Saturday, August 18, 2012

Speed and the art of motorcycle driving...

 I grew up ,in what would be called today, an ecologically sustainable  and/or green time.

All  high school kids then hankered after their own bicycles, which formed what was euphemistically termed as "rush hour traffic"  on the Pune roads at 10 am. Few folks had cars, and they were sensibly used for sedate driving, without an iota of aggression. I remember, all cycles had to have some kind of municipal badge nailed on somewhere , which you paid for, and the cops always did surprise checks on the roads. Those found badgeless, simply had the air let out of their wheels, and a fine. The bikes also had clip-on lights for night riding, and upwardly mobile types had "dynamos". None of the cycles were of the type where you were positioned parallel to the road in a pseudo racing posture, designed to give you a Cubital tunnel syndrome.

They soon introduced scooters and scooterettes. You had to register for these, and there was a huge waiting period. Women's outfits had not changed in years, and women rode around on scooters and scooterettes, in sarees, with the palloos(ends) tucked in at the waist. The height of excitement was when some lady's saree paloo and pleats got entangled in the scooterette wheels , and there was a complete episode of Draupadi vastraharan at a prominent  junction of Lakdi Pool in Pune, as her saree unravelled and ravelled , with the cops helping her to disentangle .  It is pertinent to note that folks did not gape at her.  My father had purchased one of these scooterette things out of green considerations (lighter weight, smaller engine, lesser pollution), and we soon sold it off.

Motorcycles (Enfield bullets) had started appearing in the 50's ,  followed by the Bajaj Chetak scooter, which was as Blue Chip as you could get. The scooter was fairly safe by design , for saree clad types, and motorcycles had wheel guard things. Folks in rural areas around Pune, mainly agricultural folks,  favoured the motorcycles, for their ability to ride through bad roads and fields . The scooter was the urban counterpart.  At most times, folks had an abiding respect for vehicle power and speed.

Today, motorcycles and fancy fashionable two wheelers rule the roost. At least in Mumbai.  Helmets give a sense of anonymity, and the drivers seem to think they can take the law and road into their own hands.

In a country that drives on the left, it is understood that overtaking must happen from the right.  Sadly most motorcycle chaps in Mumbai do not know their lefts and rights.

You signal your intention to turn left for about half a kilometre before you actually do, and yet you have motorcycle fellows scraping by from the left, almost damaging your vehicle, and setting themselves up for a collision at the turning.  I have now taken to sticking my hand out of the window and glaring at the motorcycles from the passenger seat. Which kind of works, but what do you do when you are the driver ?

I have had occasion to get off a bus only to just avoid a collision with a motorcycle chap, revving in anger at having to stop, as he drives between the bus and the bus-stop, and to hell with whoever gets hit with his steering wheel.   You try to tell them something, since more folks are getting off the bus, and the fellow just shakes his helmeted visage mindlessly, and honks repeatedly. 

Yesterday, a news item  indicated that a cop tried to stop a bunch of two wheelers from getting on to a flyover , in the downtown area of Mumbai, where they were prohibited.    The drivers got so angry that they all beat up the cop and vamoosed as people rushed there.

I once saw a cop ticketing a motorcycle rider for not wearing a helmet/breaking traffic lights/speeding  and I asked why they didn't remove the air from the tyres (like they did in my cycling days).  There was an exchange of "papers"happening, the motorcycle chap gave me a mean look, and told me he paid his taxes . I had to inform him that I did too, and it didn't entitle him to speed and injure folks. The cop then tells me that if he stopped and flattened tyres of every culprit motorcycle, there would huge traffic jams behind. Which was not going to work.  

Today , two wheelers have become a "sport" for young folks, who are often "gifted" these "toys" straight out of high school. Sleek designs, colors, macho ads, and a derision of anything slow has become the norm. For the upper classes, the same thing holds , but in 4 wheelers of obscenely high horsepower levels.

Someone, somewhere has lost the art of decent responsible motorcycle driving.

Are we going too fast as a society ?  Yes we are, and we have lost all sensitivity regarding anything or anyone slow.  Riding rough shod over someone weaker is considered smart.   The proliferation of cell phone and Internet technologies, demanding and getting answers immediately,  has not helped.

People's perceptions have changed,  and sadly, one sees , on places like  Twitter and FB, a complete lack of sensitivity , with  people outrageously and blithely referring to "retard" as a look.  Thoughtless terminology and jumping on bandwagons without stopping to think. I have instantly "unfollowed" and "unfriended " folks  when I have come across this.   

Mumbai's increase in the police force has not kept up with the  traffic and population increase, thanks to it being the commercial capital and the endless immigration into the city.  It is customary for everyone to blame the police ad even talk derisively about them.

At some point, we need to self-police. We don't always need to strain at the leash vis-a-vis a censoring body.  We need speed controllers in our brains before someone decrees they be fitted on vehicles by law. Some built-in mental speed breakers like "thinking a bit" might yield a better life than constantly loading your lives with a fight-or-flight adrenaline flood.

This is not to rubbish those folks, who drive motorcycles intelligently, following strict rules of the road, with a decent respect for speed and its limitations. These people often understand their vehicles, the road and the rules, drive as a hobby, and there is strict adherence to self set or group rules.

Power corrupts. Power hurts .  Power spoils. Sometimes , the Power even goes. 

Whether it is about riding a horse or a motorcycle, or mindlessly violently reacting to something, like someone said, most motorcycle problems are caused by the nut that connects the handlebars to the saddle.


  1. It's a terrible situation today. Young people on bikes often do not care about others. Sometimes they don't seem to care about themselves, either! Has life become so cheap that they can risk it for a few thrills?

    Completely agree that self-policing/ regulation is necessary. In the context of our Indian tradition, freedom does not mean absence of regulations. Here freedom means swa-tantrata [self-regulation].

  2. Took me right back to the days when cycles could cause heavy traffic :) I remember those licences and the lights that used to be powered by oil and wick lamps in my brothers' cycles. Alas, we were not the upwardly mobile types :)

    When money power speaks, no one can be heard, least of all sane voices of tax payers. In Delhi, even cars are used like the two-wheelers and sedate drivers like us have to look out for THEIR mistakes lest we get hit.

  3. LOL on this post...

    1. I think you belong to my Appa's era..he often speaks about bicycles with headlights and how the police in Madras used to puncture the bicycle wheels

    2. Enfields - My Appa had one even when I was like in class 2 or something then sold off because of his slip disc long term plan in life is to own and ride one :) I can ride a bike though, but not enfield

    3. Two wheeler in Mumbai - Scary..though I am a big fan of two Baroda that was like the main mode of transport thanks to the hopelessly bad public transport..but I hardly ride in Bombay..its getting from bad to worse..the other day, R and I got off the BEST bus and one biker almost hit R (She was ahead of me and I was just getting off the bus) Thank God, one guy just pulled R towards him other wise I shudder to think what would happen!!! They just DONT CARE!! I mean this bus is standing totally on the left side and YET this guy is so much in a hurry that he rushes through the left :(

    okie, now this is becoming a post, I am stopping

    oh wait, I loved that one sometimes Power even goes :)