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Death wish

It’s a ritual that I have, every day at work. As I wait for the laptop to boot up in the morning, my fingers instinctively dial a number out of habit.. and then I have a chat with the wife. I guess this sounds like a sweet little thing (especially after being married 13 years), but the call actually serves a more basic purpose – it’s a re-affirmation for her that I am alive and well – literally.

During conversations about commuting, when I tell people that I bike to work (I use the terms cycling and biking interchangeably), the instinctive reaction is always “oh that’s nice, but is it safe?” Every single time, I get the same reaction. Without exception. And it’s that very same sentiment that makes V wait for that call from me, twice a day.

As a contrast, look at this excerpt from what the Canadian paragliding world record-holder and ice-climber William Gadd wrote, a few months ago (Hat-tip: @iyerdeepak’s blog)

I often hear friends make statistically insane comments such as, ‘You can die on the way to the mountains just as easily as you can die in the mountains.’ That statement, for the record, is a stinking pile of self-delusional excrement that does not smell any less foul with repeated exposure. The ignorance behind those words makes me seethe internally—because I once believed exactly the same thing.

 I do a lot of presentations about mountain sports, and sometimes share a list of dead friends to remind myself and the audience that the hidden price for the stunning photographs is all-too-regularly life itself. There are 27 names on my list. Not one of those friends died while driving to the mountains. Not one died on a commercial airline flight. To equate the risks of mountain sports to everyday activities like driving or even the chance of death from cancer is completely idiotic.

If he ever comes to Bangalore, I bet William would be pretty surprised to know that cycling around the city is more dangerous than, or at least as dangerous as more adrenalin-fuelled pursuits, in our part of the world.

The wife has lost the battle of convincing me to choose (in her view) saner options to commute. But she does have a point.. I’ve had a couple of very close shaves while riding – entirely caused by lunatics who seem to have a reality-distortion-field when it comes to acknowledging cyclists as legitimate users of our roads. I know other bikers who have had serious accidents. Though it may seem like someone on a cycle cannot be travelling all that fast to suffer grievous injury, it’s a fact that just a light touch from a suddenly swerving bus or car, even when you are riding at 20 km/hr, can easily be a kiss of death.

I don’t really see it this way, but it almost seems like I am signing a death wish every time I make a choice to bike. V certainly does. At some level, isn’t this a really weird indictment of our urban existence?

So here’s a plea to all my fellow motorists in Bangalore – the next time you are behind this nerdy looking guy pedaling away on his cycle, or others of his ilk… remember to resist. Resist the urge to honk like the world is coming to an end, resist the primal need to cut aggressively to the left and drive him off the road… I know it’s tough. I know that those 15-20 seconds that you lose are going to make an enormous difference to your life, I understand that you pay your taxes and deserve every inch of the space that you occupy on our roads, but please, please…. resist.

Think of it as an a sign.. to slow down in life – take a deep breath, count slowly from 1 to 10.. its good to relax ahead of a stressful day, si? Or look around you, you might identify one of these flowering trees blooming on the roadside, may cheer you up .

Or if nothing else works, think of the woman who’s dealing with an extremely hectic day at work too, and is waiting for a phone call from a familiar number.


Categories: Biking, Culture
  1. Banno
    June 3, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I love cycling, grew up in a Poona, where we cycled everywhere, and have wanted to do it so much in Mumbai. I did have a cycle for 2-3 years here, but then gave up, because of the terrors of the road. I can imagine your wife’s concern, Bangalore’s traffic is equally intimidating.

    • June 4, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Banno – I studied engineering in Poona eons ago, can totally relate to what you’re saying. We used to cycle from our hostel to Alka & Rahul (do they still exist? ) to see movies, was great fun. Bombay must be a really tough to try cycling – though I grew up there, can’t imagine trying to bike if i ever go back there. At least we have much better weather in Bangalore.

  2. Banno
    June 4, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Rahul does, in multiplex form, which I haven’t visited. Alka, I did see in its old ‘glory’ until a couple of years ago, but am not so sure as of now. With the flyovers, and one ways, and it not being a part of town which I visit often, it’s been a while.

  3. RV
    October 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Absolutely well written, Satish……….yes, I will definitely take care of the last paragraph of yours & will desist. Thanks for the education

    • October 6, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      Thanks, RV. Hope all motorists in the city are like you 🙂

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