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Monday, February 8, 2016

Licensed To Thrill

It had been 35 years since I had got off my bicycle for one last time, never to get back on it ever again. I was 13 year old teen who had been forced to stop riding the bicycle for the crime of being a girl. Being mocked by my grandmother, eve teased by boys and looked down upon by the society, I did not have enough strength within me to fight those forces and do what I loved. Giving in was easy and cowardly, but I did. Shame on me!


Being born with a club foot or love for books never stopped me from enjoying outdoor sports like Throwball, koko, running or cycling. I drowned myself in books one day, only to run free the next.

Unfortunately, my family could neither understand nor support my sporting ventures, especially because I ended up with bruises so often. My mom feared that I would someday kill myself playing around, especially by cycling on my own. I never had a bicycle of my own, but would collect money to rent one and ride around, until I finally gave in to pressure and stopped.
Life moved on… I got married, had two children and settled down to pleading the rickshawallas to take me to a desired destination.
A typical conversation with our Bangalore 'Auto Raja.
Me: Will you take me to Jayanagar?
Auto Driver: No. I can take you to Wilson Garden if you want to.
Me: What will I do in Wilson Garden? I have work in Jayanagar.
Auto Driver: I don't know all that... if you want to go to Wilson Garden I will take you. BTW you have to pay me double the meter.
Me: I have to pay you double meter for taking me where I don't have to go???
Vrrrommmmm he drives away.

One fine day I thought of getting on a two wheeler to travel on the roads of Bangalore, a city known for its traffic jams and potholes. I had almost no experience of riding a scooter ever in my life and I was 47. Was it possible to learn to drive on the roads in a city like Bangalore at my age?
 The doubt kept me off the Honda Dio for nearly a month. One fine day I gulped down my fear and got on the vehicle.

I asked my sister in law to show where is the start button, accelerator and brake. She did. At first, I slowly pushed myself ahead to get the feel of the two wheeler. 25 minutes later, I switched it on. The rumbling of the engine felt like a roar of a monster sending shiver through my spine. But I wanted to do this. Slowly, I moved ahead with my legs dangling by the side of the scooter. One trip on the deserted road went fine. I kept moving up and down the road for few minutes when suddenly a car came from nowhere and scared me. In my hurry to move aside, I hit the accelerator and brakes at the same time. The scooter was not letting me confuse it in such manner. It revolted and threw me into the gutter.

The people from the car rushed to me asking if I was all right. They were really nice people who felt guilty of doing this to me. I had tough time assuring them that I was all right and this was not something new to me. A few more bruises added to my scarred body.

You may think that the disastrous first ride would have scared me off the scooter but it did not. Actually, I felt more encouraged that even if I fall, it is only going to be few bruises from which I can recover which was OK with me. It was difficult getting hang of riding a motorized vehicle at my age.  I tried again and again until I could master the scooter. After few weeks of practice, I was riding the scooter comfortably in deserted lanes.
Now came the second challenge of overcoming my fear of driving in the traffic. My heart would stop beating every time I saw a vehicle (even hand-cart) moving towards me. I was terrified of driving in the traffic even though I could ride the vehicle well on empty roads.

I decided to get my license before embarking on the roads, but that was not easy to come. My club foot stood in my way of getting license.I had to run around the Govt. Hospitals for the doctors to certify that it was OK for me to ride a scooter.  After a lot of running around, finally I got my first ever driving license at the age of 48.
Once I secured the license, I started taking the vehicle on Bannerghatta road early in the morning. The road always had enough traffic trickling to scare me. Slowly I practiced being relaxed and taking deep breaths whenever I felt a panic coming over me. Initially I started venturing out at 6 a.m. when the roads were virtually empty, but gradually added hours until I could go out at the rush hour of 8.45 a.m. I ran the risk of panicking in the middle of traffic jammed roads to meet with an accident, but the fear did not stop me from pursuing my goal. 

Was that the end of my fear? No! I could now ride comfortably on the route I was familiar with but every new route scared me. Persistence and reluctance by the autowallas not to take me to my destination finally motivated me enough to take a deep breath and start travelling around Bangalore on my two- wheeler.

Today, I have a sense of freedom which I have never felt before. It was as though I have developed wings to fly. It is true that if there is a will there will be a way (even if it is filled with potholes). I am licensed to thrill……..yay!


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