The incessant ringing of the alarm adds to the party going on inside my head, so much noise that I just want to escape from.
I groan as I roll out of bed. The last few weeks had been a roller coaster ride of sorts, so many incidents, and with me halfway to a mental breakdown, I needed this ride more than ever. If I could convince myself to get on the bike. Had to exorcise those demons.
As I set off, the city has already started its journey of the day, people scurrying like ants to collect their daily grain. The wind helps clear my head, speed brings focus. As I climb the EC flyover, I look at the sun and gape – its a pristine blue color! Bright, with wispy strands of clouds framing it, it lifts my spirits somewhat. Even as I drink in the beauty, there is a sudden change in the air around me. The sun turns a dark yellow, and the air around me resonates- I am covered in bright yellow fog, my helmet instantly misting up. Not just plain fog, though, as I wipe off my helmet every ten minutes, the cloth comes away dirty with industrial pollutants. Not a good sign. It’s a weirdly awesome sight, as the road on both sides of me disappears into the milky yellowness, visibility limited to less than a hundred feet. I like the change, it is not all bad, after all.
The fog lifts as I reach Krishnagiri, where I stop by for fuel and a quick snack at McD’s. “Is this tyre solid?’ adds one more count of weird queries about the bike.
This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come. Should’ve gone back.
The worst part of the trip, after Krishnagiri, till Gingee, when the road turns to shit. My hands, my neck, my back, my bums, all hurt from the pounding I keep getting. There are bits of road, connected either by gravel or by potholes. Or maybe I should say there were potholes and gravel connected by strips of tar. I can only imagine what the bike is going through, but it takes the pounding without complaint. On the other hand, I am getting pounded to bits. I have to stop every half hour to let my age catch up. And then I get lost.
Standing in the middle of a village, with no mobile network, not knowing whether you should go back all the way to the start, is a helpless feeling. A couple of onlookers gather, attracted to the bike like flies to freshly buttered toast. The usual answer to the query regarding the price of the bike is met with disbelief, then awe as they call their friends to check out the anomaly. I am given directions back to the main road via a good road, not the regular one, because ‘you shouldn’t ride a bike like this on these bad roads’. The road till the main road is awesomely good, freshly laid tarmac. Till I reach the main road. Then the pounding begins again.
Feeling like ground hamburger, I cross Thidivanam. When I started this trip I was only battered in spirit, now my body is level with my mind. But there is hope waiting around the corner.
The Bypass road, all the way to Pondi, gives my right hand free reign. All the frustration of the slow speeds I had been doing over the past few hours is let loose on the super smooth tarmac, the bike a beautiful black arrow as I push it to its limits. My neck muscles strain against the wind, even with the helmet pressed against the tank.
Pondi is crowded and hot. After a couple of rides up and down the beach, I find my hotel. But the crowds put me off, and I decide to check out Mango hill, in Auroville, as recommended by a friend.
Mango hill is quiet, serene, and cool. I take an instant liking to the place. The basic Thai cottage, which I decided to stay in, was just 2400/-, an easy choice.
Lunch is a beautiful seafood broth, a mix of prawn, lobster, fish and clam. Washed down with beer. A quiet afternoon sitting in the balcony, beer mug in hand (they only serve beer), I feel a sense of calm I hadn’t felt in months.
A ride around Auroville, freshly refreshed after a couple of hours of sleep, brings to mind the winding Kerala roads. Auroville is beautiful, green and serene. Thoughts fell by the wayside as I cruised through these roads, trees whispering and waving as I passed by.
I stop the bike by the side of the road, and kill the headlights. My world went dark. And suddenly silent.
I wake up early to try and catch the sunrise, only to be told by the guy at the reception that I probably wouldn’t get to see it because of the clouds. I go to the beach anyway. Two dogs greet me on an otherwise empty beach. They stay with me through the rest of the time spent there, I took to calling them Chalk and Cheese.
As I sit on the beach, watching the skies turn from black to a deep blue to grayish yellow, the changes reflecting my life, I feel a blanket soothing my worried mind.
Thoughts seemed so much clearer, with just the ocean for background music. I thought of the people in my life, people I had hurt, people I had loved. Things I had built, stuff I had destroyed. I watched the waves work at their relaxed pace, back and forth, cleaning out the beach for the new day, the impressions that people had made erased for ever, and waiting for the fresh new art that would be created today.
There I found it.
I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the two dogs play with each other, and an even bigger grin happened when they were joined on the beach by two boys who played with each other in a similar fashion. They played, they laughed, they ran and jumped, over, under each other, with no end in sight to their frolic. They were not worried that the sun was coming up, not worried about the new day. They lived in the present.
My life in perspective, a glass piggy bank which I can look into, but never reopen. My apologies to the people I have hurt. I can’t undo what’s done, can only hope to learn from my mistakes. Today is another day. To live, to learn, to make new mistakes, new relationships, to build things anew.
As I leave chalk and cheese, they let out indignant howls to let me know their disappointment at not being able to feed them (there was nothing available on the beach). Sorry buddies.
The trip back is different. I feel fresh. Starting off with a short ride through Auroville, the bike joyful, lifting the front at every twist of my wrist through the narrow road. The bypass once again witnessing a black object whizzing by at unnatural speed.
My neck muscles scream as I end the ride at Thindivanam, strain from holding my neck in place against the 200+ wind, telling in spasms of pain.
Just before Gingee, dreading the run back, I spot a sign that says 82km to Vellore. What the hell, might as well. I take the alternate route, and get lucky. The playful road, curving through greenery, is more fun to ride than tiring, punctuated by dots of little villages on the road.
The ride to Vellore is uneventful, other than the odd biker who crashed into a car while checking out the bike, or the petrol pump attendant who started off on his dreams of building a house for the same cost, or the suicidal cyclist who decides the best time to do a u-turn is when the traffic is at its maximum. Most people seem to wait till the bike is almost passing them, and then decide to risk it all in a sudden rush of madness. From Vellore, the highway is smooth all the way to Krishnagiri, enabling me to cut time for this stretch to half of what it took to cover the much lesser distance on my route to Pondi. Good call that was, to turn at Gingee.
As I come out of the McD’s two kids barely out of their teens approach me. One wants to hear me rev the bike, the other is full of questions regarding the bike. I like the way the bike brings out the child in people, the questions it generates, the smiles it brings out. It’s a proper high speed sportsbike when it wants to be, eating kms at a rate of 3 a minute and spitting them out with disdain, saluting the skies with its front wheel at sudden inputs from the right wrist, and then suddenly converts into a sedate cruiser with unexpected mileage when you feel more calm. A bike that truly reflects the rider.
I enter the NICE road, a 45 km stretch of smooth tarmac, having made the choice in keeping with the theme of the day – longer distances, shorter times (rather than entering the city and battling traffic). I time myself till the end of the 45 km stretch. 24 minutes. An AVERAGE of 112.5 kms, my highest over a distance this great. Ever. The bike could’ve easily done it faster, but I did exercise some restraint. Too old to take stupid risks.
I pull in to my parking lot, exhausted yet exhilarated. It’s been a good trip.
The trip will continue, however. The very nature of Pondi, and what it offers to the solitary rider, ensures that I will keep going back.
Probably not on the same route, though.