Monday, March 27, 2006

The steed was de-lighted. Her lights were refusing to work. That fact came into my cognizance only after I'd slithered onto the Bangalore highway on my way back home. Which fact, you'll quite agree, is distinctly unfunny at a quarter past ten in the night on a dark highway, particularly when 15 km of that thoroughfare has planted itself between you and home.

During previous rides, the headlight being in order had quite attenuated my sensitivity to the fact that there were, in fact, no street lights on the said highway. I could, of course, navigate the steed by the lights of the city that loomed beyond the knolls and go at 70 or so, but proceeding for some 10 meters sufficed to convince me of the hopeless inadequacy of the said so-called illumination for the requisite speed.

I was by now 10 meters ahead, which quite ruled out the possibility of going all the way back into the city and clutching the old highway. There was lethargy pertinent to the extra distance to be driven, there was also what I was trying to tell myself was pride, and how I'd be proud to have driven at 70kmph in pitch darkness – tale for grandchildren and that sort of thing.

Easy does it, I thought. All I need do is latch onto another motorcyclist and follow his tail light. Other motorcyclists were quite at the desired speed, so I let go as soon as the next whizz went past, and charged ahead. Seeing a blot of red 20 meters ahead and heading straight on in that general direction shouldn't be that difficult, I told myself.

A curve announced its arrival by the shoving the road away to my right, and this I had to negotiate without the benefit of any sort of illumination, for the red dot lit no part of the road, and illuminated nothing but itself. Being on the edge of the road, ambitious of touching 70, it isn't the easiest of tasks to avoid contemplating the possibility of the tar underneath your wheels sprinting off to your right and giving way to gravel, or worse - to bushes and vegetation lining the road, or to ditches and drains that were in equal abundance, or for that matter to air which would gladly proclaim its presence whenever the road would prop itself upwards.

Thoughts of the sort, therefore, walked into my head, checked in and made themselves comfortable. By now, the red spot had drifted away. The gently rising embankments of the hillock lay both to my left and right – those on my right being pockmarked by sparks, by dots of various shades of yellow and white of the city lights that punctured the darkness like shards of broken glass glinting in sunlight, but which sparkles stubbornly refused to be bright enough to show me my way ahead.

There were other red lights I could chase, and I could even do so at 60-70. But to do so and simultaneously stay on the road was, I reluctantly admitted to myself, rather beyond my abilities, considerable as they might be. I therefore resigned myself to having to take the steed along at 30 or so. Due deceleration was effected.

Given the highway was this one, I feared that a pace of 30 odd would amount to sheer torture. The next swing of the road to the left drove into exile such, and all other thought, for I was by now really paying attention, really looking, concentrating, on what I could see nothing whatsoever of. Call it survival instinct if you must – not wanting to end up on a hospital bed, I must humbly confess, does come rather naturally to me.

For the first time since I had begun driving, I was actually looking ahead, forward, and not sideways. What was my sole concern was what was immediate, and not any of the accompanying frills or sideshows. Sometimes, while on the road, when you see, love the people, the landscapes, the hills, the rivers, the skies, you miss the road itself – it's easy to skip the obvious.

I could today see the dull, dark twin blotches stroll away ahead of me, and see nothing but that. There were occasional shimmers of the radium signposts flanking the path, there was the yellow-white stripe on the left edge following it loyally to the end of the world, there were thickets that you could only see the outlines of – that earlier rides had told you were the clumps of bougainvillea that had sprung from the dividers. The road waved about left and right in curls whose roundedness I had never noticed before – somehow all that seemed to have mattered before was the speedometer reading. Mohandas had told me too – there's more to life than increasing its speed. The smooth curvature – like that of an infant's cheeks, looked like one huge, unconcerned swoosh of some cosmic paintbrush.

Sometimes embracing the hillocks, sometimes breaking free to be all by itself, sometimes taking a peek at a the shimmying of a lake that lay downstairs, occasionally crawling underneath bridges, sometimes wiggling between cliffs, at times going up on its toes to skip across rivulets, the road stretched itself out upon its back as it lay down underneath the blanket of the inky sky, even as the occasional roar of an overtaking vehicle dissolved into a crimson speck in the distance.

It moved on seemingly in ripples - flutters that used to be concealed from you before by speed, preoccupations, everything else you thought was terribly important. It gently, softly sauntered up, making of itself a mound that you felt you could almost slide off, and as it leisurely ambled down the rise I saw a glimmering stream of golden yellow, which was all you could see of the lights of the few oncoming vehicles there were at this time. It was an incandescent dribbling brook of gold that sputtered irregularly forth from far ahead, and lay before you in a neat straight line comprising of fluorescent droplets. The intermittent, discontinuous garland of approaching embers threaded together by the black of the road gave out a dazzle that glared into your eyes as it approached, and for that reason I had to try all the more harder to see the road directly ahead, immediately underneath my tyres.



***

One is reminded of these verses. Also these, and these.

Monday, March 06, 2006

There’re times when something you read or see exactly reflects what you think, but have never, ever managed to put down in writing. I came across Rahul Bhatia writing about traveling alone, and doing it not just beautifully but with the sort of truthfulness that’s a relief after you see writer after writer, traveler after traveler reduce the act of travel to clich├ęs, to what it is supposed to be, to what you simply know by experience is, if not contrived and fake, infinitely less fun. This is simply because most travelers treat chronicles as advertisements they have to design so as to make travel look cute and/or macho, and not a depiction of what they’ve actually felt. Sexiness demands careful decoration and packaging, but all that beauty asks for is the truth.

Admittedly, what Rahul writes isn’t all there is – there’s so much more to freestyle travel. But it is so incredibly difficult to transmogrify an experience, a sensation, a feeling into dry, neatly chiseled words, almost as if to say nature is as orderly, as regimented as we wish it to be, and that we can conveniently fold and fit its sensations into the colorful gift-wrapping of words. Difficult is probably the wrong word, writing is easy enough, it’s just that the write up seems so grotesque an approximation of the reality, you just feel you’re killing the spirit of the ride by doing it. You only feel like writing about something as precious, as personal as freestyle travel if you can bring to the writing at least some of the beauty, some of the truth that you’ve actually experienced.

**

Biking alone, while a subset of freestyle travel, is so very different. You are aware, awake, switched on all the time(you crash if you aren’t), so you perceive the fine details, the trifles that, while being easy-to-miss, light up your day once you spot them.

It’s crucial to take time and distance out of the equation, the augh-there-might-be-a-ghat-ahead-to-slow-me-down, eek-the-engine-is-hot, I-simply-have-to-get-there-before-5pm types of rides with a place to get to, a deadline to meet that would perch on the back of your mind, those types of rides – on bikes or otherwise, considerably diminish pleasure by their persistent nagging.

It’s so much freeing to just go, not have to get anywhere, amble, sit back, stop, look around. 400 laid back km a day are so much more satisfying than 650 frenzied ones(as I learnt during the last trip, a frantic rush to Panjim and back). The thought made me make my plans for subsequent rides much less grandiose – I’d originally planned to run about all over south India, go everywhere and see everything. It’s a choice that, I realize, while enabling me to see more, would let me appreciate what I saw so much less. The plan is therefore revised, we have resolved to go more slowly, see lesser number of places, but we’ll see more of each of them, and love them so much more.

**
On a bike, you realize, more acutely than on any means of public transport, what no Liverpudlian will tell you – that you always walk alone. Oddly, it’s a feeling that at once releases as well as frightens you – you see clearly that there’s nothing ever that you really need or require, all you need is yourself, and yet, that if you crash, or break down, or get robbed, you’re all alone, naked, with no other resource than yourself to look to.

**

It turns out, Rahul has been in Revdanda too, a piece of knowledge that corrected a belief that no non-Revdanda-ian other than me had been in the place(please note - passing through a place or seeing it is NOT the same as being there). I was able to stay there only a couple of hours, regretting that I had to go on, so I will reluctantly admit that Rahul partook more of what Revdanda had to offer. However, it was determined back then that Revdanda would be revisited, so all is well.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Peter Roebuck writes in the first issue of the Cricinfo magazine:
 

Watching Brian Lara bat is a delight to put beside African sunsets, dry white wine, eating a ripe mango, catching a wave, reading PG Wodehouse and listening to Mozart and Bob Dylan. In short, the Trinidadian satisfies the senses. Even the most jaded cricketing palate belonging to an ancient reporter condemned to decades of fretting about 12 th men and cloak and dagger Indian politics feels his guard slipping as Lara constructs a humble defensive stroke. Having reluctantly accepted that the ball cannot be put away with the certainty demanded by his circumstances, Lara does not lower himself merely to interrupting the ball's progress. Rather he constructs an ornate and yet impenetrable blockade that serves its purpose without giving too much ground to the prosaic. Never has 'thou shalt not pass' been so prettily done.
 

Makes you realize, a thing of beauty inspires otherwise prosaic imaginations to quite beautiful creations. It was only someone as beautiful as Brian who could cause Roebuck to erupt into such prose. Reminded me of other writers whom the man's deeds have similarly moved – in particular, write ups on that 153 at Bridgetown, the 213 at Jamaica and that series in Sri Lanka. Also brought to memory some people with not-so-great-English who amazed me by coming up with some brilliant writing simply because they wrote of what they were in love with.
 

(Alas, I cant find a soft copy of the complete article, so cant link it.)
 

**
 

And then there're sub-headlines like
 

After the 2004 incident, the men in blue lost a one dayer in Peshawar again. But they ENJOYED a different date with history in the city after visiting the Khyber pass.
 

And titles like
 

Hutch in their clutch
 

That's the new Sportstar's abysmal formatting. The upper case is for emphasis, I quite agree – but surely we aren't that stupid? That kind of juvenile formatting is an insult. I cant imagine how people like Rohit Brijnath, Ram Mahesh and Brian Glanville allow their articles to be thus ravaged.