Everything looked ideal at the launch of my ride from Allahabad to Mumbai. I had the leathers to comfort me in the hostile winters of the three states I will be riding through; the haversack was hanging happily on the left side and most importantly, Kartoos (my motorcycle) sounded gruesomely hungry, impatient to swallow 1400 km. I was excited and thrilled about the lonely ride. I always liked riding alone, because it gave me the freedom of halting anywhere, light a cigarette and look around.
The first day of my ride was customary, as I started at 1 in the afternoon, and expected to reach Jabalpur by 8 P.M and take refuge in a hotel. Covering 400 hundred kms in 8 hours wasn’t easy. The road conditions and other motorists such as drunk and sleepy truck drivers make the passage very thorny.
After exiting from the borders of Allahabad, I entered the dreaded area of Reva, which I refer to as the Red Town. The flying red soil from the earth creates blinding layers of dust. The roads are completely disintegrated with innumerable ‘dinoholes’. Certainly, the most treacherous road I have ever ridden on, in my 15 years of riding experience; it took me 3 hours to traverse 25 kms, whilst my knuckles cried out of pain managing the clutch of a 500 cc engine and balancing the meteoric 200kgs machine. Curiously, this town’s red looks chillingly synonyms with its bloody track record. That’s right; it is judged as one of the most violent in Uttar Pradesh. Anyway, I reached Jabalpur around 9 P.M. and took shelter in a hotel on the Russell Street, albeit no one knew who Russell is.
The second day started early and I left the hotel at around 5 in the morning, with the intention to chug the 250 kms between Jabalpur and Nagpur swiftly. The roads connecting the two cities and the two states can also be utilized as a runway for private jets, as its temptingly wide with no sign of human existence for as long as 25 kms at a stretch. Open went my throttle and I had some serious fun on this stretch.
Covering 250 km in 3 hours should validate that expression. But, soon all this was to come to an end like a bubble burst.
As I entered Maharashtra, the rain came pouring down leaving me surprised. Keeping me occupied expecting that the rain would cease in no time as it doesn’t rain in the month of November, for the first few minutes I tried to remain calm and oblivious towards the frightening thought of riding in rains.
After seeing no let up in its determination to deprive me of my riding rights, I pulled over and lit a cigarette this time not to introspect or to open any imaginative window of my mind but to console my nerves, suffering from anxiety currently. I decided to have a cup of tea and contemplate the strategies to deal with the beautiful adversary. By now I was completely wet and the frosty rains had done what it’s capable of; I had started to freeze. Sitting in a cot at a dhaba on the precincts Nagpur I started calculating the cons and cons of riding further; I reached some depressing conclusions.
Rains make the roads wet and slippery, which hinders the speed of a motorised bicycle and things get worse as the human body is directly exposed to the lashes. This meant I will be suffering from brutal body pain in the next couple of hours. Wet glasses make the vision murky and I didn’t have vipers on my cosy goggles and had to get rid of them, which meant aching eyes. Besides all this rains create a deceitful milieu for riders and drivers alike.
Consequently, I suffered the first nervous breakdown after I reckoned the blitz of these nuisances that will be unleashed on me if the rains did not impede.
Finding no solutions for these intimidating problems, I got back in the saddle and started riding again. In the meantime, my endeavour to find a wind-cheater was on; astonishingly I didn’t find one with the right dimensions till I reached Nasik (600 kms from Nagpur).
As expected the speed was reduced drastically due to the wet roads and vision spoiling rains. I kept riding with wet clothes and boots for another eight hours with frequent halts at highway dhabas. Invading dhabas every 50 km and almost melting my body whilst standing close to the tandoors had become a convention. Because of these tandoors my bones remained serviceable for the 12 hours of spiteful rain-riding.
I witnessed approximately 8 to 10 accidents between Nagpur and Mumbai involving vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Most of the accidents were caused due to the unforeseen rains and overwhelmed road conditions.
From Allahabad to Mumbai at least 50% of the highway is getting overhauled according to the Golden Quadrilateral plan commenced during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as the PM. The highway of Akola is a part of this renovation plan as well; hence the hard work to make these roads better is in progress. And the government employees were too busy to notice that the construction materials such as sand, tar, blue metal et al were scattered all over the motorway, which can lead to a catastrophe. The combination of water, pollution and dust had just been perfected with the tar and blue metal blended in it with the topping of innumerable potholes. Now, it was more difficult to see and ride.
At times, potholes look shallower than they actually are; I underestimated the depth of one such pothole. While trying to overtake a truck, I slammed into a real deep one, which gave me wings. When Kartoos’s front suspension went into it, I felt the rear tyre lifted over the ground.
Despite the numbness that commands one’s mind after crashing, I had developed a habit to always run to the beast and probe the injuries it sustained before examining mine. I tried to continue with my own unscripted convention in this crash as well. I ran to Kartoos, lifted it and hustled it to the side of the road, where I parked it on the centre stand. Then, I sat with my back resting on a tree and smoked a cigarette. I had suffered many minor cuts and bruises on my palm and knees, but my right calf was burnt a little too wide after coming in contact with Kartoos’s exhaust pipe.
Post-accident I sat on the side of the road for an hour, applying tooth paste on my burnt calf, with Kartoos resting on the centre stand still looking impregnable, while the Lorries and S.T buses moved at a snail’s pace.
There was no civilization for 100 km. back and forth. After the accident, my body suffered bruises but my mind almost went kaput. I felt miserable, desperate to reach home and feel the warmth of my cave. I tried to call my loved ones but my cell phone couldn’t find signal in this God forbidden land. Luckily, Kartoos forgave me for my madness and started at the first kick. I had to ignore the bruises, get back in the saddle and keep riding.
“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it”
– John Steinbeck.
I kept riding while the darkness covered the lands. At 9 into the night I was too tired to study the road I was riding on; I simply kept following the tail lights of S.T buses and big Lorries to cover the distances that seemed endless. The combination of water, tar and oil with disintegrated roads is lethal. If it wasn’t for these bigger vehicles, in fact I might not have reached Mumbai for another 3 days.
That night for the first time in my life, I regretted being alone. I was riding on the lonely roads with no civilization around to find solace in, in these tough times; the only moving objects around were irritable vehicles with their doors shut.
Contemplating the appalling circumstances I was in, I prayed for my life and hoped that I don’t die tonight. There were many odds which would play a significant role in making this prophecy come true such as deep pot holes, isolated and slippery roads passing through virgin forests, drunken truck drivers not bothered to run over a motorcyclist, local hoodlums who give wings to the rider by inserting lathis in the front tyre and then robbing him of his possessions, perhaps life. And what if no one ever discovered what happened to me.
When these cynical opinions barraged my worn out senses, I wondered what if I was accompanied by someone I knew and would trust, things would have been simpler then. People always criticized me for being reclusive, eccentric and self-interested and tonight I wished I shouldn’t have been so raw. Most of the times I rode alone. Going to movies and eating out alone; I ignored friends, family, God and I regretted all this tonight; when the fear of death engrossed my wits and loneliness stung me like a venomous snake, I realized the significance of relationships, friendships and love.
Subsequently, I indulged in the process of answering imaginative questions to myself, such as why we live together in societies, why we talk to each other, why we look at each other, because its a human desire to be loved, to be cared about, to be touched, to be spoke with; I seemed to have concluded the true meaning of life.
And while contemplating these enlightening conclusions, I saw a sign board that read Welcome to Nasik, which meant this ordeal of mine was close to an end.
Being too particular about the sanitation and other facilities of a hotel room wasn’t on my to-do list that night. When I entered Nasik, the mission was to capture a warm bed; I rode towards the first hotel that appeared on the horizon. I parked Kartoos cautiously, unleashed the haversack tied on the left side of its rear frame and invaded the hotel.
An old Sikh man in his 60s sat at the reception in the centre of the hall that was faintly lit and a gilt framed photo of Baba Nanak hung above us all on the wall behind the table. I went up to him shivering like someone possessed and asked “Khaat milegi tau?” He looked at me suspiciously and asked if I have an identification proof and instantly started blaming the recent bomb blasts for his rude conduct. Sure I said and bent down to open my wet haversack, which had water pouring out of it and wet clothes were being awkward to handle. While I was searching for my wallet I looked up and saw that the old man was sneaking at me with his shoulders resting over the counter. I didn’t blame him for this; I actually seemed like a suspect on the run.
Finally, I found my wallet and handed my licence over to him, he read it thoroughly and called Ganesh, the room service boy to take me to my room. I asked for his permission before lighting a cigarette and waited for Ganesh to come and take me to my room and the lovely thing called Bed.
A teenage boy came promptly and asked if he can lift the haversack for me, I denied and told him to take me to the room immediately, which he did; he was smart to understand my desperation. We went one flight up and reached the room I will be spending the big night in. He opened the door and I saw it, the sacred bed, which I felt was calling me with open arms.
Ganesh asked me if I need anything, when I answered in a firm no, he obediently left the room and I locked the door. Then I went off to sleep after having a quick bath with hot water.
I woke up around 11 in the morning and felt rejuvenated after the deep and comfortable sleep. I stood on the bed with my back resting on the wall and wondered about the things I did and the torment I went through in the last 2 days. I recalled the thoughts that haunted me the night before and how I hung on; the human desire to stay alive is avid. I stood up and opened the windowpane and the fresh breeze filled the room. I looked out through the window, there weren’t many vehicles on the street even during this time of the day; public holiday was declared due to the diabolical rains.
I went out on the street and at a garment shop found a wind-cheater that fit me. I cleared my bill at the hotel and came to Kartoos. Kartoos has stood by me through all this like a real buddy, I concluded. I swung my right leg over, settled in the saddle and rode out of the city aristocratically on the road that took me home, through the beautiful Kasara ghat. The rains continued its onslaught, but couldn’t bother me any more as I said to myself and to the rains “I have been through the worst”.
This journey hasn’t just altered my opinion about travelling, riding, people, God, love, family, life, death, loneliness but has changed me as a person. Albeit, I was scared at times and felt awful most of the times due the anguish that was meted out to me by the unpredicted November rains, I kept laughing at the circumstances throughout.
The man who penetrated the confines of Mumbai on 16th November wasn’t the same who left it 15 days back. These were indisputably the most intricate days of life.