I feel women and bikes are the best combination ever! As is oft quoted: ‘Women can be fussy and when treated right can give you the world’. Same with bikes! Bike- riding has contributed more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. As I read somewhere two-wheeler riding gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I am elated every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…a perfect picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.
Well my love-hate relationship with two-wheelers started right after marriage and all credit/discredit goes to my husband. The very first incident still makes me cringe with embarrassment. I had just joined my husband in Visakhapatnam, and one fine morning I decided to take a look around the city on my own. On my return as soon as I entered my residential compound, I saw someone waving at me while zipping past me, I declined to wave as I thought I was hallucinating my favourite TV series ‘Street Hawk- The Man, the Machine’ character who has been my dream man ever since I saw that TV series. My 17days old brand new husband had geared up alike in biking finery – black biker jacket, gloves, helmet etc. and to top it was riding someone else’s bike. He turned around and screeched to a halt right beside me which made me jump in fright a few inches off the ground. He grinned wickedly at my reaction and asked me to hop on. I was not much convinced seeing the bike as to my dismay, the bike had nothing to hold onto while being seated at the back. Being a newly married bride, I was little hesitant to hold him in public view, so I wore the extra helmet he had carried and primly sat at the back lady-like without holding onto anything. No sooner he started the bike and turned around I became a victim of the gravitational pull and felt myself flying off the rear seat.
Lo and behold!! A minute ago I was a coy pillion rider and seconds later I found myself plopped in the middle of the road with my purse and its belongings scattered all over for public viewing. I was horrified to see blotches of black and blue on my arm and could feel the bruises on my legs. Helplessly, I saw my husband coolly riding away not realizing that his pillion rider was now seated in all glory in the middle of road. After a few anxious moments he realized his wife has vanished into thin air and to resolve the mystery of my disappearing act, he looked back and saw me sprawled on the road with a crowd of men all around trying to help me stand up. I was so embarrassed that I refused to take off my helmet thinking that at least with my helmet on, the sympathetic crowd that had gathered around me, would fail to recognize next time whenever they see me. Even in my pain, I was happy to indulge myself with all the empathies and sympathies that I was gathering from the crowd. My husband spoiled this moment by stepping inside the crowd, picking me up and with a twinkle in his eye, coolly told the crowd –‘Don’t worry she is my brave wife, it would just take a few drops of iodine in the First Aid room of the nearby hospital to put her back on her feet in a jiffy’. It took all my efforts on hearing this to stay calm, not abandon him and not flee to some safe destination where iodine was unheard of!!All my expectation of oodles of pampering from my husband was washed down the drain and I dejectedly headed back home cursing the world at large. Once we reached home however, I was fussed over to no end, so after this incident whenever I cross the main gate of my residential compound, recollecting this embarrassing incident still brings a naughty smile to my lips.
Undeterred by this incident, one fine morning I urged my reluctant husband to let me learn bike riding. I assured him that the bike being five years old it obviously was the most suitable machine to sharpen my skills and as it is I perfectly drove my Kinetic Honda, so his bike was not at much risk. After much tears and cajoling he took me to a deserted road near Dolphin Hill and started with explaining the basics –clutch, gear, brakes. With him seated at the back, I confidently started off and managed quite well for the first few minutes. Thereafter, I decided to accelerate and show him how adept a learner I was. As luck would have it, while I was busy putting my decision into action a big, brown and a very healthy snake decided to cross the road a few metres ahead, right in front of my bike. Though I consider myself very upfront and brave but where slimy and slithery creatures are concerned I fail to muster any courage to confront them even at a distance. I simply froze and forgot that there is a part called brakes which can be utilized to the fullest, at times of such crisis. I refused to put my foot down, so my husband had to press the brake and also balance the bike along with the driver. In this melee of managing so many things we ended up having our ‘great fall’. Thankfully my instructor-cum-husband refrained from any sarcastic comment and we continued our lessons which boosted my confidence. While returning home, right near a busy junction, I looked at the bike mirror and realized my instructor was nowhere to be seen which scared me out of my wits. A quick thought ran in my mind-‘Was I deserted because of that fall’?? Without thinking I turned my head to trace my absconding husband when I found him bending down to pull out some weeds from the shoe. Relieved and realizing that as a driver I should look towards the road in front, I turned my attention back at the road albeit a second late as I heard a loud ‘Aiyoo’!!!Along with a string of expletives, which thankfully, I failed to understand due to my ignorance regarding Telugu. To my horror, I saw I had managed to hit a traffic cop and he was splayed flat on the road. My husband quickly jumped down and rushed to help the cop stand back on his feet. My husband somehow managed to pacify the cop and I escaped with just a stern reminder from the cop that ‘drivers need to be careful and should always look in the front’. I know the readers by now especially men must be smirking recollecting the innumerable jokes about women and their driving skills. But I firmly believe that one learns from one’s mistakes. I never gave up and today I can proudly say that I can ride two-wheelers safely and without being a cause of nightmare to my husband when I drive out. Jokes aside, I have had breakdowns, falls and a lot of funny incidents while brushing up my driving skills. Rather than being demoralizing, these incidents have just added to make my two-wheeler trips all the more charming and memorable. I also know that I have a staunch supporter back at home – my husband, who has never clipped my wings and has been the wind beneath all my driving endeavours which has always propelled me to try harder . ‘If I could, I would ride for the rest of my life, and perhaps even beyond’.
© Paromita Mukherjee Ojha