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Monday, October 31, 2016

BiKronicles: Noob diaries

She stood still in my garage. I didn’t quite know what to do with her. As habit would be, I usually turn to Abeer and ask him if it’s ok to sit on the bike. I wasn’t being timid – just silly, misplaced respect for my OWN Bonneville. That’s right. It hadn’t sunk in yet. I had bought my own Triumph. Bonneville. Steve McQueen edition. A British classic. Lusting and jaw-drop curiosity for 2 yrs had resulted in THIS. I still didn’t know what to make of her – 20 June 2016.
Wheeeeeeee... One of many times Abeer lost me to the bike!
Photo courtesy: Abeer
Prelude:
I 1st received a mammoth consignment of reasons why it wasn’t ok to think about buying a bike followed by the idea that a scooter was acceptable. Defined reasons being age, priority, the sanskari Indian girl syndrome etc. No disrespect, but I wanted a geared motorcycle. Had purchased a Honda Maestro in May 2015 for the sole purpose of learning. It served its purpose and more. It was time to satiate an undying lust and greed. One of the Bonneville; that had infused itself deeply. Once again if anyone asks me WHY the Bonnie – I have no statement to justifiably translate the thought and need in my grey/white matter. It’s ridiculously subjective and no 1 reason can satisfy every curious crony. Same reason Sabastian Kent sold lemonade for 2yrs to buy a pony. Everyone thinks it’s cute and appreciates his dedicatedness at such a tender age without asking ‘Why’. That’s why when feverish planning turned to an unplanned evening, Ginger (Bonnie T100) came home and rested her flame orange chromtastic self below my abode. It never sunk in until much later when I rode her about and became the cynosure of lingering stares and pointed glances. There was a presence about her like there was 1 about the roguish charm and popularity of Steve McQueen himself. I suddenly realized that it was gonna be mammoth task for me to separate my desire to ride a Bonneville versus a superficial need to ride her for the visual appetite of those around.
Photo courtesy: Sean Noronha (@blackbuddha)

Baby Steps:
As highlighted in previous posts, I had tried my hand at riding the ER6n. Prior to that and simultaneously, I reached out to driving schools, potential bike trainers and even current crowd of motorcyclists. Everyone had cost involved (fair enough) and no one had an appropriate set of wheels to teach with. I think I understood THEN about folks’ stories where they claimed they just got on and started riding. I got tons of encouragement up to a point that encouragement became a boring template for my specific questions. I was convinced that they didn’t wanna teach me, withheld information or were simply not equipped or interested in sharing their experience. Disappointment followed cz most were ladies who are splashed all over social media with a flurry of comments commending them on their “achievements”. I decided I would take this up myself and leave everything else in a trail of dust.
Watched videos, theoretical gear changes, how the engine works; why the clutch, the brakes, breakdowns, mechanics and a marathon of YouTubing followed (there is a world of motorcycling gyaan out there on video and books that I had sudden exposure and enlightenment to). I also filtered out videos from women motorcyclists who made some simple instructional videos with challenges or experiences they had. I now confirm that theory is scarier than practicals when it comes to motorcycling. I nodded at my laptop screen but in real sense, little clicked until I actually saddled up. I had tried ‘N’ to 1st on the Enfield classic when rested on her center stand. Abeer had done so one afternoon and asked me to use the clutch, the accelerator and the brake just to see which wheels moved, how the bike felt, and how it ‘communicated’ with me. The Enfield intimidated me. The ER6n did the opposite. I made the mistake of riding out with just a helmet; no boots either. Was lucky there was no mishap. But I did a cool 2nd gear and 40 kmph and it was my winning moment; I could ride and I did that on a Kawasaki Ninja 650 naked sportster – 01 May 2016.

Practice mode:
Post the maiden spin, I grew some jackfruit-sized confidence and literally demanded practice lessons on the Ninja out of ego since my pleas to practice on a smaller, shorter and lower powered bike, fell on deaf ears. I decided that I would listen to folks when they said the ER6n was perfect to learn on. Needless to say, an inexperienced me dropped the beast when negotiating a turn, that too just after it was fitted with frame sliders. We all escaped 100% unscathed but following a barrage of dramatic dialogue from Abeer (the on-paper-but-has-to-share-with-me owner), I knew I had to get my own 2 wheels as soon as possible.
There were the friends who offered their bikes that I never saw. The rentals who had unseemly demands for the sake of renting. There was the waiting and frustration. A good pal (who also owns and works for a premium segment line) offered me a free Yamaha FZ that had been lying untouched for a while. Keen to grab this chance, I made every attempt to get hold of the bike that was in Thane; even looked for a mechanic to fix her into running mode. Somehow, fate didn’t allow for such a bloody good offer to culminate in my garage. I spent 3 mnths frustrated and eager to ride. No one proactively helped and that irked me more. A friend reached out to me and we got talking until we had to attend a motorcycle event at Lavasa – MotoDay (18 Jun 2016). Abeer went through his firm since he had to cover Triumph and I tagged along since I wanted to go anyways. I realized here that dependency had become the bane of my existence.
There I was introduced to someone who eventually became a teacher, motorcycle shrink and closet ‘social media’ reviewer in his spare time – Kunal Bhaskaran. He was scheduled to take a class on braking and the practical and appropriate techniques of doing so with his ER6n on standby. Kunal, owns and runs SlipStream Performance in Viman Nagar, Pune and was present in the capacity of a motorcyclist and trainer (or in his humble way “just showed up to share”). We spoke for a while as he understood my learner’s perspective and it was probably the 1st time since Abeer and a rare few that I was able to talk to someone, ask questions and get simple explanations for what I was doing and/or should be doing when training. We met briefly but I didn’t anticipate an encore.
Back home I continued research. I knew I was jumping the gun to a premium segment with higher bhp and capacities rather than gradually moving up. Hence, every second spent experiencing or communicating about motorcycles was good for me. There was a bias involved though – whenever folks met me and learned of my insatiable lust for motorcycling there was an ‘Aha’ moment. Then they’d come to know I was a noob and suddenly I was background wallpaper with faded tints. Here is where I understood female riders who despite being seasoned and having clocked many miles, were sidelined in some way or the other. It was just Abeer and me and we made the most of what I can describe as a privileged 2.5 km stretch of private road perfect for learners. I spun about on the Maestro when the road was under construction, dared a few laps on the ER6n and then one fine day it was the Bonneville’s turn. I realized all 3 happened with 1 progressive act and 1 aggressive dialogue: “Chalo let’s go. You have to do it NOW.” All procrastination and apprehensions were parked away and all guts and glory were keyed into gear. THAT worked for me.

Repetitions:
It was practice, practice, and more practice. I had supervised rides along some crazy roads and back with the brother and Abeer in tow. The Bonneville was heavy; and because of the broad seat ergonomics, a shorty like me couldn’t put her feet down in flats. Elevated shoes and properly cushioned riding boots (TBS or CAT) allowed for that inch or 2 of confidence to balance the bike when stationary or at a bender. Of course, now it’s all in the head since I can even maneuver her in Newfeel flat shoes. Rewind back 3 months, there was a mix of adrenaline rush alongside some serious nervousness each time I warmed up the engine. The maiden rounds were within the confines of my society building. Funny how my residential complex was equipped for a learner as there are flats, tiles, parking, podium (slopes), pillars acting as slaloms, speed breakers and the works. My dedicated security force took it in their stride to accommodate my whims as I zoomed past, screamed for them to get out of the way, open and close both massive gates and the works. They were kind and encouraging, telling me I look good on the motorcycle and that I am doing well etc. Even their simple words echoed and bounced in my psyche against times where I wanted to rip Abeer’s head off for yelling at me when I got something wrong.
I have to add an important piece of equipment or guidance tool here – the Sena SMH10D comms. They served a critical purpose in my riding sessions. We would get on our respective bikes and scooters and communicate nonstop. Abeer was better able to instruct me and I screamed at will when panic or frustration came awash. I also had good riding days and bad ones. Some days I picked up the bike and sailed and some days I cursed my lack of energy or skill. At the end of each session, I learned a new trick, a new skill, strength or maybe a weakness. My turns were the worst but my balance and control were inbuilt. I learned also that no matter what the enthusiasm, never ride when tired. I made this mistake a few times and exhaustion takes focus and energy out of the equation. I even rode when I had 100 things on my mind and had near misses. I frankly did not enjoy riding those times and was more than eager to tuck her in the garage and get on with routine. Even though my vision is a perfect 20/20, I dreaded nighttime riding since poor lighting and peripheral scope make for an underconfident me. Add to that the fear of collision and fatality with the scores of reckless riders who raced on my private road between 6:30 pm till dawn. I have christened the area as ChincholiGP Circuit.
Abeer made me do repeats with turns, making the figure 8 in long and tight areas, abrupt braking and getting into gravel and mucky roads. There were no fixed plans except to do all riding activities between 6-8 am. We started small markers like clearing the Link road and SV road signals, filling a tank of gas at the nearest gas station, getting into some twisty by lanes and the works. On the Mumbai-Pune highway, I was given the bike for brief stretches as long as I was comfortable and that’s where I started hitting 80-100. I could explore 3000 rpm and that sweet spot on the throttle the engine winds down to a buttery hum. In city, U-turns made me break into sweats at subzero temperatures because that is how nervous I would get. I realized that I equated the brutality and unpredictability of Mumbai traffic with my riding skills. To a large extent, riding in Mumbai meant to own the road. Abeer would scream at me that if I didn’t take my lane and own the damn space, someone was bound to run me over or unapologetically ram into me. Easier said than done. It was pointless putting an ‘L’ marker because I figured that the learner sign irks people more into intimidating or messing with you.

Mechanics 101:
With GopalKrishna and Aditya Raj Kapoor at Shaman Triumph
Photo courtesy: Abeer
I insisted on getting greased up as much as the opportunity presented itself. Our ex-Classic 500 gave us plenty such chances and I never played the damsel who sat in the shade while her man toiled in the field. I instead used my comparatively smaller hands and fingers to get into sockets and wiring and what not to help when our bike broke down. We bought tool kits and fidgeted with our machines. Of course I’d dared not do it by myself however much tempting. Around the time that Mr. Aditya Kapoor went down the familiar path and bought himself a Bonnie like myself, I headed to Shaman for a chance to have a go in the workshop. GopalKrishna the head tech at the workshop patiently let me crawl and hog up his workspace, get my hands into his toolbox and ask a million questions – however, stupid or smart. It was here or never when I would not only pick up at least 10% of something I can handle myself OR more or less get a chance to take apart a bike similar to mine. I can’t say I’m certified to fix everything on Ginger, but when push comes to shove, I sure can take a chance.

Different strokes with Kunal Bhaskaran:
Around this time, I exchanged ideas and notes with Kunal. Abeer shared my riding progress with him and we bounced ideas of how I could get over my apprehensions and work on bettering my weak points. Kunal came with a history of training folks on the track and himself had clocked innumerable miles and runs there. He came with an unbiased skill set and offered to teach me. He had done so before with someone who came from zero riding background and had managed to get her riding on a Duke. I was sold and waited for him to take a break from his workshop and come to Mumbai. We took advantage of low traffic times and early morning routines. Sean and Abeer would drop in to capture videos and pictures probably to get me learning from my stance, braking, turns, speeds etc. Kunal comes with a calm and extremely patient demeanor. My sudden nervousness to ride in front of him was replaced with ease in a matter of seconds. 1st he got me riding or rather showcasing what I already knew or was used to. Thereafter, he stuck to his guns that my training was to be keeping in mind the Bonneville. I wasn’t to touch any other motorcycle or experiment etc. The session/s or practice was to get me seasoned handling the Bonneville. Get its weight, its behavior, turn negotiations, braking etc. consistent since the Bonneville was what I would be mostly riding. Before and after each session I had to have drills. Repetitions and practice to a point that I could do the moves without separating the motorcycle, myself or the road. Everything had to be synced.
Getting a sound hearing :D
Photo courtesy: Abeer
We practiced turns, narrow and wide ones; looking around the bend and where I’m headed to rather than my insecure habit of staring at the front wheels and the ground; understand lean angle capabilities and not wondering if I am about to tip over etc. I know I had done turns on that road a zillion times, but correcting the minor points made a WORLD of difference. I was doing turns without putting my foot down and absolutely enjoying the confidence refill with each successful move. If I were Elsa, I’d be getting treats (that was a joke; Elsa is overfed and pampered for doing NOTHING). Then came slaloms – this was the 1st I had done with cones at intervals over a stretch. Slaloms helped me move my bike in narrow spaces, which in turn would eventually help me in a traffic environment. You see when practicing you have open grounds and spaces and you ride like it’s your “baap ka raasta”. Reality is far from it when the aggressors don’t even allow you the sliver of road that you are entitled to navigate on. Slaloms and narrowing down my spaces helped me balance the bike better.
The subsequent sessions helped me with braking. I had been using the front brakes the whole time. This didn’t pose a problem given how centered and balanced the Bonneville is and that its weight won’t allow for mishaps like frequent/ill-timed wheelies should it have been a light street bike like the KTM Duke200. However, in order to understand the need for using the rear brakes, which was needed for this lassy, I had to speed up to 40+ kmph and grind to a halt in a defined space using the rear brakes. At 1st this posed a challenge. I tried and failed a few rounds halting past the defined line. Kunal got on the Bonnie and alternately showed me how it was done leaving some kickass skid marks in the process (who said we didn’t have fun). Watching and emulating was easier. Imagining an emergency breaking situation in traffic was nerving.
SlalomsPhoto courtesy: Sean Noronha (@blackbuddha)
Other noteworthy learnings were how the engine works, keeping it simple, how to push the bike should it stall or breakdown, how to angle it appropriately on unforgiving surface etc. We spent a collective 3-4 hours between 2 days and would have done more had his travel plans and the weather cooperated. I had the ironic opportunity soon after to lug my bike back to the garage when reserve fuel was reserve no more.
Note: Every time Kunal got on the motorcycle to show me something however many times, he set an example by wearing his helmet and fastening it in place. To many this may seem like a mundane mention. But I noted this discipline because it sets an example for folks who are extremely stubborn and treat the helmet like the bane of their existence. He didn’t thwart it even for the slowest easiest moves in a controlled isolated environment. For me that set the precedent for a good teacher.
Working on turns with a T100Photo courtesy: Sean Noronha (@blackbuddha)
When the tomcats are away; this kitten comes out to play:
Owing to geographical challenges, Kunal left for Pune and Abeer and I continued our sessions combining what I did before with the recent refining of my riding skills. One major dampener were the torrential, unceasing Mumbai rains. Kunal kept following up if I had had the chance to practice; whilst I was stuck waiting for the rain gods to a break. Even if for 30 odd minutes, I’d drag the bike out, quick spin and back to ensure the battery and engine kept running and that I learned how to ride on wet/slick roads (thank you Metzelers).  These were rare and far between. In the interim, I explored smaller lanes, the main roads at dawn and the likes. I was extremely stressed in traffic and given that my area was a 24x7 running call center/BPO area, it was near impossible to get some clear roads and quiet to focus on the bike rather than running into some miscreants. Not to mention the unsolicited attention a girl on a significantly noticeable orange and chrome Bonneville invites from a bunch of underground racers and hooligans who are regulars at the #ChincholiGP. At one point I wondered if I should slap on the ‘L’ on my beauty’s booty but decided against it for 2 reasons: vanity (can’t ruin my bike’s look) and knowing that somehow that sign evokes more irate drivers around you than sympathetic/accommodating ones.

Traffucked:
Kunal showed up in Mumbai on Dussehra weekend. Idle chatter turned to “let’s take you out in traffic.” I agreed my excitement growing at the possibility but not quite committing to it. Early evening, Kunal and Sean showed up and I knew there was NO ESCAPING this one. Geet and Abeer too had made time. I had an entourage of 4 bikes and there was never/if rarely ever going to be a chance soon enough for me to do this. I had been taking spins on the back road and owing to the course high salinity air, my clutch sensors started giving me trouble – bike going off etc. I used that to my advantage but reminded myself, all the practice and the confidence these folks had in me would be for nothing. What’s the worst that would happen? Strange as this sounds, the idea of disappointing EVERYONE was paramount than the idea I might make a foolish mistake that would lead to an accident or fatality.
Entouraging
Photo courtesy: Selfitis!

We rolled out in true Bumbai style: 2 Kawasaki ER6ns, 1 Triumph Bonneville, 1 Triumph Street Triple and 1 Suzuki Access. Had my 1st glitch when I hit some gravel and bike went off but these guys had my back blocking traffic enough to have me get through. Thereafter, I can only describe it as PURE BLISS with a generous topping of nervousness. They formed as much a shell around me or evenly distributed themselves. It was hand holding but not the spoilt kind. I think a healthy dose of nervousness helped because I was extremely cautious, kept speed 40-50 (not that Mumbai would allow anything above this), and tried to ignore the entourage since I had to learn to do this on my own. I was extremely proud of myself as I made some U-turns at junctions, which have been unkind to me on the scooter before and evoked some serious scolding from Abeer. I have to appreciate how patient everyone was as they ensured I wasn’t out of sight. Sean remained on my tail so that I wasn’t lost or lagging behind. To think he managed those low speeds and heating in that horrid traffic on the Street Triple – one big hug J
 Everyone checked on me, worked with me and ensured I wasn’t lost in the crowd. Needless to say our coup drew attention. We made an uneventful stop at Homemade CafĂ© where I had my Miss Universe cry inside the helmet (yes I was overwhelmed I made it without a mistake or mishap) and proceeded to treat everyone to caffeine and goodies. The evening progressed, traffic grew by strength and darkness fell. I was nervous about riding back in the dark and of the procession stricken traffic on this day. In the interim distraction with a few spins on the Lokhandwala back road, the main street etc helped. The evening almost poetically allowed a calm to descend on me reemphasizing ‘its all in the head’. Our return back was Abeer and me. He was patient and ensured I was right behind him. This may sound strange but traffic eased me into riding slower and easier than an open road where anyone would jump out of anywhere. I was in tight spots and the clutch-gear-break translated to my arm, back and overheated legs. Lugging a huge bike compared to my proportions has its cons. I also made the mistake of doing all of this and a few practice runs prior to this on reserve. Should the bike have stalled, it would be completely my (un)doing.
Abeer and Kunal (Le Kwackers)
We made it back successfully and that night I slept with a fat grin plastered on my soul. This was as I’d phrase, “The lion(ess) cub who had her 1st taste of warm blood.” – 11 Oct 2016

Apprenticeship:
Once you start riding, its an addiction. Some superficial euphoria followed by that victory gait and walk like Jim Carrey in Bruce almighty with “I’ve got the power” playing in the background. Every moment I was near my lift or garage, I just had to go stare or glance at the bike. Start her up or do some meaningless walk around her that even I don’t understand why I do. Glare at everyone who parks close to her or looks at her. Make fed‑up expressions at every moron who makes that disgusting hand sign letting me know my headlights are on. I just wanted to ignore everyone around save for the cops.
Hereon, I wanted to ride everything (no pun intended). The ER6n seemed like child’s play and I started to appreciate a lighter more agile motorcycle. Here’s where I start to differentiate power, throttle, braking, balance, centre of gravity etc. I rode all over with Abeer as lead. Had a mini adventure one Sunday morning on the Madh-Marve stretch. A gravel and pothole-riddled slope caused me to slip and suffer a near-stationary fall while negotiating a miscalculated U-turn on that slope. I frantically searched for anything wrong with my Ginger little realizing that I had a nasty scrape on my palm thanks to not wearing gloves (lesson learned: WEAR FULL GEAR and don’t pack them in your bag fool). 

WFG: Wear FULL gear
Sunday mornings are bad for misadventures on your bike. Getting an open workshop or towing service proved futile for an hour given that my clutch lever snapped in 2 at the neck thanks to that fall. All else was intact and seamless; praise be the crash guard. I wasn’t shaken up and was in fact raring to continue riding. Abeer slowed me down and gave me the lever piece in my hand popping the fantasy balloon. We finally hauled a mini tempo that offered to take Ginger home for free; but we paid him. A bunch of men lifted her booty in and we harnessed her with whatever rope we could find. The rest was up to me to keep her from tipping over.
Applying my basics
Supervision: Abeer's snarl
3 days of agonizing wait and finally sourced a spare clutch lever from Shaman Triumph. Spent the evening putting my mechanics 101 into play and with guidance from Abeer (a tutorial video from Kunal);fastened the lil sucker into place. Bike was up and running and all the criticism and jokes of my fall suddenly faded into nothing. Its all me, for me, about me, with me and by me. Nothing or no one else is to encroach into this story without my permission.

The RTO gig:
Testing waters with the KTM Duke 200
Bike courtesy: Harshal Kalyanpur
Photo courtesy: Abeer
I had been riding on a learner’s license for 2 years and even haplessly renewed the same learners twice owing to bureaucracy and the laziness of dragging myself to Dahisar for the formalities. RTO processes had become stricter, linear and an agent serves a fraction of the purpose they do now compared to up till a few years ago. I had to prioritize my permanent license and set about it. Booked my slot and asked Abeer to take some time off since I needed company. Another predicament reared its head – what bike should I take for my test. My friend Harshal was kind enough to loan me his KTM Duke 200, which I thoroughly enjoyed zipping about on. It was lying unused and near disheveled state until the day before my test. Harshal, Geet and Abeer spent a few hours doing some maintenance work and bringing her to life. She worked beautifully despite no power and barely functioning front brakes. I passed my test impressively (yes sir I did) donning a salwar kurta, a Spartan Kranos helmet and riding shoes. I was a hilarious sight for all waiting their turn. Yes, I also screamed out my prowess to everyone on whatsapp as if I had earned a Green Card or passed my IIT-finals and landed a crore worth paying job. With a permanent license comes a permanent warning. Now I’ll be held accountable and will no longer be considered a noob - 24-25 Oct 2016.

Aftermath and Lessons:
As of today, been zipping all over the place like a 3 year old high on sugar and way past her bedtime. Anything on 2 wheels continues to have my attention – even more so now if that’s even possible. Understanding the fine print of riding, the tech and specs and getting greased up is what I continue to work on and aspire. Next up is highway rides and clocking some major miles. But not before I get my hands on some really sensible, durable and fitting gear. The latter point has been a painfully annoying challenge (marked in a separate post) which I am trying to overcome with some help from friends and unexplored links now that I am not just a pillion rider. I also learned that in my eagerness to get to places faster and fuel my confidence, I’ve been abusing my clutch a tad much, aka too much MotoGP and snapping the clutch back instead of a gradual release. Today I consciously worked on overcoming this bad habit because once in a while the bike stops short and someday I might get hit badly by a speeding something from behind. I’ve also learned to turn a deaf ear to over eager honkers, lane cutters, those who urge me to break the signal and generally distasteful folks on the road who are aplenty. Also helpful is the fact that I’ve made many riding buddies who have offered to be part of rides with me and basically be patient with a noob. In the past, I dropped out citing speed and lack of experience. Now I am happy if anyone says, “you wanna ride right. Come we’ll take you and you can learn slowly.” Abeer and Kunal (including the closet teacher – Geet) will continue to teach me or rather turn me into an experienced motorcyclist. I’ve been warned against the lure for superficial reasons to ride which is not a worry for me.
I get whacked when I'm pillion too.
Photo courtesy: SJCamM20
Abeer showing me clutch and gear changes while on the move.

Some apprehensions continue to plague me ie, making mistakes. The mistake part isn’t a bother as much as I allow the negativity or fun-at-my-expense get to me. As someone rightfully said, everyone makes mistakes but they are too chicken shit to admit it and will take it to their graves. Another one surprised me re: a few men being insecure of women riders and cannot separate plain riding from gender bias. I suppose there is gonna be all kindsa peeps in the world and I need to practice my own preaching – shut them all out. Till then the road, the throttle and the freedom are narcotic enough – I wouldn’t need anything other reason except probably to keep breaking free ;)

Monday, August 22, 2016

BiKronicles: The Southern Tip

PRELUDE: It’s been a week since the southern sojourn. I am drained, exhausted and probably using reserve fuel to write this post. The extreme sunburn, which has rendered me the “kaali kalooti” victim, and the food allergies, thanks to 0 control amidst seafood, hasn’t helped my situation. Needless to say, a great weekend has left me feeling and looking like I went on a drug-alcohol binge and am now in rehab. The icing on this weathered girl’s cake was facing her monthly monstrosity on the ER6n ripping its way back to Mumbai. Whoever said that time-of-the-month was no biggie certainly didn’t experience it on a zipping kwacker.

BACKGROUND: Jaya Sriram met us last year on NH48 heading from Hampi to Bengaluru. We made a brief chai halt, exchanged numbers, accidentally ran into his dad, grabbed lunch and went our ways. A week later (15 Aug 2015), we found ourselves in much-planned-never-executed Auroville. Spent a lovely weekend exploring, drinking, traversing, eating and developing a fast bond and mutual respect. Any plans after that never took off. Cut to a year later and Sriram asked us to plan the southern sojourn on his bday 12 Aug 2016. We also realized it’ll be exactly a year since our last meeting.  
In the interim, I got my Bonneville and that nagging itch to take her down south buggered me. Of course, with great bikes come disproportional bank balances (VRL slapped me with a 14k estimate to transport the Bonnie’s prissy behind back and forth). Hence, I retreated to my cave and stuck to the prearranged Royal Enfield bikes.

LE TROUPE: Sriram (the main protagonist – Chennai resident – AuroExport - architect); US (Abeer and I); Vivek (Puneite – Nasik export – hyper planner); Arun and Christina (Half-German + Full Scottish couple) – last minute addition, barely prepared gear wise but completely gunning in spirit. 

BIKES: Sriram rode his old classic RE Bullet while the rest of us made do with just-about-functioning RE rentals. Luckily, Abeer and my bike as well as Vivek’s bike survived and pulled through. However, our German/Scottish couple’s journey was far from smooth; stopping incessantly, barely touching decent speeds and leaving them always behind and sometimes off the grid, literally. What’s worse was that even though 800/day rental was a steal, at the nth moment the chap who gave us the bikes, charged us even for the day he kept it ready for us aka for when we didn’t use it. That was a bummer and a blow to our calculations which came to 3200/-.

ROUTE: Mumbai/Pune – Chennai Airport – Pondicherry – Edayanchavadi – Tranquebar – Pattukotai – Rameshwaram – Dhanushkodi – Karaikudi – Back to Pavilion. ~1100 kms with all diversions inclusive. This was 1 helluva trip packed in 3 scorching days on unfamiliar bikes. 


THE JOURNEY (Mumbai T2 Terminal): Like all trips, this one had to start with drama. This time it was Yash Raj meets Abbas-Mastan proportions. Abeer had a leisure day and I had a HELL week. Extreme sleep deprivation, lack of food, sanity and the need to leave it all behind made for a bad last minute cocktail. Back broken, I dragged our bags and gear down the metro to the airport. The entire city went zombieland on us. Air India meant finally a visit to the new T2 terminal. We scrambled, fought, and made it to the counter after battling snakes of disorderly passengers. Everyone had a flight that was JUST taking off – us included. I wasn’t having any of it. Never missed a flight; was never gonna let anything tarnish my clean record. A few arguments with AI staff and we managed to get luggage checked in, and into security checks. HERE is where all HELL opened their floodgates (in me). I got done and stamped my boarding pass. Realized AI gave me just one document and confirmed it was for Abeer too. Informed security that somewhere behind 50 passengers was Abeer who needed this pass to get through. Amidst fights that had already commenced in smaller groups, I had heated exchanges with security. An AI lady kept following me and my phone rang off the hook from AI (this is a silent terminal) to check if I boarded my 6:15 pm flight. It was 6:05 pm and I was standing in front of head of security, a royally pissed off Abeer and a matronly AI lady trying to resolve a now confirmed AI BOTCH JOB. Security had it up to their necks managing unruly crowds and I was the last thing they needed. He was rude and said that I was careless and breaking protocol. What followed next – even I can’t sit here and think I DID THAT. Dropped my bags and unleashed a volley of I-can’t-recall at him far enough for 3 departure gates to look at me. I didn’t realize then that tears were streaming down my face and I was seriously loud for someone who hates public spats and scenes. My flight was about to take off so I think my aforementioned state resulted in THIS. The security head (Army issue) kept quiet and avoided eye contact. AI sent their posy to escort Abeer and me through it all right up to our seats and apologized. The matronly lady hugged me and calmed me. I took my window seat and suddenly was aware of how embarrassed I felt. Cried for 10 mins and then slipped into impending slumber with a bemused partner trying his best to make me break into a grin and taking selfies. 
Chennai Airport: Had been here and t’was nothing like the one I had traveled through before. This looked like Goa airport (pre-refurbish). It was late. Our flight was an hr late in departure but miraculously on time landing. I was relaxed but craving sleep. We waited for our bags. After 30mins and ALL bags, came Abeer’s stuff and one of my bags. HELMET was missing. The conveyor stopped, everyone cleared out. I stood there going – THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. Abeer panicked. Not cuz my helmet didn’t arrive but for a possible encore of the Mumbai showdown v2.0. The customer helpdesk appeared remarkably calm –missing bags was a mundane complaint. Too tired to get pissed, I decided I was gonna be patient; for now. The bag tags didn’t read on their monitor aka they were unaware of its whereabouts. I filled out the forms and decided that I wld stay put at the airport since our Pune entourage would land in the morning. 30mins later someone came running with it. I was eternally grateful. The dark packing combined with poor light and dark container had left my hapless helmet in some corner of the tarmac. Issue resolved we stepped out. Of course, Abeer (signature male trait) did not wanna listen to me and proceeded to book a cab to Perungalathur bus station on the behest of the not-so-knowledgeable Sriram. We Ubered 14kms to the bus stop had our 1st lavish south Indian/fishy meal and proceeded to catch ANY bus that would head to Pondicherry. By then it was 11:00pm, exhaustion didn’t even begin to describe our state and the heat was unforgivable (I missed Mumbai and that says it all). AC buses were limited and overpriced so we took a non-AC metal rattler. Sadly, we stood out like Ambanis in the crowd and were easily victimized into shelling out 4x the accrued cost of the metal glued together. The bus trudged for 5ft, honked a shrill ear shattering horn (which I am sure is illegal in 80% of the globe) and looked for passengers to replicate a sardine can environment. Imagine this for nearly 20 kms precluded by 48hrs no sleep, ~40°C and suffocation. I hardly imagined this to be a vacation and was ready to go homicidal. Abeer had it at his wits end and was seriously EXHAUSTED. I could see him glistening with perspiration akin to some war movie and a hapless innocent captive in a cave. The part that pissed me off: the same bus made a stop OUTSIDE the airport and I just glared at Abeer with that I-told-you-so look. He in turn decided it was safest to blame Sriram. Thereafter, the bus picked up speed like it didn’t care to live or die. Driver confidently declared 2 hrs every 2hrs of the journey to Pondicherry as his puny body navigated the large rattling chunk through blank charcoal darkness and multiple near misses. The cooling air was temporary respite but nothing helpful. We started at 11pm and touched Pondicherry at 4am. Sriram was fast asleep unwrapping another layer of frustration from us. We got off the bus in the middle of Pondicherry (more like some unknown square) and sat in the middle of the road with a glass of divine coffee from a just opened stall. After 30mins Sriram answered and we proceeded to get home, get our bikes and the works. All I recall at this point is collapsing in deep slumber in the same clothes for a good 2hrs.

Edayanchavadi to Pattukotai/Day 1: Vivek and troupe landed and got in at around 8am. Woke up, showered, dressed and still felt like a gust of wind could put me to bed again. Vivek apparently had not accounted for the exhaustion and was flat drained out. But we HAD to leave and soon. The boys took off to get the bikes while I caught up on poor but needed slumber. With REs come a plethora of issues. Its tradition you see. It’s a crime to have intact Enfields and so we took it in our stride. Our bikes were just about ok. But the newly joined-in Scottish-German couple (Arun and Christina) were about to find out what it was like to do this trip with no gear and a not-so-happening bike. We navigated through instantly unforgivable heat and chaotic traffic out of Pondicherry. Our target was Rameshwaram. Sriram had arranged for our stay and someone to take us around since we didn’t have the luxury of exploration at our own pace.

The entire day/ride was a series of near misses, maneuvering through good and bad roads, catching up, waiting, pleading with the sun to take a hike, losing and finding each other and the works. South India’s traffic was extremely aggressive esp. large cargo trucks and vehicles whose agenda was to run us off the road instead of get to their destination. Talk about priorities. At 1 such naakabandi, the cops flagged us down and we dutifully did a turn around and met them. They spoke to us in broken Hindi and much Tamil. In the midst of this confusing exchange and more of their fascination than intended checks, a truck came hurtling toward us with zero regard for our parked bike and the barricades. I stared in horror muttering to myself that the truck needed to slow down at which point Abeer titled the bike (us still saddled on it). The truck grazed us, threw me off the bike and scratched a bit of the bike’s sides coming to a screeching halt. Dusting myself off and seething with rage, I screamed and banged on the driver’s door asking him to step out so I could apparently paste him into one of their famous chatnis. The cops looked worried and Abeer announced the driver’s impending demise at my hands. Everyone profusely apologized and asked us to continue and have a safe trip. Ppfffffft. Other incidents included Vivek dozing off a few times on the bike. All of us watched in amusement and concern has he navigated in waves and yo-yoed through the highway under a heat wave thanks to him donning an all leather Cramster jacket with 48 hours of no sleep. Ultimately, he just gave up, parked the bike at the next structure that doubled as a shelter and passed out on the ground. We made good of that situation by clicking some embarrassing pics of him :D Christina and I also stopped to help a rather large lady who was riding pillion and had fallen off rather brazenly at the corner off the road. Her spouse had tried to negotiate the edge of the road while a nasty bus hogged their space. The sides of the road had a sharp curvaceous drop, which could prove lethal at certain speeds. I revived her, helped her breathe, she appeared to be in shock but not seriously wounded save for a nasty one on her leg. We managed to flag down an SUV and put her in the back of it (we had to lift her) and be on our ways. I was glad to have been there to stop and help her cz it looked like no one stopped except when I did. 

The trip was ill-timed aka the heat was getting to us all but the bravest was Sriram who was the calmest most positive of us all. Abeer and I were seasoned travelers so we just coped as best we could. That included a few verbal spats, tons of making up and generally making sure we both made it through this exhaustive, incident-riddled day. We made a stop at Tranquebar (Tharangambadi) – supposedly a Dutch town. I was tad disappointed to see a miniscule stretch of what appeared to be a once upon a time town; wearing a deserted look and not matching my impression of a Dutch Pondicherry. Either way we were out of time and I’m grateful to the boys for indulging a stop there to satiate my curiosity beneath the monstrosity of gear and exasperation. We took a round of the beach and the exterior of the touristic fort and took off just as quickly. 
By early evening, we realized we couldn’t make our intended destination of Rameshwaram and instead opted for a nearby coastal town. The quest for that town included mind-blowing sunsets, quickly descending darkness and a 100% confirmation of getting lost on unlit roads that narrowed further and further with increased unpredictability of hitting cattle, folks, bad speed bumpers and anything that considered itself nocturnal. Everyone was maintaining a cool exterior yet battling major exhaustion or a minor degree of annoyance. We stopped at a menial coffee stop along the way and got our phones out. Called hotels along the entire stretch. Budgeting went out of the window and everyone wanted a room with a hot shower and guaranteed air-conditioning. We finally hit luck at a nearby town called Pattukotai where we settled on a passable hotel after scouting through a maze of traffic and 3 rejected hotels. Here everyone was out to get to the bottom of our pockets what with all our bikes and gear and a desperate cry for rest. 

Long showers, freezing rooms and a feast of meal after, everyone agreed that 5am would be the wakeup call and we would take off to make up for this day’s delay. Arun and Christina were needlessly sun burnt and far drearier than us given that their bike broke down countless times and a sweatshirt and scarf was all they had to protect themselves. Hats off to their patience and endurance to continue on. 

Pattukotai to Dhanushkodi/Day 2: EVERYONE missed their alarms and we all got ready and out by 8:30 am. Noone objected given that rested souls and bodies were priority. Everyone was far more fresh, relaxed and ready to take on the next leg of the journey. We had to cover Pamban Bridge, Dhanushkodi and make it to Kadaikudi. We could not afford to miss our destination on this day given all of us had scheduled flights back home. After a hearty south Indian breakfast, we took off. The heat settled in quickly. We didn’t mandate following each other so everyone had their own pace and made their own hydration stops (many of them together). We bonded far better today than we did the previous day; grabbed some simple meals and targeted our main sight point. Along the way, other riding groups met us and soon everyone was headed to the same destination. We made it at mid noon to Pamban Bridge – by far our longest stop. Took pics and videos and got some clarity that Pamban was the bridge below where we stood.  It had one of the oldest running railway lines in the country and a breathtaking view of the Indian Ocean. Fishing villages lined the entire coast with impeccable cleanliness. The water was turquoise blue with confusing waves of emerald green. The clarity was breathtaking and we could see all the way to the bed of the ocean. We waited for the 2nd couple to catch up and thereafter took off. 

From there it was a short but rather crowded route to Dhanushkodi. We had spent 2 days in gear with no respite from the heat. Hadn’t stopped and enjoyed any place really and that was especially getting to me – just getting from point to point with the destination making no point. At Dhanushkodi, the entire stretch of Ram Setu was interesting and surreal. I had only read about it in school or visualized it in its various presentations online. I was HERE now; well with what appeared to be half the country taking advantage of a long weekend. If yesterday was hot, today was the surface of the sun (metaphorically speaking). We found a fish food shack at the tip of Ram Setu, set up our bikes among many other motorcycles that had made their way there and collapsed. More than happy to strip ourselves off our gear and settled in for one of the most memorable meals on a banana leaf. We had rice, rasam and delicious local fish (I didn’t manage to get any names and even Sriram was unable to decipher what the chef mentioned). An encore of the fish continued across the table along with tons of hydration. Here I have to state that our Hydration packs were the best investment and total lifesavers. We purchased one from Decathlon so this wasn’t the biker’s backpack version. Our jugaad was to put it in Abeer’s spine guard pocket and both of us could use it. We debated a while about heading to the beach and taking a dip. Its sad that we couldn’t. The jeep drivers were trying to rip us off and after a point, owing to the massive crowd turnover and 100s headed their way, they had to shut down entry to the beach for a while. We contemplated leaving our bikes unattended. Any other day would have been fine but all our bags and gear and valuables among 100s of thronging visitors forced us to consider turning back and make peace with a glimpse from a distance. 

We loaded up and headed back along the snake traffic to Pamban Bridge. Thereon, the ride was comparatively smoother and the quality highways helped us enjoy a bit of the ride. We all made hydration and ice cream stops, chatted and bonded better, exchanged notes etc. Reached Karaikudi rather late and again settled in to a mansion all to ourselves – literally. It was an old Chettinad style mansion called Shanmuga Vilas: an over 100-year-old property that was bought off the 1st owner and refurbished by an architect. It was converted into a homestay for travelers and we had the whole place to ourselves. We spent the evening cooling off, showers, hydration, exploring the mansion (large terraces, separate kitchens and purposeful rooms with adjoining rooms and staff). The place was humble yet magnificent with a boisterous caretaker who was eager to share the stories of the mansion and its history. We decided to ride down a bit of the stretch to a recommended seafood restaurant.
Once at the restaurant, I think we (ok let’s be honest – more like I) appeared to have just gotten off a rescue boat from drought and famine riddled south Sudan. I ate like it was the last meal I was ever gonna relish. Crabs, prawns, squids, local fish, rice, mutton, appams…. Everything made it to the table. The pricing here was so phenomenal that you would shed a tear about spending a bomb. I knew I was asking for monumental trouble from my tummy but given how this trip was going, I decided gastric debauchery be it. But as a potent traveler, a good bed and a great bathroom are your best friends. I have established I have a massive pet peeve of bathrooms. When I find even a half-decent one, I just let my stomach run off course. 

We roamed about a bit, chatted at length and shared 1 thing in common – heat stroke and exhaustion. Come to think of it the last few days, all of us had barely spoken. We had done so in bits and pieces but none of us had the energy to really invest in our camaraderie. This was one of my major takeaways from this trip – don’t rush through for the heck of it. It didn’t make sense to drain yourself out on a ‘vacation’ and then reminisce of doing it again so you cover what you deliberately missed. Thereafter, AC rooms and our heavy heads made for happy matrimonial that night. 

Karakudi to Edayanchavadi/Day 3: The last day was bitter sweet. Suddenly it was all coming to a vrooming end. We all had breakfast, saddled up and took-off. The heat was terrible but surprisingly bearable this day. I wasn’t sure it was the rest that was helping us cope or the heat itself had dialed it down a notch. We made periodic hydration stop. Our perennial Buddha on this trip (Sriram) offered to ride slowly with Arun-Christina while Vivek and us could zip back to Pondicherry. We had flights back at twilight and if we continued at the same pace as last 2 days there was a chance at missing our flights. We rode hard and fast and did a good distance through morning and noon. Made it by early evening to Edayanchavadi. We wanted to wait for Sriram and the lot for our bikes and to bid each other farewell until next time. Packed and looking for a bus to Chennai airport, it was getting dark; just then Sriram pulled in. I was super glad we got to connect and return our bikes properly. Said our goodbyes and Sriram stayed till we boarded a semi-crowded AC bus. It was all WORTH IT. 
No place on board, 3 of us plonked our luggage on the floor and passed out on it. We reached the sleepy airport rather early… a few hours prior to take off. Tried super hard to catch a few winks but just nothing worked. Tired, grumpy and just eager to get out, we finally flew back and straight to work. How we got through the day NO ONE KNOWS. But we did and reminisced about it all. 
What I learnt through this trip:
  • Make sure who you ride with because it defines the nature and attitude of the trip. Last thing one wants is chaos and tension. I was lucky to have the best folks on this trip
  • Always assess the weather and terrain. Nothing really wrong but the rides could have been more enjoyable on a relaxed pace and in cooler forgivable climate
  • Avoid long weekends. A whole Indian state can make its way ANYWHERE. Karma usually ensures where you are, all Indians are. 
  • Stop, breathe and soak in the place. Don’t always be in a rush to complete a “task”. It’s a bloody ride, not a checklist. Note to future self.
  • Signing out here! :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bonnie and Quest

I can’t recall the exact date and time I walked into Shaman Triumph but it was 2 years ago and there was something about the Bonneville that clicked. This click refrained from going off when I voraciously visited other superbike showrooms and never looked back at them (names withheld for fear of digital lynching).Everyone has that dream material acquisition of sorts. They have a visual inspired or plagiarized from some source; working its way through their grey matter, inducing endless sleepless nights and undergoing extensive customization, finally evolving into that 1 obsessive dream that won’t leave even with numerous attempts to shake it off. That is precisely the Bonneville for me. It wasn’t a Triumph so much as THE Bonneville for me.
I’ve been around bikes quite a bit. No, I didn’t start riding on a farm when I was 5. I didn’t get any motor hand-me-downs, no one in my family is a former legendary racer and neither was I inspired by pre/current MotoGp professionals. I loved bikes. Plain and simple. I loved how open and freeing they were. Someone I dated in the past took me around on his Avenger followed by his RE Bullet 350. Back then, RE still made ‘em bulls like they were meant to be: raw and sturdy. Owning one was like modern day Triumph ownership: exclusive and with a slight snob value. Sadly, that is not the case now (digital lynching alert). The closest I came to calling a set of 2-wheels my source of everything rowdy were my cycles that Dad generously showered me with to play every ruffian game under the sun with the boys. The last pair of wheels owing to being unused for a few months was sold to an eager raddiwala; an act left unforgiven and looking for redemption.
We have “been there done that”. Abeer and I fed into our motorcycle instincts and bought a Classic 500cc – learnt an expensive lesson and sold it off. It seemed like the appropriate hierarchy to buy an Enfield, go nearly bankrupt whilst graduating to a premium segment of wheels. We replaced the bull with a Japanese beast – the Kawasaki Ninja ER6n. The understanding being we BOTH would pitch in 50:50. I was averse to the idea of sports bikes. Probably all those years my eyes were assaulted with ridiculous sounding AND looking Hayabusas and other massive ferringED versions cruising down Bandra and Andheri by lanes, really scarred me. While others marveled, I turned my head away for fear of witnessing atrocity of ill-articulated art or customizations. Combine that with some chocolate boy and NO HELMET and you have completely lost me. This was best compared to owning a St. Bernard or Siberian husky in Mumbai’s tropical climate. I could imagine Uday Chopra dhooming his way on what can only be explained as mechanical monstrosity.
The ER6n is a naked sports ‘tourer’. An initial test ride on a busy SV Road at peak hours was a bad yet informative idea. I felt like I had climbed a mountain and my beloved was doing breaststroke. The view from ‘atop’ wasn’t appealing given that EVERYONE was staring at us. I was just missing a tank top, 2 layers of makeup, low rise peekaboo denim and oodles of misplaced attitude to go with my sudden ascent. Abeer was inversely… excited. We rode a tuned bike and the power was something I wasn’t used to and felt was unnecessary. To keep it short I didn’t like it and wasn’t quite open to buying one. Secretly, I hoped he would consider and help me realize my dream of the Bonnie. In the end, we bought the ER6n cuz I knew how much he adored that bike and as of 3 months now with it, I LOVE THAT BEAST. Like marriage, I didn’t want anyone to pitch in for my Bonnie without offering to do it themselves. It was never to come out of undeserved coaxing, plaguing or begging. It was too pious for me to have any story but a good one.
My lust for the Bonneville didn’t die there. As much as I grew to love the ER6n and appreciate its reliability and torque, my restlessness for the Bonnie grew like a juvenile denied toys while his/her sibling got one. This ‘toy’ was ‘shared’ with me and we had ‘joint playtimes’ but there was something I needed to call my own. Female bikers have been around for a while. However, social media presence and publicity boost has made them and their stories more accessible and visual in recent years. Seeing them on 650cc+ machines is not only inspiring but also empowering. At 1st I was proud and in awe. Tis’ true we don’t need to gender-define this activity. However, truth is women on bikes (an avenue ruled primarily by the opposite sex) is a refreshing breath of O2. When I say that I mean in gear and in motion. NOT in bare or no clothes and posing on the machine like flowers fallen from the tree under which the bike was parked. This constant bombardment of women doing what was initially a fantasy thrill in my head without the fuel injection to make it a reality, was becoming an incurable itch. Combine that with a well-versed and equally encouraging boyfriend and you know that YOU MUST RIDE.
I love riding pillion. It’ll always be a part of me – sitting behind the man I love and traveling places together, fighting, struggling, riding, smiling, loving, cheering and what not all in X cubic meters of space. All relationships should be tested like this. You can’t leave each other, hence, you must endure and love each other and find middle ground in difficult times. I would go as far as to say Abeer’s and my stints with and on the bike (no pun intended) have made us stronger, closer and more in ‘tune’ with each other. The bike was like a 1 room home where we had to express and experience a plethora of all that goes on between 2 people in love.
During all the above randomness that veered from the actual purpose of the blogpost but was intended to emotionally draw the reader into my world, the Bonnie made guest appearances. We showed up at Triumph showrooms pan India. Every time I looked at the bikes, I behaved like I was seeing ‘em for the 1st time. I yearned to take them out but did not have a license nor the proper skills to handle a bike of such proportions. I would nod and remain fixated on the Bonnie in the midst of the bike catalogue sermon from showroom sales force. Few marveled at a female rider showing so much interest and the sheer grit to own one of these classics. I would smile and make it amply clear I was a WIP; secretly wishing I could vroom out on the classic in pure Desi attitude… then descend back on earth. We would take the bike out for a spin and I was transfixed reminding myself that it’s JUST a test ride lest I have the urge to steal it and hide in some village in remote India. Whom am I kidding, that bike would stand out like sore eyes. *hmmmppfff*. Once attempted to take a friend’s SE Bonnie out in Goa and the result was a giggly mess.
Aside from physical visits and the torture of having my new office located next to Shaman Triumph in Mumbai, I became a huntress online. Every social media feed that lured and satiated my frenzy became prey. I pictured what I eventually wanted my bike to look like. I was clear in its concepts and needs; not wanting it to look like the showroom’s accessories catalogue had purposefully sneezed all over my bike – something that appears to be an epidemic with Indian bike owners. Laugh or scorn if you will but that’s sad and true. This was evident when I had multiple bouts of going on OLX, Quikr and a plethora of pre-owned superbike forums. I was subjected to motivation and demotivation of the same feelings that had settled with idea of purchasing the Bonneville. Folks not only misspelt the bike’s name and model, the reasons for selling appalled the liver out of me. Add to that the insult of reading endless lists of accessories slapped on the poor bike for no fault of its classic beauty – that too in terrible English but with swelling pride. I had many who were selling cuz they were headed “ebrOd”, 2 owners were distracted with a car cuz they refused to wear helmets and safety gear, and the rest were mainly untouched vehicles as a result of indispensable cash overflow or the need to upgrade to a sports version. Good for me but bad for the bikes in question – Why? I’m an emotional creature. When I think of the Bonnie, my immediate thought veers to me handing it down some 20-30 years to a worthy adversary or equally insane mini me. There is an attachment to it. I would think of the Bonnie as I would of my 2 incomparably useless feline rulers at home who ascended the throne to royalty moment they set their demanding paws in my territory; but I love them fiercely and cannot do without them at all.
In my quest to learn the right way, I invested in a preowned yet impeccably new Honda Maestro scooter. Abeer spent every minute teaching me to ride. The father was offended since it had been his dream/wish to buy me a 2-wheeler through college and my initial working years. Company transport or the nightmare of having all my offices in the worst lanes of Andheri East made this is a defunct idea. I was, needless to say, demotivated and adamant not to own anything since I was convinced it would guzzle fuel or have me killed. Now the urge was back but with a different purpose; hence, the arrival of the scooter. I spent hours perfecting my riding on it but continued to remain nerved by Mumbai’s merciless and homicidal traffic. Abeer was strict and then pure nasty strict (his version of saving my life). We fought and made up a zillion times in the course of these lessons. At the time, I yo-yoed between wanting, wishing and actually planning for a Bonnie. I was unsure of my own intent – at one point deciding that maybe I was being a spoilt brat and this wasn’t for me. It’ll die a natural death. These things DON’T DIE. They are like roaches roaming and taking shelter in hidden corners of your white matter so that the grey cells can’t find em.
I got into gear; went through a nightmare to sort my license and decided I’m buying the Bonnie. Preowned and make it my own. I had 3 rescued stray cats, one preowned scooter… so maybe I was meant to buy a preowned motorcycle too. The only perk being I was arrogantly jumping straight to a ~800cc machine. I prepared myself for that. I had no time to waste and no patience in reserve either. We settled on 2 Bonnevilles and 1 Street 750 as a backup– given that preowned bikes have an issue with upfront payment. Just as we were about to close in on our decision, my Abeer, the inside man at Triumph (by then he had changed jobs and had Triumph as a corp comm client – seriously the IRONY), informed me that new bikes were in the pipeline and they were all BONNEVILLES. I felt so cheated. Here I was on the brink of a much-procrastinated decision and he just ruined it by telling me about new Bonnies. I feverishly followed the launch of the bikes overseas and instantly fell flat, tongue and eyes out. In the ensuing months, the bikes launched one after the other, we bought the ER6n and I realized how monumentally underpaid I was or overpriced the superbike market had come to become. I was lost. I learned my riding on the ER6n which wasn’t a wise idea given I am too short for that beast and my feet barely touched the ground. Nonetheless, with Abeer’s and the brother’s help I managed to learn the basics on the Kawasaki but didn’t gain much concentration or ease of ride.
A certain boost of ego and pride came about post a salary revision in June 2016 and I instantly thought NOW I can pick up anything. The StreetTwin 900cc Bonnie was on my radar. What absolute sweetness… almost made for me. Could smell doom following me but couldn’t imagine what could possibly go wrong. I set the date. July 1st 2016, I was gonna book the ST in Pune under Abeer’s name. This came after a year of argument where I was adamant that the bike was to be mine aka under my name. A childish wish of having something on paper in my name was trumped with his rationale of saving a bunch of 1000s by purchasing from Pune – something we had done with our bikes so far. I made peace and pissed on the idea of the Bonnie being in my name. Turns out its possible to get it on your name with a lil here and there. As I waited, doom caught up and slapped a revised Maharashtra-only octroi and road tax on 2-wheelers. A 13% increase on premium CBU models meant a temperamental +1.5 lakhs at least. This whole journey had started to feel like the unleashed torque of a powerful bike behind an annoying truck crawling in front of you, hogging a whole lane and deliberately depriving you of open roads. Upset was a thing of the past and I was officially depressed. I knew that I was being a spoilt brat but this was a dream. Passing year after year with no consequence or conclusion. It was giving me mixed messages if I was ever meant to ride or own a bike or… The only person who absolutely understood my pain and didn’t undermined it was Abeer. It was absolutely his wish as mine to see me ride. By now Cyrus (his well-meaning Versys owning Bawa boss) could comprehend my feelings too. They sat pulling strings and working to make my dream come true. I was humbled and embarrassed that this had turned into a rescue operation lest I drop myself in some deep ravine out of misery over this.
On Thursday, 09 June 2016, we sat for breakfast at Starbucks. An exhaustive list of possibilities, some anger and oodles of disappointment hurled at the bloodsucking MH government had been spewed. I had, in desperation considered purchasing the ST from a chap from Kochi who bought but didn’t register the bike, the Delhi showroom who assured me a Delhi registration and absolutely no-issue warranty of sorts, the Kolkata showroom who confirmed that bongs were as pricey as MH govt. and that the manager was also a non-speaking Bongalee like me. What an adventure. I think INDIA got to know I needed a Bonneville almost like one gets priority bump up the organ transplant list. My love, Abeer, I think couldn’t see me disappointed anymore or my rather silent mode off late had given him the heebeedeejeebees. We opened OLX and solemnized that we would find a bonnie for me like a desperate homeless puppy with loads of potential waiting for me to notice and adopt it. We instantly laid eyes on a beautiful 2014 Bonneville SE purchased, refurbished and up for sale by a Bawa uncle. Instantly called him and set up a meeting the same evening. Abeer was already sold and just maintained that the meeting was a “formality” but subject to supportive echoes from Shaman Triumph, this was the girl I was to bring home. I spent the rest of my day building hope but not soaring too high lest I fall and crack a rib. Meanwhile Abeer was at Shaman Triumph for some routine work and called me with news of a beautiful burnt orange and black T100 standing there. I was least bothered since T100s were not my choice. Heating issues and extended wet weight had me not consider them. Upon repeated insistence, I headed to Shaman post-work with the understanding that Abeer and I were to hop on my trustee Maestro and meet Bawa uncle for his Bonnie. It was S.O.R.T.E.D.
I walked in and saw her. What a ginger delight. Was told this shiny chrome lassy was going for the same price as Bawa uncle’s offer. Holy smokes I was in a conundrum AGAIN. I blamed Abeer for this. Master of spirals and whirls. He showed me the ginger babe and said… “Nah, don’t get hung up on her. Have a look at the Bonnie SE.” Suddenly everyone there who recognized the suffering soul i.e. me, had an opinion on what to buy. Shubrata Marmar was incidentally present and literally looked me in the eye and said “Buy what YOU wanna buy. Don’t listen to anyone. It’s your purchase.” I left the showroom knowing all too well, THIS orangina was coming home. We met the amazing Bawa uncle, rode his bike, met equally interested parties who were at all the same places as us. Post the meeting, we sat down for a Parsi bhonu. As I wolfed down dhansaak, faarcha, eeda anne chawal under a dark cloud of decision making, I put my foot down and said THAT BURNT ORANGE BIKE IN THAT CONDITION AND FOR THAT PRICE WAS A STEAL. Any fool wouldn’t ignore that. Abeer asked me 100000 times if I was sure and I was bloody sure. That was that. Spoke to the manager of Shaman at an unearthly hour and literally insisted that he had my word, I was buying the Ginger. She was mine and not a fly was to buzz around her.
The following morning I spent 3 hrs at the RTO, got my learner’s license reissued and showed up in the most unruly manner to put down a booking amount as a sign of my commitment. Apparently, there were hawks swirling the place hoping for me to be a no-show. Little did they know me or my chase for one of these. Through this whole saga, Abeer kept in constant touch, called and assured me, his boss Cyrus also worked a little out of his “jurisdiction” to make things possible for me, Arash (Bawa #3) at the showroom seemed to connect with the wired up me and then there was me trying to catch up with me. Finally, things were falling in to place. Once Rajesh (manager Shaman Triumph) swiped the card for 50k, it all became too real. It hit me. I’m buying a Bonneville. I stared at her from a distance too afraid to touch her and eager to get to work lest I lose my only loan-paying gig.
Thereafter, loans, long waits, banking errors, the mother’s endless joy accompanied by even more endless sermons on shubh mahurats and finally the very disappointed and misjudging father were the norm. This wait was agonizing. We shamelessly dropped by and took her for a maiden spin like a kid in boarding school out on a break. She left gazers everywhere. I was afraid of this. I didn’t want people looking at me and the chrome and color on her was unavoidable. I slipped the news to few folks and held back tight in general. Well aware of my jinxing karma, I just held on to some realm of patience and sanity. After many issues and potential delays, she rolled out of the showroom with us on 20 June 2016. This date like Abeer’s bday and our anniversary will be etched in my memory. I entered Shaman with unexpected rolls of tears. It was awkward and my hands shook. After gaining some composure, fixing things, waxing and polishing her up and many queries later, we left around 12:30pm. Rode straight home to the ecstatic and vermillion wielding mother. Allowed her the luxury of putting her customary swastika and tying the mata ki chunni with the understanding its gonna come off soon. She took a pillion spin and her glee for me knew no bounds. This was pure happiness. Abeer was ecstatic and enjoying HIMSELF teasing me that he’s a Bonnie convert and the ER6n would be sold. We smiled and laughed like it was the perfect spring day. Too good to be true. From 2413 we clocked straight 2509 in one day. She endured heat, dust, rains and mud all in that one span of existence. Met Harshal who owns a Ducati Scrambler, played a prank on a fellow Bonnefied advocate Abhinav and generally abused our social media accounts with the latest addition to “our garage”. It was all in a Bonnie’s worth as we parked her late at night back into my garage. Soaked to the bone but content in every realm.
Today (21 June 2016) I did my maiden ride on Ginger. Abeer made it a point that I understand her as soon as possible and break into her by riding however slow at 1st. Weight and the nervousness of a beauty being my learning platform stood temporarily in the way but that hasn’t deterred us any longer. Spun around my building with slopes and tiles and bumps and parking traffic. I was nervous but a babe humming under me with unleashed power under the garb of classy poise was an indescribable feeling (no pun intended). We’ve decided to take her to the beach and spin her about there while I get a good hang of her. I’ve already got eyes rolling, judgment spewing and eyebrows soaring as I respond to questions like ‘Did YOU buy her’ or ‘was that cost in LAKHS’ or ‘you work in underworld or something’ even worse ‘so it’s like an expensive bullet’ (the last one pisses me off). Worse still are the misconceptions that I either work in an overpaid job that gives me time off, I have too much family money or that I am borderline psychotic if I’m yet unmarried, not a mother but have chosen to empty all my savings on what is conceived a senseless impractical buy. They know nothing about me and I couldn’t care about knowing them. For now, I focus solely on 3 hot things: the man, the ER6n and the Bonnie. I was practically broke all month, to a point that I could not buy sweets or had to choose my commute to and from work, had completely shut down my social life but was rich in a way I could not describe. It just looks shiny and black and feeds a hunger inside that has been starving for way too long.

Next stop: A post on my journey so far on the Bonnie, her maiden ride outside Mumbai and a plethora of trips already lined up and yearning to be executed (#BiKronicles). This girl needs a badass image makeover.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sh/\kes™

She squirmed and wobbled in my arms. The back of the rikshaw seemed like an appropriate place to her for some acrobatics. Then she quickly changed her mind, curled up in my arms and rested her tiny blob of head on the crease of my elbow; staring with button eyes at the noisy traffic out. Unmoving. Unflinching. Unperturbed.
Day 1 at su casa

I logged into my Facebook account scrolling for mundane updates of “significant” posts on “insignificant” activities. The 3rd post was by #WorldForAll. I never miss their updates. Can’t help but check the cutesy bundles they rescue each week. Them and some alerts from #YODA or #PetsForAdoption etc. WFA had done something different this time. Saw a video post. Assumed it was a documentary or awareness movie. Clicked and watched. 30secs into watching a helpless kitten wobble on her tripod like gait to becoming a hilarious bundle of unbelievable strength and budding life was all it took for me to ball my eyes out, like and comment. I wanted her. Ok… I’ve wanted a lot of the animals they have rescued so far. However, her story cried out to me as if it was a message tailored for me. Later on as the comments poured in, I figured the same sentiment resonated from others.
Shakes (or as I have trademarked her Sh/\kes™) was a 2-month old baby girl found and rescued by Nasreen’s help in Andheri E. She was unforgivably tormented by Mumbai monsoons and was shaking beyond a cold damp shiver. She would have most certainly met her demise had she not been rescued that fateful day. She was fostered by Nasreen and looked over by a vet who diagnosed a unique case of Cerebellar Hypoplasia (in this case Feline CH*). 
When Shakes needs me
*Cerebellar hypoplasia is a condition in which the brain, specifically the cerebellum, is underdeveloped or small for size leading to effect on motor nerves and sensory disturbances. This affects gait, balance, and movement primarily due to tremors and incessant shaking which aggravate on excess stimulation, excitement, fear, hunger etc. and completely die down to nil when the animal is calm, sleeping, resting or not triggered by any emotion. Shakes is a rare case of CH. This can be due to genetics, malnourishment of the mother during pregnancy or possibly due to injury or physical disturbance when the mother was carrying the litter.
I educated myself on the condition and didn’t care for what it brought forth. I wanted Shakes and the only way to do this was to convince the boyfriend, Abeer, to adopt her since I had spent 2 years trying to get my father to warm up to and cuddle up with 2 rescued brats already ruling my kingdom. Abeer was always an animal lover who claimed to be a dog person but had a hidden catman somewhere in that massive heart of his. From being occupied with Elsa’s antics or lack thereof (my eldest boy) to being smitten with Ella’s grace and agility (my baby girl and Elsa’s begum from arranged marriage); I was sure he loved the little felines as much. Abeer’s mum was home alone and seeing the benefits, the presence of a pet can bring to folks home alone like my dad, was a card I played to my already expanding list of excuses for him to adopt her. For the 1st time ever Abeer did not resist. He hesitated and was anxious like a 1st time adopter but did not say NO. We took time off and went to visit Shakes at her foster. She was brought out fast asleep and just eased into my arms. It was as if I was standing outside an orphanage or a NICU and was entrusted with the most precious thing they had. She was a doll incarnate. The next 20mins we stared as she wobbled and walked, drew EVERYONE’s attention (Taro, Nasreen, her son and 1 more member from WFA included) and proceeded to curl up into 1/4th her size, decide she’s fascinated us enough and plonked off to sleep. I knew then that my gut was right all along.
My beautiful (hot and happening) family
Abeer’s eyes lit up and he was in love with her. He said ‘yes’ as soon as we had a private moment and I couldn’t have been elated. We explored what all did Shakes require in terms of care and handling especially more than the average cat and headed home to prep the place for her arrival.
On 15 Sep 2015, Taro (cofounder of WFA) personally brought her over to my place. He also had the chance to meet my famous duo Elsa-Ella and proceeded to ease Shakes into our lives. Abeer and I went through the formalities and forms and some cutting questions regarding her care and parvarish god forbid something were to go wrong in any situation. I was taken aback but thought these were good questions to ask folks here especially when they just as easily abandon their pets because their “pets” never really were considered “family” in the 1st place. After the formalities and a very bad cup of coffee I made for Taro, Shakes was left to be acquainted to US.
Abeer was a natural. It surprised me and then it didn’t. He cared and that’s all that mattered. If you care, the rest falls into place. This coming from someone who was a nervous wreck when she handled baby Elsa. Shakes unlike other cats seems to ease into her places. She is curious, but never looks like she is scared or bothered or whining. She sleeps and wakes up and gets exploring as if that’s her expertise through the vast expanse of her 2-month old existence. She was wary of Elsa-Ella’s presence but not scared or bolting away. Instead there came the familiar crouch and observe like an FBI tactical force veteran and then her trademark signature tripod stand. *Yes Shakes, you standing so tall alone scares the bejesus outta everyone*.

She stayed the night with Geet and me and I had a gala time entertaining her. She was feisty and sporty and adorable all in one. Her absolutely tiny frame was no hurdle against her urge to scale massive peaks like my laptop bag or the giant pillow on my bed. As long as she is watched while on a height and resting always on a soft surface, I was ok. Soft landings for her lithe body was ok with me until she got a little fatter and stronger. She bolted from one corner to the other only to bang into furniture and take a few seconds to gather herself. She loved 2 other dangerous things: climbing and playing with strings. The latter she is a huge fan off. Simplicity and bundles of love came in from watching this baby grow supremely happy with a few strings. That’s all it took to see her eyes light up, her inhibitions disappear and her nose turn pink-er with excitement. She loved human touch and connection. Leave her space for a moment and you’ll know never to underestimate the power of a kitten’s meowing. It’s the cutest loudest sound and you’ll drop/rush through whatever you are doing. Willingly.
The next day I dropped her off to Abeer’s and that’s where the real adventures began. Father and daughter ganged up and enjoyed their time together. Abeer’s momma and sister watched as he transformed from a regular Joe at home to a dedicated daddy/adopter. Abeer’s sister was 100% occupied with Shakes since she would head back to the UAE soon. Shakes was the center of attention, love, food, games, pampering and all that a new little one can possible accumulate. She loves cuddles and sleeping – no sleeping alone. She ate and played while you watched her. She was surprisingly litter trained but there came the challenge of ensuring her balance while doing her business. She constantly shook and lost her balance and fell into her poop. This was patiently resolved with wet wipes and conditioning her to balance and stay strong.
Biker girl in the making!
She was a delight. She didn’t demand anything which made it important for us to fix a feeding schedule, sleeping and pooping routines. She hijacked anything her paws touched and her big button eyes blackmailed out of us. I for once found myself traveling to Abeer’s more just to spend time with her. She made me feel like a momma too. I realized how much I missed kittens or more appropriately how fast my own 2 grew up that I missed when they were babies. Here was Shakes, filling that void.
Over the course of a few months, her personality traits came out in the open. She openly threatened and growled at other cats and dogs – absolutely unnerved by their size despite her having to strain to look up at them. She ran amok and ran into things often bumping her head and waiting to gather her wits. She learnt to scale higher objects and furniture by using her fore paws and landing from heights on her belly and hind knees. This makes an ugly sound and each time I find myself reaching out to grab her and comfort her. She doesn’t seem to need any. Abeer and Shakes have grown inseparable. He rushes home to her, wakes up at 5am to prepare high protein meals and even cleans up incessantly after her. Her comfort and needs come above all and I became the happiest most content spectator to it all. Somewhere watching your man turn to a puddle rearing for a little one is endearing and draws me closer to him.
WIP Relationship
He speaks to her and she seems to understand what he says – aka translate it to whatever she assumes is said. There is undeniable connect when they look at each other and she responds with paws on his face. A miniscule sense of envy washes over me when I see her literally hug him and sleep. Yep, Shakes is a cuddle bunny who hates sleeping alone. She knows the curvature of my boyo’s arm just right enough to fit herself in. Shes spoons herself into his sleeping position and usually buries herself in my hair if I’m around. Her preoccupation with attacking and playing with my hair for hours stumps me. But I’m happy to play the part too. We went through the ritual of vaccinations, neutering and even her 1st bath. I was stumped as she stood perfectly still almost submissive and awaiting the end of her 1st aqua experience. It is a blessing if no other term describes best her presence in our lives. Some people have children, we have Shakes. Her care and upbringing is in our collective priorities and we enjoy every second of it. When she was in foster care, Abeer would swing by on the bike, ask me to hop on and we would take off just to spend a few hours with her. I knew then that Abeer was a doting father/figure and when he cared, he did so from every crevice of his heart. Her tremors overtime reduced, although prominent on profound excitement. She has a tripod like gait and still walks with her hind legs stomping rather than gracefully gliding like cats do. Her head shakes when she eats but she has better control of her food and water now in a soft plastic bowl. Litter management is easier and instances of her soiling herself are far fewer.  
When we open the door, seeing Shakes anticipating us is a huge moment. She stands right at the door and brings her tiny soft self to unload her cuteness on us. There is no doubt that she loves having us around. She hates being alone and maybe sometime soon we might add a companion for Ms. Shakes. Till then I will record every moment she waltzes out victorious from a massive pile of something she has successfully managed to crash.
 
Momma and baby girl
Daddy and his princess











To my love and baby girl. Nothing is bigger than you 2 in the world for me. Ma Famille
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