Vigil, who shares his passion for biking, says his friend taught him many of the finer points of tooling.

Like Jai and Veeru in Sholay, it is only a matter of time before the duo is back motorcycling through India’s vast terrain.

The writer is a communications professional based in Mumbai

Published on April 19, 2018

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