It was the morning of Good Friday when I stumbled across a Facebook advertisement about an all-women motorcycle riding workshop in Bengaluru. The interesting promotion grabbed my eye and I made an enquiry on the WhatsApp number provided.
After wrapping up my daily routine, I returned to entangled and disturbing thoughts while lying in bed. I had been feeling miserable and worn out. Approaching the final year of my PhD, I felt exhausted and was looking for a change. Many PhD students are not particularly good at balancing their personal and social life as it is. Personally for me, the mental burden of living through a pandemic and a surgery during last year added to the existing distress.
I was feeling hollow inside.
It was late afternoon. I almost forgot about the workshop when I received a call from the organisers. I immediately felt the need to take the leap. I said yes to their offer, informed my family and started packing my things.
I was picked 500 metres from my residence early Saturday morning. As I left home with my backpack and helmet, I felt excited. The programme had been arranged in the foothills of DD hills and extended over two days, consisting of both theory and practical lessons.
The one-hour distance from Bengaluru to DD hills was covered in three hours as it took time to pick all nine participants from different parts of the city. We took a chai break on the way where we got to introduce ourselves briefly. All were mostly near or in their 30s, and belonged to diverse occupational backgrounds.
When we reached the campsite, it was around 10 am. Our accommodation was Swiss tents laid between the valley and the steep cliffs. This part of the Deccan plateau has some of the oldest monoliths in Asia.
We randomly chose tents and our tent mates. After freshening up and eating some upma, the theory class started. We were taught about the parts of a bike. At the end of the class, I felt quite amazed to observe my growing interest towards the nuts and bolts of a bike. I always assumed I was someone who would never be interested in the technical specifications of a bike or car.
By lunch break, I felt tired due to longer exposure to sunlight than I was used to. I went back to the tent to rest. I discovered a copy of Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries beside the bed. I have included it in my reading list.
The evening class was a practical one held in the nearby field. It included mainly two drills – getting on the bike and walking with it. At the end of the cloudy evening, we started riding the bikes. A few from the class took a tumble or two, while some of us were spared. Our day ended with chatter while having some tea and churmuri. As people started to open up more and more, I still hung back – I’m an introvert who mostly tends to be a silent observer. But I thoroughly enjoyed the evening – we got to witness the beauty of the surrounding hills when we moved to the nearby small field for a campfire and barbecue. The silhouette created by the nearby hills and forests created a mystical and magnetic ambience. Along with the barbecue, we played dumb charades.
The next morning, a cool breeze coming in from the tent’s window broke my sleep. It was early morning; I bathed and went for a little walk alone to get a glance at the surrounding rocky cliffs. After reaching a viewpoint, I stared at the humongous and bare cliffs before heading back to camp. Upon reaching there, I saw everyone was waiting for tea.
The morning session was tough as I fell down with the heavy Himalayan bike and pulled a muscle in my lower back while lifting it. I took a nap after lunch to recharge my batteries. As I was wandering between dream and reality, my roommate woke me up for the next session.
The last session was fun as we now rode bikes comfortably. We learnt how to change gears, pass through cones, make an eight. All of us performed well – one participant learnt riding a Bullet even though they had never even ridden a cycle before.
As the workshop approached its end, we clicked some pictures. In the evening, we gathered near the dining area and received our certificates. After getting into the van, I plugged in my earphones and immersed myself in my own world. As I was floating in my now cleared, lightened mind; I felt elated.
In the past, there have been instances when I have taken decisions impulsively where they have not always worked out for the best. Fortunately, this time it was the right call to make – I needed this to maintain my sanity and gain control of my behaviour. And I got what I wanted out of the workshop – I had overcome my fear of riding a bike and gained a lot of confidence.
It was a once in a lifetime experience which helped me realise my self-worth and self-reliance. This particular sojourn was also necessary for me to shed my shell and step out of my comfort zone. I only hope that my story encourages many other young women to include such experiences in their lives to help break the social conditioning imparted by living in a patriarchal society.
Sneha Biswas is a PhD student in Development Studies from Bengaluru. Her favourite pastime includes reading non-fiction, playing Ukulele and overthinking.
All images have been provided by the author.