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Zen and the art of motorcycle riding

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig

Riding out

The mangy mutt watched me pack my gear with unblinking eyes teary under the neon street light. Gauging for threat it observed me limp around the motorcycle – from a gout flare-up the previous day – before limping away itself. It was 4 AM and I had the whole neighbourhood to myself. A new one, I had moved in to two days before. It took a while for me to figure an alternate access to the main drag right on the other side of a ‘Stop for check’ police barricade; tony colonies in Delhi thrive on the idea of security propped up by such flimsy obstructions. I rode through an alley flanked by whirring air conditioners generating their own little simooms and an ATM with the watchman nodding away inside the cool booth. The fourth estate edifices along Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg slunk away into darkness as if trying to escape from witch hunts the government has been unleashing on media houses that didn’t fall in line.

Do horn

Daryaganj was bustling. Sweaty men shouted instructions to each other on how to unload vegetables from trucks partially swathed in baizes. Sounded like an affray but it was just a friendly fratch following the hearty community meal consumed in the wee hours of Ramadan fast. Near the inter-state bus terminal at Kashmere Gate autorickshaw drivers roused themselves from passenger seats where they were curled up for the night, stretched, washed their faces with potable water from bottles, hurled abuses at no one in particular and readied for the day. Heading to the arterial GT Karnal Road, aka the National Highway 1, the Bhalswa trash mountain could be seen smouldering from a distance. It fumed and presided over the pollution of the capital city. Like it did most days during summer. A 40-acre landfill, this receives around 3,000 tons of garbage every day and the intense daytime heat sets ablaze the waste in many places. The sickening stench is everyday here; my eyes stung from the putrid air. An ambulance tried to weave its way unsuccessfully through the clutter that was Mukarba Chowk; patients have a brighter chance of survival once the 12-lane underway from the chowk to Panipat becomes functional early next year. Now trucks and taxis, buses and tankers stood unmoving, obstinate clogs. The bugle echoed like a helpless plea.

Everybody loves a Bullet #Std500

Near magical transformations mark daybreak on the highway. Literally as well. Looming silhouettes dissolve into rust and ochre cages transporting cargo and livestock. Dark, wavy ribbons of road perk up to a soft and shimmery ashen sheen. You begin to notice faces of people pressed against the glass panes of buses and transport cabs. There is wonderment writ large despite groggy countenances – about the new place that will be home soon, the new job they are going to take up, or seek, the new husband they are to join, puzzlement at the turn of life events, hopeful of what is in store, a tremulous joy at exiting a space where they were taken for granted. A beatific smile of forgiveness given or fate accepted. Sometimes what you see is your own face and imagine are your own thoughts. The reflection is powerful enough to shape destinies. I am particularly enamoured by chassis drivers who sit in the barest of cabins draped like Lawrence of Arabia. Driving through the night, these guys are a picture of fortitude and focus. How they hunch, lunging their skeletal whales forward continues to be my idea of a dream job.

Tap-tap

Every time I opened the throttle a bit, the ‘tap-tap’ becomes audible. It is the tappet slapping. The engine had seized once on my way for a pre-production meeting to Wazirabad in Delhi suburbs. I was stuck in the infamous jam of the old bridge across the Yamuna River which the upcoming Signature Bridge would replace. Too much revving and first gear, the pistons expanded from the excess heat, melted into the cylinder and locked the engine. Riders call this a ‘seizure.’ If you are unlucky, it can lock the rear wheel and cause grievous skidding at high speeds. This was my first ride after I changed the tappets and overhauled the cylinder. Once you do this, you have to ride at low speeds to wear it in. This was the ‘wearing in’ ride and I wasn’t doing over 60 kmph. I wished my tappets and piston a long life. Especially after what I paid.

An unhindered view

“It’s a mota bike, your bill also will be mota,” said my mechanic. Mota in Hindi is fat.

I once saw a friend off in the morning Shatabdi from Chandigarh and waited in Connaught Place till the train reached New Delhi Railway station next door. And this was after resting my air-cooled Bullet Standard 500 in midway Karnal for 15 minutes. I ride hard but this time it was payback.

Some ‘Indo-Canadian’ uber-luxury buses plying the Chandigarh-Delhi route overtook me. I imagined their cocky jackeroos grinning triumphantly at my plight. ‘Ride with the star’ read the legend printed on the side. The only Indo-Canadian star I knew was Sunny Leone. Altogether it was a pleasant imagery I conjured in the rising heat. I forgave them while I dawdled on in my own little thought-harem. Another was a chap on a Classic 350, in full Iron Man gear. I saw him some time later, doffed of his fancy pads, dousing himself with water pumped through his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang supply system.

Mere sapnon ki rani…

Sonepat looked like when a bunch of truck drivers decided to settle down and call it home. It must have been just that for all I know. On the Panipat flyover I witnessed an accident: a motorcycle rammed into the back of a car which braked suddenly. Why the car braked so hard remains a mystery and it scrammed from the scene as I parked my motorcycle and ran across the road. Both riders wore helmets which I am sure saved their lives. But their joints and limbs were bloodied, possibly broken. Other motorcyclists too stopped soon. I offered to take one of them to the nearest hospital but they seemed to be in a hurry to leave.

“Do you want me to call 1073?” I asked. The highway aid number. They just shook their heads and gathered their scattered possessions. A mobile phone had been flung over the side of the flyover during the collision and somebody waved it from below.

“It’s broken,” he hollered. “But the battery is intact.”

“Chuck it,” muttered one of the victims. “Let’s go.”

I helped them lift the motorcycle the front fork of which was twisted into an Algerian love knot. I didn’t see the point in his hurry.

Tap-tap

The 456 km-long NH 1 is among the oldest and historical of highways in India and links Delhi to Pakistan border. Though correct only in parts, the stretch is still more popular as ‘Grand Trunk Road’ which was built by the Pashtun ruler Sher Shah Suri. It starts from New Delhi and ends in the border town of Atari in Punjab after passing through Sonepat, Panipat, Karnal, Kurukshetra, Ambala, Rajpura, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar. On both sides used to be vast tracts of agriculture lands which are now taken over for industrial development. The Dutch barns have been empty for ages and the kos minars are replaced by brick kiln chimneys. Dhabas or roadside eateries are big business. There must be at least a dozen ‘Havelis’ – each claiming to be the original. As with Gulshan. And Multan. And Thommen. I opted to stay out of the fracas and rode into one in Kurukshetra (‘The land of Mahabharata’ as my GPS wonderfully qualified it.) with a comfortable shade with charpoys beneath – my humble non-negotiables for a dhaba. I had the most delectable paneer parathas with the thickest curd and legendary pachranga pickle. The succulent paneer reaffirmed my need to stay on in the north of India despite many of the things that brought me here had come to an end.

I still cannot suppress my urge to sing, that too with jerky head movements ‘Mere sapnon ki rani…’ when I serenade a train from the road. Nearing Ambala where the railway track runs parallel to the highway, I was overcome with this jejune and embarrassing aberration yet again.

‘Tap-tap.’

The tappet rose to the occasion.

8 Comments »

  • SolnceLuna said:

    Dear Tom, I thank you from the Universe for your help to that people who seemsed in a rush lost attension to the road. You are a RoadKeeper man, one from a road gang. “Tap-tap” , I enjoy with a lot of freedom in this activity! I couldnt drive such big open transport like a bike, i even couldnt drive a bicycle (( even i keep balance in a tree pose =) thats why i am very happy to feel the road wind huging a huge back. =)

  • Joy said:

    A fan of Robert Pirsig, you are a man who understands what a road trip is all about.

    I’m not a biker myself, although I’ve spent some time riding along. Still a thrill even on the back seat.

    • Admin said:

      Riding…driving…front seat, pillion, back. Is all moving. The essence of travel. Happy you liked the post.

  • meena said:

    you make the whole highway ride sound mysterious and romantic.

    • Admin said:

      It is indeed mysterious and romantic and … depending only on what you are looking for.

  • Paspic said:

    I remember my trip to jaipur from agra, fun trip, i have 350 electra 4s, still hav memories…

  • Linh Marry said:

    Each trip is a true experience, save beautiful memories …

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