Where I come from, the only people who bike, are greasy, long-haired, leather-clad Neanderthals and mid-crisis geriatrics trying to deepen the experience of life by nearing its inevitable demise. But here, it’s a family affair and by far, the most effective weapon against the grinding traffic. Having cursed them from behind my wheel for long enough, it was time to cross to the other side.
As if driving in Mumbai wasn’t frightening enough, I thought it a good idea to halve the wheels, scorn the seatbelt, shelve the windshield, and boost the vroom!Ironically, the more exposed you get on the roads, the greater your clout — the official rule of the game is: it’s the bigger dude’s fault.
You can be riding up a one-way with your headlights off and the law would still be on your side, if a car were foolish enough to call your bluff. You may risk being hurt, but the driver faces the threat of a mobby death. Bikers are like those little yapper dogs that imagine themselves to be Rottweilers — yet somehow their confidence pays off and the illusion is reinforced as time and again far weightier vehicles stand down at the challenge.
There was really only one option for a risk-taking ‘firang’ (foreigner) — a thudding Royal Enfield Bullet. Picture Shantaram cruising the streets in search of adventure… that’s me, minus the heroin addiction.But the bike is addiction enough — man… I love it!My first epic bike trip — a trip through Maharashtra with a female friend from the UK — ended before it began as my friend, at Heathrow Airport, where she discovered that she needs a visa to enter India.
Ah, that sinking feeling — “Where’s your visa madam?” Doof. “Visa?” you squeak sheepishly. “You need a visa?” I trust her sacrifice will not be in vain — may this be a lesson to us all… Most foreigners need a visa to come to India as a tourist.
I’ve since managed a one day-trip out to Matheran with a different female friend on the back, which was superb. The only word that works is joy: weaving through the bucolic countryside, conversing with it in thuds and silence.In a car, you’re confined to your seat. On a bike, it’s as though you dissolve on the edges… somehow you melt into the peace and it seeps into you. Glorious!The day ended in tears, though, as minutes from home, I lost my concentration and crashed into a speeding rickshaw.
What a reality snap! You’re on the floor, your mind is rebooting. You’re not in pain; check. Your passenger is alive; check. Someone’s whimpering in panic — from the riskshaw, it’s on its side. The swelling crowd has righted the capsized rick; the people inside are ok. The bike?
A pedal’s come off. You pick it up with some help and wheel it off the road — it seems ok. The pain in your knee registers, your shoulder hurts. Your passenger’s foot is in real pain. The crying starts. Oh no, I hope it’s not serious. It looks serious. What about my poker game tonight? I just wanna shower.
The rickshaw driver’s yelling, he wants compensation; he won’t let us go to the hospital. We have no cash. This is all my fault. This is all my fault. Idiot, Guy!The story ended without broken bones, thank God, but a few thousand gone in hospital bills, Rs 2,000 to the rickshawwallah, and Rs 750 down in poker (I should have known it wasn’t going to be my night). Is that expensive for a wake-up call, a shot of caution in my riding and a renewed appreciation for life? I suppose not.