The first time I rode a push bike in India …. (“pushbike?” “yeah , pedals like this ..” “aahh cycle”).
OK, start again ..
The first time I rode my cycle in India, carefully navigating the morning madness of a roundabout, I stopped at a red light, a giant pot hole prevented me from moving to the left. A truck beeped for me to break a red light, pushed forward and buckled my back wheel.
The cycle was less than 24 hours old.
So why do I thrill to a ride in India?
India confronts you and forces you to find yourself
No matter how many times I ride, every sense is bound up mechanical mayhem. The shock of a car horn behind, adrenaline, the knotted intestines have lessened, I now know the hidden order in chaos. I understand impatience across the line before the traffic timer switches to green.
Sandhya, the sacred time between night and day, is my preferred time. Its cacophony of pigs and dogs, aarti, and from the mosque the call to prayer. Someone rings a temple bell to enter, as others whispered prayers.
The self protective knit of my brow is lessened, I need less to squint through heated glare of concrete canyons, brick, steel and glass.
I pass boys boys playing cricket, that their strokes send balls into traffic from the footpath is half the fun.
My once shrunken world is less tightly bound, now I have relaxed enough to distinguish the diversity.
No matter how prepared you feel, India keeps throwing itself at you. The constant talk, the temple music, a man sweeps near his cart, where is proffering subje. The endless “Arey dost” Hey friend of rickshaw wallahs vying for trade.
“Pachas Kilo… pachas kilo.”
As monsoon rain ploughs into new roads with slashes, dimples and pockmarks . The new road by my home is nearly half washed away.
You need discriminating minds to distinguish diversity and patience to ignore a buses soot smoke and chunking gears. “Relax”, I tell myself, “our world shrinks as we become more tightly bound.”
Still it can be frightening. I once read 142,000 people a year die in Indian motor accidents. I have seen few. A woman bumped in slow motion off the back of a scooter for instance. I also remember outside my former Pune home, an overtaking motorbike collecting an oncoming cyclist. The fallen engines handle bars were twisted but it was the cyclists right angled ankle, shredded and shoeless, that made me cautious.
India interrupts your internal frame of reference.
I have been often criticized for being too much in my head. At least by Indian friends. “Relax, meditate, learn to live in your body. “
Have you ever walked in a big city, looked deeply into someone’s eyes and made them angry?
What did you do wrong?
They were so stuck in their own world in the back of their heads that you interrupted their day dream. As my partner Advity reminds me endlessly, I need to get out of my head.
Riding in India forget the day dream. Everything and everyone was in your face. Which is why I needed meditation.
Then entering a side street all seems strangely still, as if waitimg for cross street to move. No I find, a whole row of cars have simply parked in the middle of the street.
Overtime as frustration melts into understanding, something changed…
And it started with me ….
At first the constant impatient horns drove me to distraction (and at times they still do!). Cars whizzing past, blasting a warning when almost on top of you, scaring me out of my witts.
The honking whirring wizzing precipitous confusing, unconscious permability rushes in to fill every space.
Because now I can read the traffic flow and madness that is India. There is order in the chaos: if its bigger than you give way to it!
All this honking has forced me to confront my years of unresolved anger.
In Australia its illegal to blast your horn without reason (although New Years and your teams victory do seem to be ignored). In India I have watched the habitual beep-beep , on an open road, oh thre a pedestrian beep- beep, these not a single other car anywhere insight, never mind beep beep.
Trucks are worse. They invite “Horn OK Please” emblazoned on their back as you overtake. Their endless warbled sounds like a cross between Woody Woodpecker and a ratchety machine gun.
It was not until, crossing a road on foot, a biker unexpectedly passed on my left, zipping right so quickly I could not check my step, and walked into his path with a whack. Them, on returning from Hindi class, a woman biker passes so close she forces me off the road, collecting my elbow, Then cutting me off, bumps my front wheel without even noticing.
From then on I leaned to treasure the warning blast. It still wakes me from my revelries, that internal world, where struggling to keep up, deeply concentrating on how best to negotiate the monsoon potholes, I have dissolved into deep concentrated trance.
The Asphalt skin is pockmarked and as the rain clears, filled with loose shale that seems to sink with a jolt under my tyres.
Bumpy are the safest roads – atleast in the monsoon? Rock is firm, in the wet puddles seem to sink into deep ditches that can catch you unaware.s The trick is to raise onto you pedals, ride out the impact rather than bounce of your seat.
Rule 1: don’t stop.
Break, allow a vehicle to cross then instantly release the momentum into a roll. If you let it, the continuous chaos will have you stop start in your tracks, that will exhaust you if, you must constantly re-kick uphill at every push in and
If you are forced to stop – squashed gainst a parked car, whizzing traffic on your right and biker bearing down on you against the legal flow of traffic ….
There is a way to use the stop start traffic, to read where a truck or bus is turning and tuck in into shadow
Rule2: He who glares wins …
Forced in a stand off you play it like Bollywood. It is said Bollywood actors are the worlds best because they can throw daggers with their eyes. So glare well and let all opposition melt before you.
A boom gate begins to descend just as it begins to rain.
You wait a good two minutes before the train passes. Maybe three if it’s a goods train. Then ninety seconds for the gates to rise.
A swing a path around the gate, passing cars I wait beside the gate.
A cyclist dings his bell for me to move. He wants to cross the tracks regardless. Pedestrans and some motor cycles follow.
After the train passes a rail worker waves cyclists on, whizzing past the congestion, 750 metres around the bend I hear another train. Arriving at my chowk traffic behind is still at a standstill.
Indian NLP? waggling an escape valve
How do they survive this india madness? There is an Indian escape valve. A simple disarming trick: It is NLP mastery home grown in unconscious simplicity.
As I pass subzi wallahs camped on the foot path forcing everyone to walk on the road, at night the left lane becomes temporary parking for vege hunters. Oblivious as I approach from behind her a woman steps out I front forcing me to swing around her. Move – then look – 6 inches into traffic enough to effect a disruption to traffic and show your presence guaranteeing the continual sequence of stop-start.
Then she smiles her disarming smile and waggles her head.
Suddenly you know you can to can smile your troubles away Life is too short for anger. Waggle your head and the intense angry focus that propels you forward, watching every maddening possible collision, dissolves into the innocent smile of a child. Waggling your head as if you are harmless, innocent, in socks full of holes.
“Sorry uncle” she says like a child pretending she is not responsible for her actions. I know that’s not th e case. It is just a thought – a memory of studying child psychology.
What matters I simply cannot feel angry any mor simply because I waggled my head like a harmless kid.
Swinging through an intersection freed of cross traffic by a slowing bus. I am quickly asked by another cyclist “Travelling?” He is a young man taking a few seconds to decipher his accent “Tourist?”
“mai Australian hun. Likan Bhopal main ek sal raha hun. ”
“Australia. But now in Bhopal. Mai Bharat main tin sal raha hun.”
“I lived in Australia.”
“For how long?”
“Two years. Good bye.”
He immediately pulls left at the chowk we have just entered.
In a lather of sweat, a spreading rip cuts crossways across my cargo pants worn thin I guess by consant love to walk and cycle.
A women on a scooter, a second, pinioned behind her, attempts to get my attention.
“Handsome” she says.
“I doubt it “ I said, aware she had just seen the rip on my thigh, it was then I realized a black and tan stain was also below the knee, perhaps from kneeling as I photographed a Tribal Museum workshop.
“No, really” she says, pulling away, her left thumb raised in salute.
At 50, I’ll take any praise I can get.
I renew myself at A lot can happen over coffee – the meeting place of Westernized lovers without parental matchmakers and their wedding plans. (Oh yes, there are business people and families too.) A large latte costs 90 rupees – 18 chai’s from a street wallah, or $1.65 Australian. Unlike my last visit this brew has a need for a touch more coffee.
I am obviously more tired than I thought. Only mango for breakfast, 20 kilometres riding, and its approaching 5 PM. I needed my java!
Leaving, Squeezing through the entrance abutting the chowk, I don’t see the traffic light directly above my head and enter the open road, only then realizing why the road is clear.
Then I see the officer, chin in his hand, grateful he chooses to ignore it. I am grateful for his generosity. Explaining infringements as a firengi can be tricky.
Perhaps I am just now over tired. I will be more careful next time.