My association with bikes began, as it often happens, with a hand-me-down. In this case, there were two – my dad’s Bajaj Chetak and my fauji uncle’s Jawa, lovingly maintained by the Madras Sappers’ MT pool. No prizes for guessing which one I rode the most.
The scooter lasted longer, though. It got me through pre-university in Bangalore, college in Mangalore and through my first job as a marketing executive at United Parcel Service. I got my first taste of riding there – 60 kilometres or more in traffic, every day. I rode it to the coast when I started my MBA in Manipal and rode it back two years (and many beaches) later. It lasted well into my first job in advertising till, after a good 14 years of rough riding, it finally fell apart and was traded in for a Suzuki Samurai.
I have no complaints about the Samurai; it truly lived up to its ‘no-problem bike’ promise. But, a year later, in 2003, came a call that marked the beginning of its end.
“Let’s hit Ladakh.” said my buddy Abhijit “A friend’s putting together a Bullet ride. Come, it’ll be fun – I’ll split the rental with you!”
And, so it was that, on a dusty evening in Delhi, I slung my leg over a Bullet, headed for Manali. I’d never ridden one, and Bullet-owning friends had flatly refused to lend me theirs (my first biking lesson!). Three weeks later I was back, with a Khardung La tee, sunburn, numb backside and loads of pictures, having never been confused by the swapped gearshift/brake configuration. I was converted for good.
What makes a biking special for me is that, from that beginning, life took on a completely new meaning.
I figured that there was a world out there, and that there could be no better education than to try and see as much of it as possible. Since then, I’ve traveled to places – on my bike and off it – that I’d never have thought of if I hadn’t caught the travel bug.
Riding taught me new skills that had nothing to do with my bike. I learnt photography on an old Nikon FM10 on my second trip to Leh. I learnt patience sitting for hours in mechanics’ garages. I learnt to cook, because I wanted to replicate what I’d eaten on the road. I learnt tons of new songs playing my guitar in strange bars, around campfires, and mountain dhabas. I learnt to concentrate, because I wanted to stay alive.
But, most of all, roaming around India, and the world, made me learn about people, and how the proportion of assholes to good folk is remarkably the same, anywhere one goes. Traveling has made me realise that differences in cultures sometimes make them similar. It has taught me that respecting different opinions actually teaches you more than sticking to one’s own. That taking the trouble to learn just a couple of words in a language is all it takes to break the ice. That one should always – ALWAYS – wave back to people who wave at you. That one should always eat something new, at least once. And, after my first brush with a landslide near the Line of Control, traveling taught me that, most times, attitude matters much, much more than physical strength.
Yes, I’ve learnt a lot about life. And, much of it has been astride a bike.