In the year since we last met, I’ve given into the clutches of crony American consumerism and made an old dream come true. I bought a Harley-Davidson. A real one, at that! It’s got a shiny layer of black competing for space with a shinier layer of chrome, a large air-cooled V-Twin weighing the whole thing down and even wire-spoke wheels to assert its old-school personality. Of course, it all came together in a moment of sheer irrationality, but by the time I realised it, I was already hanging onto its ape hangers with two sweaty palms and riding it home. I hoped my mismatched signatures on the purchase order forms would make it all come undone but no luck there. I have a Harley-Davidson I can call my own now, whether I like it or not.
The motorcycling world of today has very little elbow room to offer a 300-kg pushrod-engined specimen. I’ve thought long and hard and, truthfully, there’s no real rationale to a motorcycle of its kind. Except nostalgia and an inexplicable infatuation for the American way of life. You know, the sort of lovably ignorant first-world manner of existence, all a bit wonderfully stuck in time. Like an episode of one of those pointless but hopelessly voyeuristic car shows that air on Discovery Turbo. It’s all so oafish and uncomplicated, you want a piece of that! And you thought the lure of the west was all about its advancements, eh?
The motions of being alone on a heavily laden motorcycle pointed seaward are all so familiar now, it has created a funny space in my head. Beyond the initial ‘systems check’ mindset, where I listen overattentively for any sign of impending mechanical doom, it’s all such an indulgent blank canvas. At the expense of sounding plain weird, I have to state I really enjoy my own company on a motorcycle ride. That guy is interesting, really thoughtful, a bit odd but generally nice. I like long rides because it re-introduces me to the guy that once used to be. You don’t walk away from a dream run and expect to emerge unscathed, let’s be honest. It hasn’t been easy, not being a fixture on these pages.
Motoring never really goes away, though. We’re a tight family bound by love — for stories and machines alike — but also by a compulsive dislike for the conveniences of norms. That statement doesn’t gel well with the questionable things most of us who left are presently occupied with — hey, you need YoY de-growth statistics for Rane Brake Lining? But there’s some solace in finding each other across a table amply weighed down by profusely sweating beer mugs, every now and then. At the other end of my ride was exactly this kind of scenario. A sprawling lawn, familiar faces that stretched almost into the sea we had gathered against, all brought together by the occasion of my best friend’s wedding festivities. Kartik exchanged vows with the love of his life, a formidable young aviator I have the privilege of calling a dear friend, and of course we were all going to be there!
A couple of days earlier, I was exchanging vows of another kind — with my newly acquired old motorcycle — promising to shower it with affection if it didn’t choose to implode between my limbs as we bobbed down the incomplete NH66 leading to Goa. The NH66 — or Route 66, as I am tempted to call it — is quite on the other end of the life-spectrum as its American counterpart. While Route 66 survives purely because the Americans latch on to every opportunity to romanticise anything of remote historic relevance, NH66 is a revival route. It swishes and sways past towns of forgotten significance, brandishing its concrete authority with no regard for blending in with the existing aesthetic. It bodes well for the future of motoring between Mumbai and Goa, though, so it’s not really the bad guy. Maybe in the future, the route itself defines the aesthetic of the region. Who’s to say?
It was unbearably hot for a November afternoon, so I lowered the zipper on my jacket a bit. After scanning the horizon for a spot of shade, with no luck, I continued to ride on. The twin-cam V-Twin didn’t seem to be struggling with the ambient heat, and since 100 kph comes in at 2300 rpm, I wasn’t too concerned about the engine spilling its contents out onto the highway. I came across a derelict ‘gas station’, visibly abandoned all those years ago (if only they’d have known). Since nothing seemed to indicate I’d be shot or sued for trespassing, I pulled in.
The patchy remnants of its erstwhile roof cast enough shade to seek shelter under, even if it did little to take away from the heat. I shed my jacket, extracted an insulated flask from my tail bag, gulped down the iced Americano I’d poured into it earlier, and then sat by a rusty fuel dispenser, pondering the circumstances that had brought me there. Not in that specific moment, I mean, but in life. I was all of thirty-three (at the time of writing this story), riding a decade-old thirdhand motorcycle made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with absolutely no backup, no tools of any real consequence, sipping on a drink not known for its ability to cure dehydration and feeling rather insignificant. Maybe this is part of the ‘American way’, too. A life dictated by consumption, with an extended period of wandering followed by reminiscence, and an eventual decline into lengthy obsoletion. It seems primitive enough to suit the American stereotype.
Bad decisions aren’t a part of life. They’re a part of stupidity. A voluntary inability to foresee, an overpowering urge to find discomfort in the serene. The clearest voice in the room could be telling you what not to do, and you’ll still do it. It comes with an innate confidence in wading through, emerging perhaps from a pattern of the past. Nobody dies, sure, except a dream or two, as collateral damage. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time now but rather than brood about it — except now, before you point it out — I believe it’s brewing something spectacular. Such tremendous potential energy! It can’t just fizzle out.
All For A Song
With the roadworks seeming to have disappeared, I settled at a brisker 120 kph. Nah, too fast; 100 seems to work better for me. Eight hours into a ride, self-preservation comes instinctively. You’re enjoying it so much, every moment in the seat of an elaborate motorcycle, a perfect synchronisation of sensations. Why would you want it to end? On a motorcycle, whether you happen to be racing it or not, you’re mostly just out there to find and then experience a rhythm. That’s the bit that’s addictive about it. Not the corners, not the straights, but when it all, you included, becomes one. It was a relaxing moment, realising I was on a Harley-Davidson of my own, one that was working flawlessly. I made a song about it, set to a Dire Straits sound, if you will.
What’s a man like me
To do in a temple?
For I have sinned and forgiven
Oh, humour me!
A tank of gas, and memories
And old friends to meet
Is there much else left to do
On the road to Milwaukee?
What’s God got to do
With a man like me?
I didn’t mind the rain so much when it came lashing down just around dusk. It was alright. I wasn’t going to need my riding gear for the next four days, and I was now so far into the ride, I could have low-sided and still reached Goa on momentum alone. The hardened Harley-branded tyres on my Street Bob were there pretty much only for effect. It was fun, because I slipped and slid my way through, like in the good old days. You get rusty with time, but you never really let it go away completely. Just in case.
Aisle Do It
The days that unfolded in Goa were beautiful. It wasn’t so much a coming together of friends as it was an opportunity to do the kind of things that define us — things that are entrenched in unadulterated happiness, with and for each other. The day of the most important union of your life — at least among the ones you get to choose — is typically about your significant other. Unless you happen to be Kartik and the girl who holds his life together. They brought together chapters of their individual lives, took us on a journey that would put to shame even the most finely curated of adventure expeditions, got us moist-eyed and aching with laughter all at once, and set the benchmark for what the very beginning of a significant moment of life should be like. You’d want to get married just to be able to live that kind of day. I do, for one.
Only days after I had returned, it was time to again point my motorcycle in the direction of Goa. I changed nothing, except the decision to travel with a lighter load, figuratively too. You’d expect the familiarity of such a ride to lead to boredom, but it really isn’t like that. I get why familiarity is so underrated; the comfort it breeds is so easy to overlook because it camouflages the intensity and fulfilment of everything you do. You see it as a bad thing, a limitation, and so the gratification of home withers against the recognition of the world outside. It’s exactly what drives a 20-something year old out of the home he grew up in. Oh, the sheer stupidity of it all!
They say familiarity breeds contempt — yes, that’s its natural trajectory — but it doesn’t have to, you know? There is always a way. If there wasn’t, you wouldn’t be hunched over this freshly-printed magazine in the Internet Age, kept alive by a passionate bunch 25 years since Bijoy first breathed life into it. A little over 25 of us wouldn’t have lived the lives we have — lives driven by dreams and stories, not enterprises and ‘verticals’.
I never thought I’d say this, but the Americans really do know a thing about the quality of life, don’t you think? Behind the illusion of a firstworld nation, they’re really just a bunch of simple old people, enjoying all the primitive pleasures of life before it dawns upon the world. Or maybe that’s really what the ‘first world’ was always all about — a life of celebrating old migration routes, cheap ‘gas’ and Harley-Davidsons.