Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vain Reaction

It was a few minutes past midnight. The splashing rain drops in front of me got illuminated suddenly by the head-lamp of a car fast approaching from behind. It was probably a metre or so away from my cycle when I cut to the right to negotiate a puddle. But the driver slowed down to give me space; a courtesy you don’t often get from megalomaniacs – the average Chennai driver.

This car had slowed, then it overtook me and the driver looked at me: Can’t blame him for that, can I? I was a sight!

Wearing a three-fourth pants and my rain coat over my t-shirt, I was half drenched, pedalling in the steady cadence I have attained after a year of the ‘cycling to office’ routine.

Besides, seeing someone cycle at midnight in heavy rain is something people are not used to either. So I decided to forgive this driver, who happened to be the big-boss at office, my Resident Editor.

He looked and then zoomed past me, perhaps trying to figure out what I was trying to prove or gain by braving the elements, when I could take the office car and reach home safe and dry.

Same question was asked by a senior colleague of mine. “Are you crazy? The entire city is flooded and you just take your cycle and come to office. What if you fall or something?” he had quipped, in a scolding tone.

I just smiled and blabbered something about the fun of riding in the rain. In the last one year I have answered a lot of questions like these, but more importantly, I could find answers to a lot of questions from within me during my long solitary rides. I dream while I ride you see and only cycling can provide you with that opportunity.

And I have seen my share of adrenalin rushes too – all with my soul-mate here in this city, the lady in red, my cycle.

And the city is fast catching up with the idea of going green and healthy on two wheels, I was told by a friend of mine through her article in the newspaper she works.

She was featuring ‘Chain Reaxion’, the group which organises a 40-km monthly ride to Mahabalipuram, an effort to popularise cycling among the city’s young as well as the old elite. My writer friend went on to add, quoting one of the celebrity members of the group, about the impact cycling is making in their lives and the environment.

Good for them, but I just can’t digest the “good for the environment” bit!

I bet my saddle-hardened rear side that it ain’t making any difference to the toxin-infested Chennai air. Is the city getting green because a bunch of wine-sippers and arm-chair warriors pedal down East Coast Road once in a month? I beg to differ maam!

“Chain Reaxion is a great idea isn’t it,” I was talking to a cycling enthusiast, who was hunched over his expensive imported bike at the cycle shop I frequent. Actually we both were, rather childishly, hunched over our bikes, mine looking all dressed up after a service, while his was getting greased up after a wash.

We looked like a couple of kids but grown up kids I would say because, like any adult males homosapiens these days, we had exchanged our visiting cards.

“Chain Reaxion is very good but it is something for beginners. I am glad cycling is catching up in the city and events like these may help popularize it. But I am not sure how many will take up serious cycling after one 40-km ride. Cycling is not a monthly affair pal. I cycle daily and it’s a passion for me, and it keeps me fit without the rut of hitting a gym,” added the senior executive of Royal Enfield Motors, who hits the East Coast Road (ECR) every morning for an hour of pedalling.

“Sadly, my office is far off so I can’t pedal to work,” he added.

Well this guy sure seems genuine; one could fathom the passion in his eyes when he was holding the wheel of his bike, examining the spokes for signs of metal fatigue. Now, here is a guy smitten, just like me, I had told myself then.

Back to Chain Reaxion, the city’s answer to the problem posed by the thousands of smoking guns – the cars, buses and trucks!

The event, which charges 600 bucks per participant, is maybe aimed at promoting cycling but it is hardly hitting the mark when it comes to making the participants give up their motorized modes of daily transport to pedal power.

A classic example is a colleague of mine who had messaged me one Sunday evening last month saying she can’t walk properly because her legs are buckling after 30-odd kilometres of Chain Reaxion.

“My legs are buckling but it was fun cycling down ECR with friends. Only thing is that I had a fall and couldn’t complete it,” madam said before adding: “I shall do it again next time and complete it.”

“Good,” I had said at the same time criticising her for jumping onto a saddle for such a distance without any preparations. Of course her legs were sore for the next couple of days and as far as continuing cycling: Well, she has not gotten on a cycle after that. Maybe she is waiting for the next event.

So much for inspiring people to take up cycling! The organisers here are just promoting the event, the higher ideals probably getting lost in the mad chase for sponsors, publicity and of course the entry fee.

Cycling, for me, has been a liberating experience. It has brought out the kid in me, the kid I identify each time I get involved in a down-the street drag race with school boys.

The kids want to take on “the geared cycle” I’m riding while this grown-up is trying to relive those lost days.

So, will I ever need a bunch of marketing honchos to tell me when and where to pursue my passion or, pedal in this case. No!

Now, what about the environmentalists in Chain Reaxion?

A hundred cyclists embarking on a monthly odyssey which takes them down the ECR is hardly a means to make an impact on the Carbon Signature of the city. If the participants really want to make a difference then they should give up their gas guzzlers and start pedalling, be it going to office or to the movies.

Of course, it will mean no high-heels or tuxedo and probably getting no parking space at the socialite watering holes in the city. It also means walking in sweaty, and at times, with greasy hands to your office cabin. Well, it is a small sacrifice you can make for your Mother Earth, right?

It is funny though that suddenly the city is going ‘ga-ga’ over cycling. The change began a few months back and it coincided with the launch of high-end imported bikes in a city shop. It shows how glitterati obsessed Chennai is.

I remember a salesman telling me which model of bike to buy when I was window-shopping a few months back in one US-import bike showroom in the city.

“Get this one; it was brought by Kamal Hassan and Gowthami last month,” he said. A sales trick but one which will work, especially here.

“My bike cost one lakh you see and I’m riding it because I am so conscious about the environment,” I can imagine a technocrat boasting to his pals.

The same technocrat, who drives the most fuel-inefficient of cars to office six days a week and is obsessed about leaving the AC running while his wheels are parked in the sun so that he needn’t sweat when he gets back in after a ‘power-lunch’.

I see many cyclists on road everyday, riding to work – some doing it because they don’t have a choice while others opting for pedal-power. They could easily take the bus or the train, all efficient means of travel. But they choose to cycle and I would say they are the heroes making the difference to the environment, not the weekend activists.

Now, where do I stand in this dilemma of higher causes?

I cycle because I love the physical exertion, I love the freedom it provides, and above all it gives me an avenue to release the accumulated negative energy due by my sedentary lifestyle and of course the unavoidable career complications in a post-recession world. My contribution to the environment is just a happy by-product.

Damn right I am selfish here. I cycle for myself, for the kicks, not for anything else and I don’t glorify my hobby or passion.

From, out-running angry dogs, to falling head first on a road covered in knee-deep rain water from the city’s share of north eastern monsoon. From, being not allowed entry at the city’s big shopping malls to asked whether my company doesn’t pay me well; this journey-man has seen and felt it all; including saddle sores and achy joints, after that bad skid while racing down St Thomas Mount.

Yesterday, around two in the morning, I got lost inside T Nagar while purposely taking a long detour coming back home from work. Now, getting lost in a city late in the night is no fun, but I don’t mind as long as I have my partner with me, my two wheels.

Kind of make me remember the lines from an old song – ‘Stand by me’ – by Ben E King. I am sure King won’t mind me rewriting his lyrics to suit the situation here.

‘... I won’t flee, I won’t flinch,
and I won’t stop pedalling,
just as long, as you stand,
stand by me... Oh darling, darling,
stand by me, stand by me...’

1 comment:

Pavitra said...

i had posted one lonnng comment n it got disconnected!! :)

anyway. lets see if i remember:

im finally posting a comment only cos u brought me into it! :)

i dono abt the whole "we cycle to save the environment" deal either. i cycled cos i wanted to do somethin different than jus get up n come to work n do nothing else during my day. i wanted exercise. sure i cudnt complete it but i was glad i did it cos it was a)fun b) it was good to be up n about rather than sleeping in the morning. why i cudnt do it the second time is my issue but to use it as one of the reasons to "prove" why groups such as these cannot make cyclists of lay ppl is incorrect. most ppl i saw there seemed to be there for reasons of 'exercise' n test of endurance more than anything else. so the environment thing is probably jus a bonus if it alters ppls minds (sad but i think thats the truth)..

another interesting incident u wud like happened. a man on an "old-model bicycle" raced to a top ten finish while his son on a "high-quality" bike lagged somewhere far behind. :) later on that day i saw the man again near a temple (he had cycled all the way back) as active as the rest of us were tired!

i walk to work on most days..i do it for my own 'selfish' reasons..but that doesn mean i get all worked up abt ppl on cycles who ride on the wrong side n block my path just cos they can lift their vehicles while the rest cant :)

but i think the title of ur post is a tad harsh on groups such as these. i mean...even if it can get (and i know it did)...a few ppl to think abt getting fit..which in turn wud mean putting an end to a wasteful lifestyle...its good right. jus a thot