Saturday, August 4, 2007

Easy Riders

One of the great things of being brought in a small town is that you get to form your own idea of what's cool away from the sweeping trends that envelop the more urban young 'uns. So was Bharuch, a typical small town in Gujarat , boring and nondescript for anyone who had to stay there for more than two days without any particular business. But as kids, it was for all practical purposes the centre of the known universe and its borders were quite enough to encompass everything. Fun was something what we decided for ourselves and most of the time quite offbeat.

The time was one of extreme laziness post our 10th boards and even a person as lazy as me was worked up over this unprecedented display of sloth. The evening sessions of cricket and movies at Bharuch's ramshackle halls were fine but it was time for something more. So it was that 3 of us- Ankur, Navneet and me were overcome by a moment of inspiration to lead a healthy lifestyle, and decided to go cycling out into the countryside surrounding Bharuch every morning. The discussion of early morning start times was a cause of great merriment but we decided on a utopian 6.00 AM which naturally turned to 7.00 most of the times. Our cycles were our principal mode of transportation as the primary mode of public transport- auto rickshaws didn't quite agree to point-to-point delivery from one pal's home to another leading to loss of valuable playing time, and Bharuch isn't exactly HUGE. Cycling was a way of life to us and we were about to take the next logical step making it an exercise too.

The first day saw us venture out to the narrow roads that led to distant Videocon Colony in the village of Chavaj. The only reason we wanted to be there was that up till 2 years ago a couple of great friends lived there and that it was far enough for the first day. Now we didn't even know anyone there and after reaching the gates of the Colony we just turned right back. Sure, there were green sugarcane fields on the way and the occasional farmhouse, but they were beautiful only for the first twenty minutes-the time before our legs started aching. It started to seem on the first day itself that a simple wish to increase our stamina couldn't keep us going like this for long.

The days that followed saw marked improvement in the quality of our experience as we chose distinctly reasonable targets like the older sections of Bharuch (And these are quite old some 500-600 years!) and the network of roads that plies through the greenery surrounding the GIDC industrial complex. These allowed us to get home with a reasonable stock of energy so as to seem alive for the rest of the day. It was fun as we pedalled our way through the silence of early morning, punctuated by our occasional laughter and yells that signalled the final sprint of a spur of the moment race offset by the sudden appearance of a long, straight narrow stretch of road. Not to forget the creaking of three not the most well maintained bicycles protesting at these highly unnecessary early morning exertions. It was not as if we didn't use our cycles otherwise. The eerily quiet industrial sheds with their mysterious machinery nearly engulfed by surrounding bushes and trees were an odd backdrop for our racing ambitions but it seemed that it would be the only use they would be put to, ever!

Towards the end of our vacations, we began to aspire to greater things as the regular beat in and around Bharuch began to get to us. When we had first envisioned this grand scheme of cycling in the mornings, we had a destination in mind, an aim, a grand plan which was never meant to be executed. Bharuch is situated on the banks of the river Narmada, of Medha Patkar and Aamir Khan fame! And there is a beach on the river called Kabirwad (A place where according to legend Kabir meditated and gave discourses). It was 16 km away from where we stayed in Bharuch and would seem to be the last logical chapter in our cycle story.

So one fine morning we set off on the undulating roads that lead to the village of Shuklatirth where we could cross on a ferry to get to Kabirwad. We had already been there a million times before with friends and family but never on a cycle; so therein lay the challenge. And we felt each of those kilometres unlike anything we had ever felt before. The joy of freewheeling down a long slope was offset by the grimness of the long slope upwards that would show its face. Occasional glimpses of the river from the road and shady portions of the road somehow kept us going. On that day, we heard the Gujarati word "Aagadd" (meaning "Its ahead!") enough times to never want to hear it again for the rest of our lifetime. Whenever we paused alongside a villager with his cart trundling along easily and asked him how far was our destination, all we got would be a consistent "Aagadd" and deepen our suspicion that after all our effort, we had taken the wrong road.

When we finally got there, we were so pooped that we stood around admiring the beach from this side of the river for about fifteen minutes and decided not to go across. Instead after a cold drink or two, we headed back home dead tired, only the thought of dropping off to sleep just after breakfast getting us home. Legs cramped and throats parched, we were great explorers home from the back of beyond. Having had enough of exercise to even contemplate any further excursions, it was to be the end of our cycling expeditions. Life moved on, we changed schools and drifted down into different lifestyles. But those few weeks of pure impetuous madness were a learning experience of which we are yet to realize any value of, but then again maybe they were so much fun simply because they were so devoid of purpose.