Updated: Sep 1, 2019
I remember that day well. I must have been eight, my brother twelve. We went to the Akbarallys, Chembur (Mumbai), with aai baba, to bring home my brother’s birthday gift….a new red and black, shining Atlas bike. He was very excited and so was I, already thinking about the day he will outgrow it and the bicycle will be passed on to me.
I remember going with dada often, sitting on the carrier of his cycle, to the nearby cycle shop, to rent a bike for me. Then he would ride along with me slowly till the colony gates and as soon as I entered the compound, he would zoom off with his friends. I would ride the rented bike for an hour and wait for dada. He would come and take me to the cycle shop again, return the bike, buy me a five star with the deposit that he got back and bring me home on the carrier of his Atlas.
I must have been 14 when the cycle became mine forever. We were at Santacruz west those days. Me and my friend Sayali, both Shahrukh khan fans and madly in love with him, would often ride together in and around lane number 16 off the Linking road, discussing his movies and humming his songs.
One summer, we decide to ride a little farther and reached Bandstand. There it was, the only wonderful thing in Mumbai, that matters to me till date…MANNAT’…the home of my hero, the heaven of my God !!
We used to spend hours sitting across MANNAT, cross legged, in our neon cycling shorts and T Backs, with two plaits (like kajol ) just looking at the mansion. Dreaming, that one day, one fine day, Shahrukh khan will come out, cross the road, hold my hand and take me with him…And I will go…wherever…whenever…even if it means jumping in the sea with him…16 is a crazy age they say and 16 I was..!!
I wanted to tell him that I love him. I wanted to tell him that I have his posters in my room. I wanted to tell him that I have seen all his movies and know all his songs and dialogues..
But most importantly, I wanted to tell him, that I have written a story where he is the hero and I want to make a movie with him..
So very naïve !
My love for Shahrukh khan continued and so did my love for writing stories, but I had to leave my cycle behind, just as I had to leave my parents, my best friend Sayali and so many other things when I shifted to the hostel of my Dental School.
This was some 17 odd years ago. I got busy with college, met Sarang, married him and started a new life away from the blue waters….away from Mannat…but the longing remained forever..
Many a times over the years I used to say to Sarang… “let’s go for a ride”..But the idea never appealed to him. We both got busy establishing our dental practice and raising our son Dhruv. Motherhood brought a huge amount of responsibilities and the 16 year old Amruta, was still waiting across Mannat, still hopeful and dreamy eyed…
She refused to grow up, refused to let go. She kept reminding me that I have to write my story. I have to share my story. She gave me sleepless nights and painful days. She kept the fire burning…
In the December of ’17 finally me and Sarang started riding together. We used to ride a few rounds around the park and used to get tired pretty soon. One childbirth and years of lethargy were getting challenged. But I liked it. This did not last long. School timings, job timings and the hot Nagpur weather made me give up.
One day, Sarang saw Amit’s post, that he had completed the 400 km brevet and was impressed by him. They started going for rides together. I didn’t know who this guy was. He was in our group since a long time but may be a little reserved or something. I don’t remember having interacted with him at any point and he was certainly not in my mind space. But Sarang was a fan and all I cared was…A friend who accompanies on rides early morning is always better than a friend who calls you for a round of drinks late night.
Then in August ’18 Amit did the most amazing thing. He successfully completed the – Manali To Leh cycling expedition. Ten days of tough rides through some of the highest passes. Excruciating weather conditions didn’t deter him from completing his task. I remember going to meet him the very day he was back. Sarang was super excited to meet his friend and hear his stories. I had just tagged along.
My heart broke the moment I saw him. I don’t remember how he looked earlier, coz I had never bothered to notice him but what I saw was sad. He looked much thinner than my memory of him. His cheeks were almost burnt by the sun (tan would be an understatement). Yet he was eager to take us out for a treat and to share his stories. I was all ears. You know, when your husband likes a woman, you tend to get skeptical of her, but when your husband likes a another guy, you start liking him too.
I was super impressed by his Leh experiences. What a colossal amount of mental and physical strength would a man need to ride through that. What must have been in his mind. What must have guided his spirit. What would it be to experience something like that? I was transported to the valleys when he was sharing his journey. His ice cream remained untouched, left alone to melt in eagerness. My heart broke again.
Just a couple of weeks later he completed his 600 km brevet and got his super randonneur tag .
Inspite of that he continued riding with Sarang motivating him to enter the randonneur club.
“come on doc, u can do it” he used to say and Sarang kept going.
Amit went along with Sarang on his 200 km brevet, just for mental support. On the way, Sarang had a flat tyre. So Amit gave him his bike and brought home Sarang’s to repair. And after all that he was yet again there at the finishing line waiting to cheer his friend. I was touched by his love, loyalty and genuine care for Sarang.
Strong people inspire me.
Honest people inspire me.
People who are genuinely concerned and care without showing off inspire me.
This guy was just everything….
It was the same time I started cycling with his with Swara, Amit’s wife. We formed a group and shared pictures of daily rides and post ride snacks. It was winter and I was all up for some exercise. I started looking forward for those rides. It was and still is very difficult for me to wake up that early, make tiffin for my son, get him ready for school and then get ready for my ride. But I was enjoying my rides and kept going. As I got to know Amit, I realized he is such a sweet person, a normal family guy with an IT job, one who flaunts facial hair to look matured and macho but is really a cute boy. I got curious…..Is he the one who was at leh? What kind of person he really is?? What he is, what he wants to project himself as, what his wife thinks about him and what I think about him…..all this became puzzling for me. Slowly he started occupying my mind space and started influencing me…I was becoming a fan..
And I wanted to impress him. How do you impress a cyclist… By cycling. I started working on my rides and started pushing my limits.
Sarang used to say every morning.. “Amruta, the real power is in the mind. You think of a limit and you will feel tired. Go for long distances” but I was scared to ride away far alone.
It was the same period when my debut novel lined up for pre orders. I had kept my entire journey of writing and publishing a big secret dreading as to what will the people around me think about it. What if it did not get published. Would they ever understand my agony. Would they ever understand the 16 year old at the Arabian sea…never! So secret it was. For me and for Sarang.
But I announced my dream for the very first time at Amit’s anniversary party. What a moment it was. Calls for another write up for another day. But somehow I felt more connected to him that day.
I continued my rides through Dhruv’s Christmas vacation as I could leave early. I left home one day determined to complete 25 kms. Was never good at math anyways. And all along the ride I was mentally preparing answers for my interview (my first interview as an author for a blog) …I completed 29 kms..
I calculated again and again and had taken a number of photos along the way, (a proof for Sarang) but all I wanted was to post that in the group for Amit to see. He was holidaying in the Himalayas with his wife but did reply immediately. My tryst began ….again.
Enter friend two..Sujit.
I know Sujit since the day I got married and know Vandana since the day he got married. We were family friends and met occasionally. Around 7 years back Sujit met with an accident. Was home bound for about eight weeks but got up and around soon.
Later, in ’16, as if a rage of destiny, he met with yet another deadly accident, hurting the same leg again, to an almost crush injury. I remember meeting him at the hospital. He was immobilized and was in pain and suffering for the next six months. Till today he is carrying a few limitations. His wife had just delivered their second baby. Both compromised. Both in pain.
I admire strong willed and honest people.
Sujit and Vandana both are those kind. Plus they are so full of life, always ready to explore and have fun. I wonder how they managed.
Now since Sarang had started cycling, he was always eager to talk about it. Vandana is a good friend of Amit, both work together, hang out together. Naturally the topic of discussion was always cycling. Like Sujit and Vandana were there too to hear Amit’s Leh stories and Sarang’s stories of his Hampta Pass trek.
I used to feel sad, thinking about Sujit. I felt he was being left out. I used to try to divert the topic away from cycling but seldom succeeded.
One day in December 18, Sujit tried Sarang’s cycle. He felt comfortable and started riding with him. He had limited time and yet managed to cycle every day. I was so happy for him. I started getting up another fifteen minutes early to open the gates for him to take the bike.
In less than a month’s time, we were holidaying in Pune and this guy posted his first 60 km ride.
I was more than happy for him. Somehow started feeling less guilty. Why did I have any guilt. May be because I understand what a surgery can do to you. What it is to be dependent on someone for a couple of months. What it is to lose your strength and dignity at times. What it is to get independent again.
Meanwhile Sarang has discontinued riding due to a tendon injury while running at a Marathon. How come running came into picture? Our blue eyed boy…Amit has taken up a new challenge of running marathons.
Anyways back to riding, now Sujit was riding alone and so was I but our timings differed because of our kids.
One fine Sunday, we decied to ride together. I was aiming for 50 kms. Amit was still in the Himalayas. Sarang was there at the door when we left…
He repeated… “Amruta, you will feel tired only mentally, so make up your mind first for a long ride”
He was right. I was determined to ride for the magic figure of fifty. Sujit was a cheerful company. He chatted along the way and the ride was surprisingly easy. I was only interested in posting photos of my cycle at strategic points for Amit to see. What he reacts mattered to me..
The entire week I had a feel good factor. A big smile never left my face. My book promotions were going strong too. It was a win - win situation.
The young girl across Mannat was smiling again. Her hopes rised with the tides of the blue giant…As I talked about my novel I felt light. They say “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. My agony was put to an end. I had told my story. I had gained my strength. I was at peace with myself.
Had I impressed Amit ? I didn’t know. But I was determined to go further.
Next Sunday we had to host a party, Me & Sarang and Sujit & Vandana. The entire Saturday was consumed in preparations. We were exhausted and slept late. Yet we managed to get up early and go for our ride. It was somehow as if the roads were calling me to explore them. A different energy guided me.
Sujit was all wrapped up in his jacket, hand gloves and bandanas. I did not care for anything. I was eager to breathe in the morning chill. Let the wind go wild in my hair. Every breath was a step forward…A step towards exploring the new me…or was it the old me?
I proudly clicked at the 31 km mark. There I was confident. I knew I will go back. I knew I had done it already. I was only half way though. In my head I had already won.
The way back from the 31 mark was tiring. My cheerful banter from the morning refused to come back. We were riding in silence. Both engrossed in our own thoughts. And suddenly a phone buzzed. He said something about it. I was only half attentive. Sometimes you are so tired that you fail to receive signals. I have thought about that moment over a hundred times. I still fail to recollect what happened. All I remember is that it was my phone that was buzzing in his pocket and I reacted with a sudden jerk. I lost my control and hit his bike handle. He was caught unaware and toppled over. What I will never forget in my entire life is that scene. A kaleidoscope of emotions raised in me. I tried my best to get him back on his feet. He showed great strength in getting back on his toes. He did complete his ride. But my mind was numb. I hurt him where he was already hurt the most. I was wrong at the 31 mark. I had no business being so confident. I felt hopeless and guilty. He was still very cheerful and in fact cheered me up to ride back home.
As he was riding along my spirit was getting back. He was ok. He was still riding. He doesn’t need to be compromised again. The smile was back.
I came back eager to see whether Amit has seen my photos. He had and had left some encouraging words too. My ride was successful.
The rest of the day was spent in fretting over tan lines and taming the wild hair. I had a party to host. I had to behave like a lady. I had to regain my vanity.
The week after 60 km was a little arduous. I was genuinely guilty and concerned for Sujit’s swollen toe. I did not ride for two days. On the third day I took out my bike for ride and just ended up at his place to worry over his leg. I felt remorseful that I was riding and he was not, because of me…
As he improved, my spirits were back. My book was gaining a little visibility. I was promoting it, talking about it and the very people around me whom I feared would judge me, were talking positive about my novel.
The girl across Mannat, was finally appeased.
She had told her story. Her agony was relieved.
She was back on her bike. Her strength was regained.
She was ready to go home. Her home was lost forever….
She hovered around me. I told her I’m a woman now. I’m a mother now. I have an eight year old son. I cannot love like you. I cannot dream like you. I cannot be free willed like you.
I have limitations. I have responsibilities.
She just smiled at me. Whom was I fooling. I had to accept. Yes I’m in love. There’s nothing I can do about it. I will have to live with it forever.
She went back and sat near the sea. She dipped her feet and let the ocean caress her after 18 years. I breathed a sigh of relief. I felt light as a feather…I felt content…I felt I was at peace.
Sujit got better by Friday and said he was ready for another long ride. The same day I talked with Amit about the book sales reaching 99. A magic figure crossed my mind. I have absolutely no idea why I said to him that I want to ride for 100 km. Once said, the idea intrigued me. He was all supportive and offered to accompany too. But I was not so sure myself.
Back home, Sarang supported the idea too. He had more faith in me than even I had. I had just said it, perhaps just to feel how it sounds. But I had no such plans.
On Saturday, I introduced my novel at a book club. For the first time in my life, I shared everything that I had kept knotted inside me for years along. I acknowledged the ‘little me’ writing stories in school and college. I talked about my journey. I talked about my dreams. I just opened all the crevices of my mind space and let them out. I sighed a breath of relief.
I told my entire story once again.
I should have been at peace.
But I had already talked about another challenge with Amit and Sarang. I had to do something about it. I called Sujit at 9 in the evening and just told him with full confidence. We have to ride 100 tomorrow. We have to leave early. If I quit at any point, don’t wait for me. Don’t let me stop you. You go ahead and complete it.
Sarang had told me repeatedly. Real power is in the mind. And my mind was in full sync with my target. Sarang brought Amit’s cycle for my ride. I felt ..oh my god, I have to do justice to this bike.
I was determined to hit the bed early but sleep eluded me. I was nervous and excited at the same time. In the evening I had bared it all. Then what was still bothering me. Why was the anxiety still there. What did I want now. What more will happen if I do or do not ride the next day. But the other option seemed dreadful. Rather I had no options. I had to go. Something stirred within. I dreamt unusual things and woke up with a bead of sweat. I was up for large part of the night. We hit the roads at 5:15 in the morning.
Again I had no jacket, no veils. I let the early morning chill hit my face. I felt it caress my forehead to wish me strength. It blew my hair wid. I felt liberated. It was a feeling of a lifetime. I had told my story. My wish of a lifetime had come true. And more than that, I had acknowledged it. The champion’s cycle was fantastic. May be it carried his spirit. I had decided to shun my inhibitions. I had decided to express my feelings. I had decided to accept my love. I was no more fidgeting with the thought of right or wrong. I was just following my heart. I was loving and dreaming unabashedly….
Love gave me courage to go on. I was in high spirits. The early morning weather was perfect for my mood. I was consumed with myself.
Today there were no cheerful discussions with my partner. May be I had scared him enough not to ride along side me….may be he was fighting his own demons… After all it was not only about the cycle and the distance.
We met the sun somewhere after 25 kms. He promised a sunny day. I was too determined to bother. What will a little sun do to me. I was not scared of him today. I remembered Amit’s suntanned appearance. I had nothing to match to that. And I wanted a place in his mind space. He had totally consumed mine. I had to ride. I had to make him proud.
We took our very first break at the 30 km mark. I remembered some wonderful time spent there earlier at a different occasion. It helped my morale rise. I felt more than determined to prove myself. We left after a few clicks. My partner was doing well. I could not let him down. The ride from 30 to 50 was smooth. The target was getting closer and the body dared not complain. I was compromised being a woman that particular day but for the first time in my life I had decided not to bother. I felt free and chose to ignore my physical limitations. My mind was not affected and the real power lies there…(Sarang’s words echoed in my head)
Finally we reached the mark. What a blissful feeling it was. Sometimes you are so exuberant that nothing matters to you. At that moment only one thing mattered. I had reached halfway. And I will go home to finish my task.
I wanted to scream and tell the world. Or perhaps I wanted to just tell it to Amit. I did what I rarely do. I called him.
I am a reluctant caller. I text, I chat, but I hate talking on phone. I seldom receive any calls and very very rarely call someone.
But I did call him. I had no patience to text him and wait for his reply. I wanted my recognition then and there. He was sleeping soundly. I was amused. A big smile came on my face. Of course it was early Sunday morning. Some people do sleep in till late. Not everyone has a point to prove and ride for 50 kms…
The journey back was tiring. We were exhausted but had no appetite. We just consumed some quick energy drinks and rode along. The next twenty kms were difficult. I was losing my strength. The sun was as sunny as promised and was playing havoc with me. My, being a woman, challenged me. I was in pain and was losing patience. I wanted to go home. But home was another 30 kms away. I could have asked Sarang to come pick me up. But I didn’t want to let him down. He had faith in me. Also I should not let my partner down. I had to complete the ride with him. I called Amit. Rule broken, second time.
I don’t remember what I said to him. But all I wanted to say was that I am dead tired but I will do it, just to prove my point. Just so that you would admire my strength and courage. It had become so important for me.
The road was less challenging after the break. It was easy on my knees and back. But I was slow. Sujit went ahead and stopped for me. He did this for a while. Till we reached the outskirts of Nagpur. I was holding him back. I knew. But I was scared to let him go. He was the perfect gentleman that he always is. Every now and then he asked me if I was fine. He used to wait for me, offer me water, adjust my seat and coax me to go further. I was too consumed in my pain and fatigue to bother about him. Much later at our third break I realized that it’s his first 100 too. He deserves a little attention . I was selfishly consumed in my own woes.
About 10 kms from home Amit called and said he wants to come meet us mid way. I should have been thrilled by this thought. But I didn’t want to wait. I was adamant that I don’t want to meet anyone on the way. I just wanted to go home to Sarang, to Dhruv, to security. I was on the roads for too long.
But Amit was more adamant. After all everything started because he was a determined guy. He did catch us on the way back. He did something which I could have never imagined. He and Swara got us a welcome treat. I was reluctant to stop. I did stop. They offered us cool drinks and ice cream and showered a lot of affection. My hands were shaking. I still wanted to go home. But I was just looking at my blue eyed boy. Had I made him proud. Do I have a space in his mind. And I just left them there and went home. I left Sujit too. I had completed my task. It was time to retreat.
When Amit met me, he asked me, where is your cycling gear, where is your helmet, where are the lights …
Now what should I have told him… I just feel liberated today. I have done something crazy after a long while. These things don’t bother me.
My 100 km ride has synced with my soul.
It was certainly much more than the distance and the road.
It was a little crazy tribute to the young girl still sitting across Mannat….still dreamy eyed, still hopelessly in love…
Love is crazy. I can’t tell if it’s killing me or making me stronger.
The tryst will continue…..
Dr. Amrutha Kandurwar
From Maharashtra, India
Dental surgeon by profession, a trained kathak artist, an author by choice, a poetess by soul, a brevet cyclist by passion and an avid blogger.