Sunday, November 29, 2015

the unexpected reality

this year has been a year of changes. i think the only other such year was 2007, when I lived away from home for the first time ever, started working at my first job, fell very sick and recovered, and took my first ever long vacation after almost 8 years.

but what's changed this year? just one thing: i'm preparing to get hitched. preparing for the happy ever after. and it's not like this was unexpected. i've been preparing for years: fell in and out of love many times, making mental notes each time. saved up money. purchased a flat. traveled like crazy, to prepare for years when I'd be too busy to (or, God forbid, marry someone who doesn't like to travel).

it'd be wrong to say these things haven't helped. but it's interesting to see that there are a number of things I didn't (or maybe, couldn't) prepare for.

it's interesting to see how theories don't hold up against practicalities. how you can be sure of yourself, but suddenly all theories melt away when you have to factor in another person and their idiosyncrasies. it's strange to observe yourself behave differently from what you expected, in the very situation you thought about years ago. and to realize the things you were planning so intently are now taken for granted and relegated to the back of your consciousness in the face of other far more important things.

it's interesting to see how so much can happen in one year. and it's more interesting to anticipate what more is going to happen in the next, even though I now realise that trying to anticipate any such thing would be pointless.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

brownian motion

the ride to work today, it being diwali, was an absolute pleasure. for once, i actually had the mental bandwidth to think while riding. and for once, I actually didn't have much to think about. but i realized that one minute I was pushing 100, and the next i was happily tailing a slow moving car when there were two free lanes to go. and that's what set my mind off.

when i used to ride a pulsar, i had just two modes: ride fast or ride slow.

with the karizma, there's actually scope for more flexibility. i can ride in the power band, or be lazy or eager with my shifts. i can throttle for mileage or performance or the nirvanic "in between". I can quick shift or easy shift. i can be sneaky or refuse to share my lane with anyone else. i can sit still or slide around on the seat. i can sit up front, in the middle, or at the back. I could tuck my elbows in, or not. the list is endless. and all of these modes are fun in their own right.

for a few years, every time I would set off, I'd actually settle into one mode based on my mood and situation, and stick to it for the entire ride.

but that's what I realized has changed. i no longer have a mode. i just ride randomly.

Monday, October 05, 2015


(I think I may have used the title before... but this one is different!)

1500 km from home, I'm sitting atop a terrace of the guest house I'm staying at, smoking a cigarette (sorry, shru!) while Michael Buble croons "feeling good". there's the honking of buses and rickshaws (the buses sound like elephants, lol).

and I'm feeling good.

there's something in me about being alone. I guess it started as a kid, when I'd spend hours absorbed in any book I could get my hands on, while my friends played cricket or cops and robbers or whatever grabbed their fancy. in college, it was travelling alone by train. initially in silence, and later listening to dad's Walkman on his headphones. when I started working, it was my bike, initially to places nearby, and then further away. and I guess the definition of further grew with years. at 31, it's sometimes (often!) not even in the state. there's always friends an overnight ride away in Goa, or wherever-have-you.

but this time I decided, without much thought, to go further. across India. i've traveled before, and I knew I'm comfortable enough in my skin to do it. I have ridden alone long distances, I know I'm physically capable of it. and I've done solo weekend trips nearby. I know I have that survival instinct that can be trusted and relied upon. and I know that much water has flown under the bridge since I last attempted this.

the first leg of my trip was weird. the bike gave trouble, and the weather wasn't quite amenable to riding all night. I had a good excuse to not push myself the way I had planned. and so, I took a detour and rode to shruti and my other friends. i'd say, her surprise when I walked through that door was worth it.

but half measures are not made for me. I had burned my bridges when I didn't buy my flight tickets to chennai and back. and so it was to be. I rode to bangalore, against all odds, even though late on Saturday morning I was considering riding back home and buying an expensive flight ticker instead. but I pushed my bike 4km, and arrived in bangalore to a welcome bed at an unearthly hour. the highway was wet and almost unforgiving, but I was past the point of no return. and when I reached bangalore at 2am, it felt like nothing. but it was something. the next day, I rode off to pondicherry, through narrow state highways, following my GPS through pouring rain in the dark, even as I swore this may have been one of the worst decisions this ride. I tailed a car, but then realized that's not how I ride. I scouted villages for a tea stall, but didn't find any. and finally, when I touched the national highway again, 50 kms from pondicherry, I felt safe. even though I was in an unknown state, running on empty, with no place booked for my stay, at an hour where most places shut.

my luck saw me through, and time slowed down while I stopped to Google for "decent budget hotels in pondicherry", and then rode around aimlessly until I stopped at one. the night watch woke up the receptionist, and I had a room and a bed, but no dinner, and no shot at the beer I was longing for. I rode around, without the sense to note my bearings, until I found a place that was shutting. they were kind enough to serve me tasty leftovers and accept my credit card for it. no beer, but that was okay.

I slept after two hours of letting the adrenaline settle. tomorrow would be different.

and today was different.

it's something else to wake up, not knowing what to do, or indeed where exactly I should go to figure that out. there were people I could call, but I tried not to. I did, eventually, but disregarded most of the advice and found myself in a lovely place I could spend hours doing nothing.

and I had a day I will remember.

days like this remind me of why I enjoy being alone.

I walked around, clicked photos, read, rode around, met a friend who was serendipitously around. watched a movie on tv. had a drink or three. listened to music. missed shruti, but not too much... because I know that when I'm with her, we're too absorbed in each other to think about the rest of the world. watched the sun go down, without my phone, because I knew that it was going to be too beautiful to not click and upload.

climbed to the terrace of the guest house, with a chair around my neck (the ladder was too tricky to climb with the chair in my hand!), because just being alone wasn't enough.

and when I look back, I wonder what made me do it.

perhaps I will never really know.

perhaps I don't need to know.

cos I'm feeling good.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

rickshaw wala

I took a break in the middle of an awesome ride around bbay late at night (thane to borivali via ghodbunder road, about 130 am, to be specific)

my phone has been giving trouble (it only charges when switched off), so i was just standing near my bike and having my chai (more like waiting for it to cool to a drinkable temperature, actually), and observing the people there.

there was a random assortment of people at the chaiwalla, quite appropriate for that hour: all guys, some in cars, some standing with their bikes, chit-chatting, some smoking, others having tea, and one group having cheap "chinese" food in plastic plates and bowls at the only table at the stall.

while i was there, a rickshaw pulled up and a driver got out. he didn't buy anything though. he just stood and leaned against his rickshaw, visibly drunk. after some time, he walked up to me and pointed at my bike's rear turning lights, and asked me if I had them custom made. i wasn't particularly interested in talking to him, but it'd be rude to not answer, so i told him that yes, I actually had them custom made. he asked me if it was just for show. I told him that no, it was so that I could fix my bags on my bike without them getting in the way.

he was curious about why someone would need to have bags there, so i described my saddle bags and told him I use them for long bike rides.

he asked me how far I had ridden. i told him I have done bike trips up to 4000 km, and i was expecting to do an even longer one in a few days. unlike most people who usually react with surprise, he took this in rather matter-of-factly and wanted to know more. he asked me where I had ridden to, whether I ride in the day or night, and even what makes me decide to ride at night.

he noticed my patched-up mudguard and asked me if it was an accident. i told him it was potholes in aarey road.

the conversation seemed pretty normal until now, when the topic changed and he started talking about his day. he said that he didn't know that there's a different permit for drivers in Mumbai and Thane, and he found out the hard way today, after 9 months, when he was stopped by cops. he also doesn't have a license, just a photocopy - the original was confiscated months ago and he didn't bother collecting it as he didn't want to pay the fine. he also didn't know when the registration and insurance papers disappeared from his rickshaw. apparently when he had taken a few days off, the substitute driver had stolen the papers. so when he was stopped today he didn't have a license, permit, or papers. he said he was lucky, the cop was sympathetic. he had 250 rs with him, so the cop pocketed 150 and left him with 100 rs for fuel.

he said he was lucky, if it wasn't just a lone cop at the checkpost, he'd definitely be jailed and his rickshaw impounded.

i told him that drinking and driving was even worse.

that got him started.

he told me, he does only one trip every day. there are ladies who live in malad that he has to ferry to work in nalasopara, and back home. he has to pick them up at 9:30 pm, and he reaches them at a bar at nalasopara at precisely 10:10pm. never later than 10:15pm. and he reaches them back when the bar shuts in the wee hours of the morning. they pay for his food and drinks while he waits for them: he said that he had a plate of chicken lollipops and a quarter of whisky today.

I didn't want to ask him questions, wondering if he was some sort of pimp or something. he continued his story anyway: they pay him 800 bucks a day, flat. they don't always pay him daily, but by the end of the week the makes sure he gets his 800 for each day. they never go with anyone else, and he doesn't bother with any other rides even though he very well could.

he said that life is good. he has a family, has a place to live (he even told me where, somewhere in bhayendar), and he has his day to himself. he even has time to have a drink or two before setting off for work in the evening. and he gets 800 bucks a day, every single day. he even asked me to calculate how much that adds up to.

he said there are 3 ladies, and their job is to serve drinks and deal cards at the bar. he said that sometimes these ladies wear little more than just underwear. he told me I should come to the bar sometime, to eat and drink with him, and he'll tell me stories.

as i finished my now cold cup of chai, and wore my bag to get ready to ride off, he told me his brother had once brought a bike, but he had an accident not far from where we were, and broke his leg. after that he decided that he will never try riding a bike.

as i rode off, he told me we should meet again. I wonder if we will.

Monday, August 31, 2015

climb every mountain

yesterday marked the end of a trekking month. a few friends ("adventure lovers" is the official name we've given ourselves) decided we'll trek every weekend in August, and we succeeded, except that I missed trekking on my birthday weekend (although I'd have loved to do a trek in Goa, I somehow didn't think about it at the time 😁)

the reactions people give to my trekking habits vary, from mom's cynicism: "what's the use of trekking every weekend if you don't manage to lose weight", to my manager's advice "try to trek only on Saturday and rest on Sunday, you seem to be exhausted on Monday", to the majority of my friends saying I'm living the dream life: posting yummy food photos on Facebook all week, and spending every weekend trekking.

but trekking is more than just that. it's not just about getting fit, getting refreshed, and what not.

I love trekking because it feels natural. it feels like I'm using my body and mind for what they were designed to do. my body wasn't designed to spend long hours on a couch, or (over) drinking with friends. my mind wasn't designed to passively consume entertainment. to do the same things over and over again, expecting different results.

there's something about covering distances, conquering the unknown: hills, plains, valleys, streams, on my own two feet. there's something about honing that survival instinct. about rationing limited food and water and mental and physical energy, and enjoying it to the fullest. about embracing pain and discomfort till they cease to exist, or cease to matter. trusting instincts and abilities to get out of any situation I find myself in. making friends who I can trust and depend on, and work with as a team. people who share that passion. people who share my belief that survival is more than mere existence.

and most of all, there's something about enjoying being lost, and finding my way.

trekking is a metaphor for the journey of life.