Birth of a Biker

Februaries in North India are cold. February, this year, particularly, was so cold that it was easily giving January a run for its money. I’m sure shopkeepers selling heaters and blankets would be having the time of their lives, so much so that at one point in time, even I contemplated a change in career those days. It was a weekend and I was staying back in my hostel, too afraid to have taken the risk of facing the claws of the inhuman frigidity that I would have had to face had I traveled 250km in a bus to go back home for  the weekend.

Internet was down in my hostel and I had already been spending nights at a friend’s room in another hostel, more to avail the luxuries of a smooth running net connection there than to spend time or enjoy his company. Grumpy and groggy, I was kicked out by him in the wee hours of a Saturday morning as his hostel warden was checking for unregistered sleepers. Anyway, I cursed him and exactly 4 minutes later reached my room only to find that the internet access-less neighbors of mine who had slept early the night before had woken up already and were reliving a 19th century holiday, playing cricket in the corridor right outside my room. Cricket at as early as 11 a.m. on a Saturday? Great! I switched on the hostel TV only to break the batsman of the 7 yard cricket game into harrowing laughter as even the cable was down. Just when I was about to declare that day the worst in my life, my friend Jordan came out of his room, walking unsteadily, trying to balance all six feet and two inches of his which was battling a massive hangover due to a party he had been to the last night.

People behave strangely in a hungover state. Some get happy, some sleepy, some irritable but he is one of his kind. He feels hungry. He suggested that we should go for lunch to Sagar Ratna. The cricket game came to a halt and the internet connection, I’m sure, for a second, would have considered regaining activity to save us from this blasphemy as the nearest Sagar Ratna was 40 km away and it wasn’t cold outside but COLD outside. Maybe it was the lack of anything meaningful to do on a weekend or what smote me that I said I’m up for it. Suddenly two more pairs of eyes left their fielding positions and ‘hell yeah’ came a collective reply from their mouths, the kind of ‘hell yeah’ that you hear when Angelina Jolie performs an action sequence in Tomb Raider or the kind when someone asks you to watch the LOTR marathon in one night and skip all the classes the next day!

Me (on the Pulsar), Jordan and Pupp

The next thing we knew was that four phones flung out from three pockets, many calls were made and two bikes and four helmets were arranged. The rides looked quite different from each other, one being a Royal Enfield Bullet and the other being a Pulsar 220, but we had people of every size and dimension in our band. We started from the college at around 2 pm, after a usual bike check up and refueling. Initially I was riding pillion and was excited as it was but my first road trip since I was a fairly new rider, having learned to ride the bike on a Bullet after I had felt quite embarrassing when even after being in college I did not know how to ride a bike, though the engineer within me could build one from scratch. Around half way into the journey, I offered to drive and Sachin, my friend who was driving it till now was quick to oblige. I wondered why! As took the handle and put the first gear, I realized, that I hadn’t offered to drive, but had offered to actually face the Antarctica like winds that blew right into my chest; and for a split second I thought perhaps they passed through me to my back. I was riding a bike on a highway for the first time in my life. I had only dreamed of it, but the feeling of doing so was much better. What matters is not the pace you drive at, but the peace. We had left Patiala, and were on our way to Rajpura, approximately 40 km away.

As we exited the state highway and hit NH1, the rules of the game changed. No longer were the trucks on the single road responsible for me to decide where to go; no longer were the horns of car drivers over taking me. I had more freedom than ever before and throttling just took me higher and higher. For a first time driver on a highway, as soon as I reached the 80 kmph mark, I felt the cool of the wind playing with my bike. From the numerous YouTube videos and biker blogs and TV shows that I had watched, I knew one thing for sure that my ride position was correct and so was my posture, but there was something that provided some resistance.

My pillion, Sachin, was perhaps the best pillion one could ever get, being an avid rider and a Moto GP freak himself, his weight was balanced and his body leaned perfectly to complement mine, but I had no idea why our bike was shaking. With no trees around the highway, unlike the single road that we had started from, I felt much more comfortable as the sun was now shining and my muscles started to relax a little bit. Jordan, who was driving the Bullet, with Pupp, his pillion and a dear friend of ours suddenly caught up, and overtook me. I was riding at a constant of 80 kmph, when a biker gang of some foreign tourists joined us. Two Royal Enfield Bullet 500’s one Kawasaki Ninja 250 and one Honda CBR 250 consisted of their entourage. As you would find, in any biker group around the world, nods of mutual respect greeted us and they flagged us for a pit-stop. We came to a halt and introduced ourselves to the group. That group of 7 were tourists from England and they told us that it was their 9th country that they were traveling length and breadth on bikes and they were going to Delhi and were looking for Jhilmil Dhaba that a friend of theirs had suggested them to visit.

Sachin and Pupp

We told them that they had been on the wrong side of the road and Zilmil was more than a 100 kms in the opposite direction. We were almost at the Haveli, where we had set out to dine at the Sagar Ratna outlet, and Matt, one of the guys driving a Bullet offered us to join them. We agreed, but only if they joined us for a South Indian meal first. They were up for it and we rode to Haveli and had lunch. We got talking over lunch and started sharing our experiences with bikes when Steve, the driver of the CBR gave me the Elixir of Riding a bike. He said, “Be the bike, and the bike will take care of you.”

After a light but fulfilling lunch, we left for Jhilmil Dhaba, Karnal which as the Google map tells me is a 118 km and a couple of hours’ drive. Steve’s words echoed in my ears as he offered to ride as my pillion on his CBR. I strapped and zipped up for the most memorable journey of my life. Negotiating turns and traffic, control and throttle, day light and night riding, Steve gave me a thumbs-up on all topics as I drove for the next 50 km or so before handling him the rudder and Boy! What a rider was he! I have only seen such balance on TV before in films like Torque and Dhoom and the next one hour was a ride of my lifetime. We had tea and snacks at Zilmil. We enjoyed the chill of the weather and the warmth of a freshly prepared Hukkah and headed back to Patiala as Jordan, Sachin and I took turns at driving the Bullet and the Pulsar. We reached Patiala around 2 hours later and we were freezing as the winter night was now taking a toll on our bodies. Pupp, unfortunately doesn’t know how to drive and after that day he started learning how to.

Some ride for the fun, some for the speed, some for the style and some for the thrill, but I ride because with every thrust of the piston, I feel blood pumping at a different rate inside my body. Thanks Steve! I shall always remember, “Be the bike, and the bike will take care of you.”

Ride Safe,

[Special Thanks to IndiBlogger and Mahindra XUV500 team for letting me share this experience]

Book Review: Marathon Baba

Marathon Baba by Girish Kohli

It may not sound the name of a novel but that of a spoof on a reigning religious guru or a boring philosophical novel but little did I know that what was in store for me was something this funny and interesting. Yes! Marathon Baba written by first time writer Girish Kohli sweeps you away from your boring lives and takes you to the fictional world of Karna, a simple man, who lives in the City of Slums, and runs away from his home and life only to achieve a demi-God status some day and be called Marathon Baba.

The back cover of the book does not really say anything about the story or the plot of the book but it gives you a map of the world that Karna lives in. I must admit the map looks a little like the Map of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, but nevertheless, this is a book that, after reading cover to cover, I am willing to forgive for anything wrong under the sun. Girish Kohli is not an IIT-IIM graduate, I don’t even know if he ever went to school or not, but someone who can write a debut novel that is this pleasing, I’d say, kudos to you!

The Plot:
Marathon Baba is the story of a guy named Karna who lives in a fictional land, which you can easily mistake for an India like country. Karna grows up in an environment where his parents keep quarreling, which he calls a battlefield. Heartbroken after being dumped by the love of his life and bored of a stereotypical IT job, Karna runs away at the age of 23 to face life. Leaving all his money and worldly pleasures behind, he embarks on a journey towards the mountains in order to find himself. He travels from fictional city to fictional city having free meals at temples and gurudwaras and having sex with tramps. He becomes a traveler by the day and a compulsive insomniac, who runs all through the night, as he is haunted by the drams of his ex girlfriend. Running becomes a part of his life and on one such running outing, his skin mysteriously turns red. He runs day and night and chances upon a pair of running shoes that are worn by a skeleton floating in a river.

The shoes not only become his running fleet, but also lead him to a treasure, the returns of which help him and his new accomplice Java, a junkie, gay drummer to build the Marathon Ashram at the banks of a holy river. The Marathon Ashram promises to give free refuge to anyone who has been running away from his life. Other than Karna and Java, the first person they accept as a member to the ashram is Karsihma, a sultry beauty who has mysterious healing powers and has run away from her life after her mother’s demise. Karna fondly calls her Ma and she changes the face of the Ashram. Soon, Karna gets a brigade of 33 deadly disciples, one of which is a movie Superstar Suryakant after whose inculcation the media garlands him with the name of the Marathon Baba and he soon achieves a cult following across the masses.

The story takes a bitter turn when a beggar and ex-businessman claims his ownership of the shoes that led him to the treasure that helped Karna build the Ashram. He threatens to kill Karna and to expose his deep dark secret to the whole world. What is the secret and what happens later, that I’ll leave for you to find out!

The Verdict:
Never have I read a novel by an Indian author that has succeeded in putting a smile on my face all through the 255 pages that it runs through. Girish Kohli has arguably written the most stylish novel and I must say that if you want to take a lesson in creative writing, it is this, it is this, it is this!! The style of writing is so fresh that you are hooked onto the book due to the immense pleasure of reading it and a different concept and a an amazing idea never hurts.

The language of the book is simple and laid-back and the whole story kind of flows effortlessly like the fictional river Gathaji in its story. Girish manages to make the reader visualize every word that he has written and his humor just percolates into the protagonist too. Though the Marathon Baba is not supposed to be a spiritual guru, yet his one liners are humorously philosophical. The whole story revolves around just one character and that has been written and handled really well. The style and humor more than make up for any shortcomings that maybe in the story. The content is supported by little footnotes by the author himself and the mention of his own name within the dialog makes sure you take it as a piece of fiction.

Frankly Speaking, Marathon Baba is one of the best works of fiction by an Indian writer. The climax is edgy and all in all I would say that an Indian novel minus a love a story is just what could have restored my faith in the writers here.

My Rating: 4/5 and a double thumbs up for first time writer Girish Kohli. You made me enjoy this one, I’m definitely gonna buy the next one too!