MOTORSPORTS: Bhardwaj leaves a huge gap
The passing on of Bharat Bhardwaj last week marks the end of a truly remarkable and romantic era in the motorsports history of Kenya.
Bhardwaj was the last survivor of the men who with their daredevil calavier approach shaped the destiny of motorsports in the heydays of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.
Men like Eiic Cecil, the founder of the East African Safari, who became known as “Bwana Safari”; Vic Preston Senior, the first man to win the Safari Rally twice; Nick Nowicki, who won both times when the Safari had only seven finishers and hence of “Magnificient Seven” fame; Joginder Singh, known both as the Flying Sikh and Simba wa Kenya, and the first man to win the Safari three times; Shekar Mehta, the only man to win the Safari Rally five times.
Bhardwaj was born in Nakuru in 1934, where his father, who was a doctor, was stationed. Later, his father moved to Nairobi which saw Bharat attend the Government Indian School and Duke of Gloucester School (now Jamhuri High).
After High School, Bharat went to the University of London where he qualified as an optometrist. Upon his return to Kenya in 1959, he started Optica on Government Road (now Moi Avenue). He retired from active practice in 2000 and handed the mantle to his son Kush Bhardwaj, but remained the chairman of the company and was the guiding light which has seen the firm grow into the largest optician practice in Kenya,with 37 outlets.
In addition, Bharat practised as an optometrist on a voluntary basis at the Kenyatta National Hospital for over 20 years.
Besides his profession, Bharat also had a passion for cars and as fate would have it, his practice was in a building owned by Jack Benzrima, who was chairman of the Cooper Motor Cooperation. The two forged a close friendship, which saw Benzimra sponser Bharat to race a Mini Cooper on the Nakuru Racetrack and participate in the East Africa Hillclimb Championship at Mathatini. This was where Bharat excelled at winning the hill climb championship on six occasions in the 1960’s.
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