Life does manage to come full circle. We were sitting in the exact same restaurant in Chandigarh during the interview where she served five years as a waitress, back in 1990. The true embodiment of a woman, Moksha Jaitley - biker and single mother - says she chose a life full of challenges and endurance to that of a daughter-in-law's.
Originally from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, Moksha succumbed to societal pressure and got married at the age of 20, only to get separated seven years later. You'd think it would be because they weren't able to work out their differences, but wait till you hear this. "It was sort of a love marriage. The reason for our separation was the dissatisfaction that I gave birth to a girl child," Moksha claimed.
Funny how an episode of Satyamev Jayate flashes through your head at this moment.
So, Moksha decided to file for divorce, which came through in '89. Not wanting to return to her parents' house with her daughter, the determined single mother made her way to Chandigarh, where she worked as a hostess (at Shivalik View, Sector 17) in 1990 - a time when the sight of female hostesses was not very common. "Male guests would call me up in the middle of the night and ask me my rate. I told them I'd charge as much as their mothers and sisters did," said the soon-to-be 50-year-old woman, complete with her delicately kohled eyes and army-green bandana.
So, after some years of teaching at schools and working as a driver, at the age of 42, Moksha decided to do a short course in mountaineering from Manali. Eight years on, her daughter, Prachi, works in Gurgaon, and Moksha herself is happy to return home to Manali, after her backbreaking
What started off as a hobby to test her endurance four years ago, has now become a fulltime profession. Her first expedition, alone, was in 2008 - from Manali to Leh. Her only companions were her 350 cc Bullet Classic and its mechanic. Today, she's on her 14th expedition, as a tour leader to four foreigners. Their trip maps from Shimla - Rampur - Kalpa - Tabo - Kaza - Jispa - Sarchu - Leh - Nubra Valley - Pangong Lake.
Once in a while, for amusement, Moksha decides to pick up her bike and just leave. "I have been to Kashmir and down south - Karnataka and Tamil Nadu - absolutely alone, just for the sake of exploration. The longest time that I've been by myself on a trip is one-and-a-half months. No, not even the mechanic, just me."
What is it that she does on these expeditions you ask? "Thanks to the life I've had, the social issue closest to my heart is saving the girl child. So, I stop over at all the small little villages I come across on the way and speak to the women living there about how a daughter can be a blessing. I give them my example and try to change their mindsets. The problem is very deep-rooted in our country; hence, it's not easy to get rid of. And, it's mainly because women here hate being themselves.
Since childhood, girls are given thumb rules of restrictions in every Indian household. Thankfully, it was not the same back home. I, being the second child of six sisters and one brother, was the responsible one. Dad used to send me at 10 in the night to the departmental store to pick up whatever was required when I was just 11 or 12. I can't thank
my parents enough for not inculcating an inferiority complex in their daughters."
Ask her about the womanly challenges she faces on her expeditions and she says, "Challenges have got nothing to do with being a woman. I face the same challenge as would a man - money. I want to organise trips and travel all over the country to spread awareness about saving the girl child, but funding these trips has always been a problem. Companies are not ready to invest in expeditions. They don't see this as a lucrative medium, which is not the case, given the hidden places we can reach on our bikes. But then again, in a country where its national sport has problems finding sponsors, expeditions are a long shot."
Playing the role of a tour guide today for Alex Bogdanov, 32, from Boston, Ricci Yasin, 42, from London, Marius Wirtz, 32, from Germany and Borris, 27, from Boston, Moksha is also
planning an all-women trip in September with some Canadian women. "It's funny, but I've grown so used to being around these guys that they seem like family," said Moksha as she walked up to her bike.
After politely offering up an invitation to come along for the ride, she kick-starts her bike, with rocker-chick attitude. "Alright then, see you later," she said with a smile as she zipped off, leaving a trail of dust behind her.