Like a warrior heading into Tina Turner’s Thunderdome, you see them at every light signal. Engines revving in anticipation and foreheads drenched in perspiration, gaze set into the far unknown as the mind makes a million calculations for an easy escape out of the clutches of traffic and zoom ahead into the fast lane. Different colours, different throttle power, different models and different walks of life. These are the quintessential part of the urban male persona: the bikes and the bikers.
The first day in office was strange for me. I was stopped at every checkpoint as I entered the Airport premises. Jawans eyed me suspiciously, the security allowed me in cautiously and my own departmental sepoys saluted me rather reluctantly (I never did care for the salutes anyway) when I had reached office. The only reason. I had chosen to drive to work on a bike. No one expects the officer to come to office on a bike. It should have been a car, or atleast it should have been an autorickshaw. (There is a certain quiet class when you get down from a rickshaw in Mumbai.) But a bike, and that too a 5 year old bike. Unacceptable.
I didn’t care and I still don’t care. I still ride my old Silver Unicorn to bike to work every day, except when it rains heavily and I carpool with a generous colleague. These wonderful two wheelers are the symbol of independence for people like me. Instead of being chauffeured like an old aunt in a car, I prefer to drive myself. It reminds me I am still young (especially when you spot a traffic block and need to reverse your bike, literally lifting it across an arc of 180 degrees). You feel free and energised, and like a little platelet coursing through an artery, hugging its walls and splashing across its lumen while your colleagues are stuck in the jam, like a mass of erythrocytes caught up in a rapidly worsening bloodclot.
A bike liberates you. In a year I have travelled more across Bombay than most people would do in five. I know the city like the back of my hand. You feel comfortable to go out in the dark of the night or in the scorching sun, always sure that you retain an option to return when it pleases you. You aren’t left at the whims of a rickshaw driver. Never. Well. It was the refusal of a rickshaw to ply me to a neighbouring mall which enraged me and finally drove me over the edge. I placed a curse on him and had my bike parcelled from home.
The biker is always present around the scenes of the road, unknown to the eye and relegated to the corners of our minds. Entire families travel on a bike, ration for an entire month is transported on a bike. Kisses are stolen; hugs exchanged and distances melt as you strategically apply a sudden brake that would draw bodies closer. Secret rendezvous become possible and last minute plans materialise. Deadlines are met, trains are caught, forgotten files retrieved and strangers become friends.
There isn’t a greater rush of adrenaline than when you remove your helmet at a traffic light, gently run your hands through your hair confidently and pass a sly smile to a girl sitting shyly in a cab next to you.
The bikes are present everywhere. You see them scurry in between the cars during peak traffic, zipping in zigzag lines through endless multitudes of stuck vehicles. You see them jumping onto footpaths and sidewalks as they explore new avenues. You see them taking the lead when the light turns green and flash ahead to claim the emptiness of the roads. You see them flying over puddles in the rain, or potholes of the by lanes, you see them huddled up under a foot over bridge when the drizzle turns to a downpour, or you see them yelling out of their helmet at a busy traffic junction. You see them scamper into narrow gullies, shortcuts, spreading out like an invading army into the residential colonies, only to reunite like a swollen river at the main boulevards. The usual stunts of Carter Road and Juhu, the midnight chai in Dadar, the long drives on the Queen’s necklace and the Eastern Express Highway, you see them all over.
The guy in the local may reach office more safely, the lady in the rickshaw might reach work more comfortably, the gent in the car may reach home more conveniently, but the biker is the person who shall reach his destination first.
You might someday run into me driving around Bombay in the rains. AP31AP 5683. If you spot me, do come over and say hello.