All the gear, all the time.

On a ride out to Melukote, I experienced a first. They say that nothing ever quite prepares you for what you may encounter, when you ride a motorcycle in India. Well, I’m as Indian as the Indian next door, so I was inclined to believe, what ever Incredible India throws at me, I should be able to acknowledge, accept (as the Indian way of life) and move on. This one was a first though. It happened in a matter of seconds- I am passing some fields on my right and  out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of white- something whizzes past my visor, a fleeting glimpse of feathers, a faint scratch on my visor, a faraway shriek and its gone. I gather my senses and what’s left of my wits and manage to stop. I had missed being bird-hit. From a heron, by the looks of it…and by a whisker. Beat that. In all my years of riding motorcycles, I had not imagined a scenario like this. I mean pilots get bird hit man, not motorcyclists!

A friend recounts an even more bizarre story- he is on his daily commute, he is approaching a turn he goes through every day. As he leans into the corner, on this sparsely  trafficked road, he sees a sheet of paper flying in a gust of wind, and its about to land in front of him. It’s a little late to alter his line of approach, and in a snapshot he thinks, its only a piece of paper. What happens next, I guess, should unfold in slow motion. The front wheel misses the paper by a margin, the paper touches ground, the rear wheel, slides over the sheet, which is now also sliding across the road surface- some strange science enables loss of traction, and the ride and the rider are sprawled in a heap. And I thought the worst damage a piece of paper could do was cut your finger!

It’s instances like these- the ones more out of the ordinary, that make me value riding gear. Over the years I have tried to develop the habit of using ‘all the gear all the time’. If I don’t have my helmet, gloves, boots and riding jacket on, I feel strangely inadequate- like I’ve stepped out of my house  in a suit without wearing socks. A little touring experience and more than 12 years of commuting on two wheels has taught me one thing- 9 times out of 10, you have already hit the brakes, before you fall. You have either wholly avoided the obstacle, or have managed to stop while also hitting the obstacle. In both cases, a fall is mostly inevitable. It is at this moment, as you let go of your beloved machine, and brace yourself for impact, that riding gear stands up and takes the hit for you. My riding buddies are witness to some of my dead stop falls- as I am to theirs. In almost all cases, I have gotten up, brushed the dust off my armoured riding jacket and walked away. In one instance, not so long ago, I hurt my knee…and realised that was the last exposed part of my self that needed protection. Knee guards were bought the very next day.

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A lid, gauntlets and body armour- essential for the iron horse.

Its also heartening to see that the world over, motorcycle safety and good riding practice gets promoted by manufacturers, governments and media in a big way nowadays. Many motorcycle clubs in India also encourage safe riding and refuse to admit  new members who do not have proper gear. Quality riding gear is now more affordable than ever, and readily available through motorcycle stores in almost every corner of a city like Bangalore. I have also become a fan of Shubhrata Marmar, a motorcycle journalist and editor at Overdrive, whose insights into everyday motorcycling are a tremendous inspiration. It is good, honest advice, and although he hasn’t told me how to tackle a wayward heron yet, I’m sure its only a few issues away.

There are plenty of online sources from which to order gear- however, I would always suggest go to a store and try gear on before buying. Some folks, like the ones at Biking Spirit, are extremely knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to selecting gloves, jackets or helmets for yourself. Here’s some links to some good stores in the city-

http://bikingspirit.in

https://www.facebook.com/letsgearup.in/

https://www.facebook.com/Motoarmour/

https://www.facebook.com/BigThrottle/

http://www.nh4motorheads.com/store/

http://www.cramster.in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanderlust

 High and dry in the long hot day,

Lost and lonely, every way,

Flats all around, sky up above…

Yes I need a little water of love…

Dire Straits: Water of Love

The sky is the greatest distracter….

Imagine a clear, azure blue sky. A few flecks of cloud dust drifting, in the whereabouts of this empty vastness. Down below is the barren desert, flat and featureless except for an odd tree dotting the arid landscape. You are a weary traveller, tired from the long walk across this dry ocean. You pause, take a break. You look about, look up and notice the sky. The languorous, aimless journey of the clouds tempts the eye. Following their movement is like following time itself. It puts one in a sort of hypnotic trance until at last the mind bores itself of its silent reverie and focuses attention on objects closer to mother earth.

It picks out a naked tree. Its trunk sporting sleek, sinuous veins that snake up to the unfolding branches and reach out like long, slithering tentacles into the sky. Your focus reverts to the emptiness above. Somewhere below is the lonely tree trying to answer the call of this beyond. It is at this supreme moment then that you forget your long tiring journey ahead. The pressures of the material world from which you have run and remain suspended in time wondering… at all around you. The blue sky beckons, happily, loftily, away, unknown perhaps, to all the worries that plague you on mother earth.

The long lonely road to nowhere…

An oft used phrase, this one is so scintillating in the depth of its cry. There are them Harley Davidson angels, riding the breadth of the continent. They burn America’s interstates, the wind in their hair, the sun on their faces, the distant horizon calling them as it recedes further and further away. To a layman they are aimless drifters. They shape their lives on the highway with no known purpose or ambition. But sit around with one of them in one of them countless motels along the way and you will discover that they will describe the land better than any map or journal can.

Every creek along the way, every bend in the road is firmly etched in their minds. Life is a journey without an end. To stop is to decay. As Louis L’ Amour, the famed Wild West writer puts it, “When a man settles down, he stagnates and dies”.

Imagine then, this long lonely road to nowhere, snaking here between pine clad mountains or burning flat across the desert floor. Every where, of course, there is the same, clear blue sky above; the universal binder… the greatest distracter.

The land is the simplest form of architecture….

(Frank Lloyd Wright)

A lot about traveling the land is noting little details that occur in the surrounding terrain. The long serrated line of ridges broken by a craggy mound; the sweeping plain complimented by a lonely tree; the wheeling hawk mirrored on lazy river… the list is endless. A good landscape photographer always looks out for details of the kind. Knowing the lie of the land and all its myriad features thoroughly calls for sharp powers of observation.

A photographer traveling across the English countryscape supplies an amusing anecdote. Cows, he says, are the most awry of all animals. They are always scattered on the terrain, never in a composition. All animals, he argues, should be like sheep; sheep that just mould themselves into the topography in perfect harmony. A photographer’s delight. On a recent trip to Khajuraho, I had the opportunity to observe this phenomenon myself.

What is it about the beauty of the distant horizon that compels great artists to render masterpieces?

The uncharted wilderness…?

The infinite loneliness…?

Or is it just plain curiosity.

I do not know.

I wonder though if there is a way to connect to all of this: The sky, the wind, the earth, the sun and the rain. The bugs, the flies, the heat, the dust, the fog, the mist. The road, the tree, the ever compelling horizon, the pain and the joy?

Maybe there is…

Take a camera and go on a trip to the nearest scenic spot.

Read a book by Louis L’ Amour.

Take a course on the Zen Philosophy.

Yet better still, try riding.

A motorcycle.

jungle-highway
The early days- a 115cc Kawasaki, backpacks and backroads through the Aravallis, Circa 2001

It’s a pity we do not exploit the freedom this wonderful machine can give us. I do not mean struggling with an infernal machine on the congested streets of Delhi. But try riding in the country. On those rutted dirt roads and the dusty state highways. You will feel things you never experience in the air-conditioned cocoon of a car. The wind in your hair. The sun in your face. The dust in your eyes. The tarmac slipping by below your feet. At sixty miles per hour, life is a dull roar in your ears.

You stop at will. Look at the land. Fall in love with it. Look at the sky; notice its changing hues from dawn to dusk. Follow the unending road, forget your tomorrow and forget your past, present and future. Your worries, your pains diminish in the horizon. Loneliness is your greatest companion, the sky your source of sustenance.

Atul Lakra

Article, etecetera, the students’ magazine, school of planning and architecture, New Delhi, May 2000