Virgin Voyage (Oct. 1, 2005)

To get the bike home, I haggled Thomas into helping me fetch her. I hated the idea of riding on the back, but I wanted to arrive in one piece. I knew if I rode alone in rush hour, I stood a good chance of wrecking.

When we got to my neighborhood (known as colonies in India) the sun had nearly set but I was determined to ride in an area I considered safe. In Nizamuddin East the streets were quiet and traffic-free. As I slipped into my jacket, Thomas had some advice for me.

"Practice braking. It's the single most important skill you'll need in India. Drivers stop anywhere and everywhere for any reason, and you had better be ready for it," he said, running a hand through his closely cropped hair. He knew what it was like on the roads and I wondered if I knew what I was in for.

Thomas, a tall blond German, liked things done right, but I was nervous and excited, and more than a little afraid I had forgotten what my ABATE instructors in Indiana had taught me. So in my eager anticipation to ride, I stopped listening to what Thomas was saying. I focused on the bike. My motorcycle. There she stood (or rather leaned), waiting for me. My Kali. I had named the bike after the goddess of destruction and rebirth. She is the fiercest goddess in the Hindu pantheon, and I figured a good friend to have along. I figured I was going to need a friend.

"Okay, Thomas, I'll focus on braking," I said pulling my helmet over my head. I would practice all the skills I knew: straight-line riding, shifting, turning, and braking. In the months to come, would hear Kerry and Bill, my Indiana instructors, shouting in my head: "Brake!" or "Look where you are going" for most of the journey. But for now, I wanted to feel her rolling under me. I wanted to feel the vibration between my legs. I wanted to experience the power, control, freedom of owning and riding a motorcyccle.

I mounted, kicked Kali to life, eased out the clutch and rolled on the throttle. The bike lugged then smoothed out, steady and straight. As I rounded the corner out of Thomas's sight, she sputtered and died.

"Great," I thought, "I got a lemon."

When I did not return, Thomas came looking for me.

"What happened? I thought you crashed," he said.

I shrugged and continued thrusting the kick-start lever down over and over again. My weak leg quivered but I had many kicks to go before developing a kick-start leg.

"Let me try," Thomas said.

I got off without protest; I'm ashamed to admit. He swung his leg over the saddle and pumped the lever with several swift strokes. Nothing happened.

"I think you're out of petrol," he said.

Generous Ajeet Singh had sent me home with an empty tank. Thomas wanted me to go get the gas, but I did not want to since it meant crossing Matura Road. At that time of day, every truck, bus, car, three-wheeler, two-wheeler, ox cart, whatever, would be crowded onto the road. I pulled a hundred-rupee bill from my pocket and handed it to Thomas. He looked exasperated, but agreed.

By the time he returned, it was too dark to ride anymore. My virgin voyage had lasted less then 500 feet, and it seemed to me and inauspicious beginning.

In the weeks to come, I practiced every night after work. I donned my denim jacket, lugged-sole boots, helmet, sun goggles, and full-fingered gloves. I stayed within the boundaries of my colony, becoming an amusing sight for my neighbors (who lived behind walls studded with shards of glass) and their domestic help. I would ride a few feet then come to a quick stop. The dhobi wallha smiled and nodded at me as he delivered freshly pressed shirts and salwar kameezes to his customers. The men in the park who clipped the grass with ordinary scissors would stop snipping when I rounded the corner, their jaws slack, scissors suspended over slender blades of grass. Schoolgirls with long black braids clutched each other and giggled when they saw me coming.

I admit to looking freakish, but there would come a day on the journey when wearing layer upon layer of gear would pay off. That, however, was the future, and before I could get anywhere I needed a license to ride a motorcycle in India.

© 1997-2006. C.L. Stambush, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


Moose Gear said...

What a Nice bike. You've reached my dream. congratulations and enjoy it.

Kelly Renaul said...

Good Riding !

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C.L. Stambush said...

Sorry I'm so delayed in finding your comment. Did you get your term paper finished? I'm going to post more on another so you can check that out as well. I promise I'm more up on that site than this one. :)

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