Me and my big mouth! If I had only not allowed the beer in my veins to do the talking I would not be creeping around the dark outskirts of this dhaba like a juvenile playing at James Bond. If caught, however, the consequences would be more serious than for the juvenile. Those six husky thugs inside drinking beer looked quite capable of breaking every bone in my body and I did not dislike my skeleton so much that I wanted it disassembled. For a moment, I wanted to run back to the bike that I had ridden here and drive away with my tail firmly between my legs.
“You got yourself a good bike there!”
“Do you think those oldies will create trouble?”
“Those pathetic excuses for bikers? They must be in the next state by now. And, no police station in this area will take their complaint against me. They all know that my dad is the MP here.”
Uproarious laughter wafted out of the dhaba.
Something fizzed in my blood other than the beer – Fury! Life had taught me to swallow a lot of insults without reacting but, somehow, this insult to my biking abilities ripped through the Teflon skin that I had developed.
In a sudden flurry of motion I crawled over to the bikes parked outside the dhaba. There was Sudhir’s bike – the no-frills one – looking like a house-wife in a parade of models. That was the one I had to take away before any of those toughs in there came out.
Three hours ago the four of us had stopped at this dhaba, full of aches and pains, and downed a few beers as accompaniment for a great dinner. The dhaba owner was well into his drinking session with his five friends when we landed up but, nonetheless, whipped up a very good meal and we were feeling expansive. Sudhir was feeling more expansive than most and was bemoaning the discomfort of his bike’s seat and lauding the more ergonomic design of the other bikes we had seen outside the dhaba.
‘Arre uncle! If you dislike your bike so much why don’t we exchange bikes”, said the dhaba owner.
Before any of us could even utter a protest Sudhir said eagerly, ‘Would you?” One beer had normally been enough for him to fall all over the neck of the nearest stranger and swear bosom friendship and, thanks to an aching back, he had downed three. Had we told anything about bewaring Greeks bearing gifts, he probably would have said, “But these are not Greeks, they are Jats” and laughed immoderately.
This sextet looked menacingly strong and, before any of us could find a way to tell Sudhir not to go ahead with the deal without insulting them, Sudhir had gone ahead and taken the key of the dhaba owner's bike. "Mine are in the bike", he said exuberantly. The sextet were solicitously ushering us out to the bikes by the time Reddy found his voice and started saying, “But..how do we know that your bike is good?”
“Are you doubting our honesty?” said one of them menacingly.
“No..No..but…” stuttered Reddy.
“What do you lot of has-beens know of bikes anyway? Get lost. The deal is done.”
Before we knew it we were riding off in a hurry. Within the first fifteen minutes it was amply clear that the only good thing about Sudhir’s new acquisition was the seat! The kick-starter kicked back, the accelerator either refused to move or rotated like a fan and the brakes squealed more than they braked. After erratic progress for a few kilometers with Sudhir’s bike either stalling like a mule or jumping ahead like a war-horse we came to a halt.
“You guys just ran!” I said angrily. “There is a law in this land. We could have threatened them with the police! They would not have dared to beat us up!”
“Why don’t you go and get Sudhir’s bike back instead of making out here like Sunny Deol?” said Rajiv contemptuously.
“All right! I will”
It is quite easy to be brave and believe in the law of the land when you are safely away and shooting off your mouth with friends. On the ride back, however, all my bravado leaked away. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I would never hear the end of it from my friends if I went back. How often is a display of fear avoided only because of a greater fear?
The sight of the dark outskirts of the dhaba and six husky guys sitting inside the partitioned kitchen gave me an alternative idea. Which was how I found myself on all fours in the middle of six bikes, trying to steal back Sudhir’s bike. Thank God the keys were still in it.
But wait! If I just took the bike away and these guys found out soon they would be after us in a jiffy. Try as I might I could not see the four of us coming off victorious, or even alive, in a melee with these guys. The only thing to do was to somehow incapacitate their bikes so that they could not follow us with any speed.
With my heart in my mouth and my pulse hammering in my ears, I cut off the fuel pipes of the other five bikes. Even while near panic I could not help feeling guilty about vandalizing bikes. I may have not ridden bikes for nearly a decade before now but I still had the heart of a biker. I could contemplate injuring any of these guys with indifference. Damaging their bikes, however, seemed like harming a child and only self-preservation could have egged me on to do it.
I silently pushed Sudhir’s bike out to the road and started it and rode off with a sense of accomplishment. The things that a man can feel proud of!!
x x x x x x x x x
When I first thought up the idea of a biking trip, the last thought that would have crossed my mind was that I would some day be sneaking around and stealing bikes. I had quit my job in my late thirties because I always knew that the one thing that I did not want to do with my time was work. A lucky investment in the stock markets and a even more luckily timed exit had made it possible for me to live without working. (Yes! Some people do make money in the stock markets. Where else do you think that all the money that you lose goes?).
Now that I had time on my hands the problem was what was I to do with it? Not even an instruction manual to help me out. Getting into the habit of allowing my office to decide what I do with my time had nullified my own inventiveness and now I was at loose ends - which is when I thought of the four bikes in my garage and the three friends to whom the other three bikes belonged. Sudhir, Reddy and Rajiv were coming over tonight to celebrate my new-found freedom and I intended broaching the idea of a bike trip to them.
“When she married me, I was 21 and a BA(Economics). If I had stayed as I was I would have spend a lifetime climbing to where I am now and she would have been happy. Now that I have done my PGDM from IIM-B, she wants me higher still. Seems like she wants me to keep climbing but there is no specific place where she wants me to arrive..just keep climbing and climbing and climbing…up the corporate ladder!” moaned Reddy. His wife was a perfect example of the contrariness of human nature. She cared for him deeply while busily chipping away at his self-respect with every word she said. Add to the mix a daughter who had outgrown the Papa-can-do-no-wrong stage and was firmly seated in the Papa-can-do-nothing-right stage, you can understand how he could give the impression of an out-of-breath, perspiring climber of an endless staircase while lolling on my bed and sucking at a can of beer.
Rajiv gave a snort. Reddy reddened and turned on him. “What do you know about it? You are MD of your own company. Bhabhi is a model and too busy with her career to bother you about yours!”
Only I was privy to Rajiv’s issues. The others knew he was not totally happy but did not really know why. Being a bachelor had made me a sort of father confessor to him. His wife was a lovely and popular model and he lived in perpetual fear of losing her. He loved her to distraction and, thanks to his fear of losing her, he was perpetually dancing to her tune. Of late, apparently, her tune had become Do-this-or-I leave-you which was causing him no end of distress.
“Guys! Stop complaining! I can’t even find a woman to love me and you guys keep complaining about the women in your lives!” Our eternal romantic Sudhir! He had sold off his online business for a hefty sum and was now a consultant for e-businesses. Had the sum he realized been heftier, there would have been no dearth of women who found him romantic. He had enough to be attractive in the arranged marriage circles but he had this weird notion of marrying for love. If only his exterior had been as romantic as his heart! As it was, his pudgy frame and non-descript face created only one impulse in women – to urgently get elsewhere! I am over-stating the case here. There are men who make wedding bells ring in the minds of women. Sudhir, however, made women feel like reaching for his wrist with the nearest rakhi available.
Getting the minds of this lot off their respective woes was a chore so I did not attempt it. Instead, I pitched the bike tour as a panacea for their troubles. I waxed eloquent about how a break would give them a perspective on their issues. I talked glowingly of meeting women on the bike tour to Sudhir. I told Reddy how the tour could possibly make him take a fresh view of his life and even enthuse him into climbing the corporate ladder with gusto. I told Rajiv that the biker mystique would make him more attractive to his wife. All these marketing efforts were successful, as you well know and you also know the unexpected results that that success brought me.
x x x x x x x x x
Just as you think your problems are behind you, Fate creeps up on you and hits you with a sandbag. I had finished basking in the praise of my friends about successfully threatening the thugs into releasing Sudhir’s bike and we had proceeded further down the road for another half an hour only to find that it petered out into mud trails. In our hurry to exit the dhaba the first time we had taken the cut-off from the road. A local there told us that the only way to reach the main road was back the way we came. Past that dhaba!
We spent the night in the open. Needless to say, I was tossing and turning all night and it was not because of the cacophonous snoring of my friends. I had not had the courage to tell my friends about my thieving and vandalizing ways and I was stuck with my story. Reddy, Sudhir and Rajiv could not understand my apprehensions and were even talking airily of stopping at that dhaba for breakfast before proceeding onwards. It was the thought of these idiots deciding to stop there and the consequences of doing so that filled my night with waking nightmares.
With great difficulty I persuaded them to not only skip breakfast at that dhaba but to put as much distance between them and us as possible. The three of them seemed to have suddenly developed indomitable courage and iron resolution and it took a lot of silver-tongued oratory to convince them of the dangers of allowing that sextet a chance to change their minds.
When in sight of the dhaba, I saw only one bike and heaved a sigh of relief. Do you know what this bunch of juvenile idiots did while we passed the dhaba. Hooted and gave the finger to those guys, that is what! The sextet came rushing out in anger. One of them tossed a half-burnt cigarette away and bent to pick up a stone. There was a whoosh and the dhaba went up in flames. The cigarette must have fallen into the pool of fuel that had drained out of the bikes. I was piling up a huge debt with these toughs and, if ever the payment fell due, I would be looking at the daisies from the roots up.
Onwards we proceeded for the next couple of hours till we reached a small town. There was a sort of motel at the outskirts and we were hungry enough to stop there for breakfast.
Ever believed in love at first sight? Neither did I, but one look at the girl at the reception and Sudhir was lost to the rest of us. The girl, of course, showed no marked signs of Cupid’s attentions. She seemed happy to see that we were bikers but there was no specific attraction for Sudhir visible. From the looks of the photographs in the reception counter she seemed to be of the owner’s family – the owner’s daughter, as it turned out - and the bike that figured prominently in all the photographs explained her preference for bikers.
That was it! Nothing would do but to stop there for the day (and for the rest of his life the way Sudhir talked about it!). We settled in the only room that was available in the motel. As the day wore on with no sign of that sextet there was a sigh of relief for me. There were no visible signs of pursuit till we came here and I could assume that the six toughs must have given up on any thoughts of revenge. Fate must have had a hearty laugh about then.
The next day we woke up to signs of revelry in the motel. Yesterday’s matter-of-fact reception girl was all smiles when we went down and a shower of color and squirts of water along with the shout ‘Holi Hai’ explained the reason why. Being accustomed to city life, it was a novelty for your hotel owner and employees to want to take liberties with you just because it was Holi but we could not bring ourselves to object in the face of such unalloyed enthusiasm and enjoyment.
Breakfast was had in a festive mood. Sudhir’s heart-throb – Jasmit Kaur- had joined us at the table and Sudhir was giving her the full benefit of his ‘charm’ with a wary eye out for the sight of any rakhis in the neighbourhood. By the time we finished with breakfast and stepped out to stretch our legs, I was as relaxed and joyous as it is given me to be when the familiar figure of that dhaba owner on that excuse for a bike hove to on the horizon. Disaster!!
Before I could even conceive of any evasive action, he came rushing in at us and got a full squirt of colored water and a couple of handfuls of gulaal in his face. Sudhir had recognized him, of course, but the love sloshing around in him had washed away any vestiges of bad humor in him and, thus, he greeted that tough like a long-lost brother is greeted on Holi. Jasmit thought we had met another friend and joined the revelry with peals of laughter and more gulaal.
It is difficult to imagine the plight of that chap. He had thought to gain a good bike and lost a decent dhaba overnight. On top of it, the very chaps who had ‘cheated’ him of the bike and caused the loss of his dhaba were adding insult to injury by making a fool of him, with that girl laughing at him like he was some sort of a comedian.
“Just you wait”, he screamed in fury as he ascended his bike. “See if I do not get my friends along, trash this place and stamp you guys into the ground” With that he roared off. Well! With that bike it was more roar than off but he was moving away to bring disaster on all of us.
Explanation Time! I really do not want to recall the next half an hour or so. By the time I had done explaining what really happened on that night and why that sextet was bound to come hopping mad at us, the other four had heaped enough abuse on me to last the next several lifetimes. Yes! Four! Now that Jasmit had been dragged into our mess she was quite free with her abuses as well – and, if you really like hearing a virtuoso performance in abuse, you cannot beat Punjabi for it.
A distant roar of bikes heralded the arrival of disaster. As we learnt later, the other five bikes had been sent for repairs overnight. With the dhaba owner on our trail, the rest had hastened to get their bikes and started after us. What with his 'superb' bike and checking for us at every dhaba en route, it had taken him till evening to reach the village before this town where he had stayed overnight. When we were sighted and our nemesis informed them of our whereabouts they were just an hour away from where we were.
“Come! Let us run!” I said in a frenzy of fear. Rajiv and Reddy turned towards their bikes.
“No way! I am not letting Jasmit face trouble all by herself. You run if you want to” said Sudhir. However hard I looked at him I could not see a hero in him but the look in Jasmit’s eyes said, ‘My Hero!” as plainly as though he were a sixty foot cutout of Sunny Deol! Sudhir seemed to have found love at last…but that ‘at last’ seemed more likely to be ‘at the end of his life’ in a few minutes.
We could not abandon Sudhir. Reddy, Rajiv and I reluctantly turned from our bikes and faced the incoming army with resignation. Reddy’s phone rang.
“Where the hell are you? Did I not ask you to call me every day? What are you doing?” said the shrill penetrating voice of Mrs. Reddy.
“Committing suicide!” said Reddy bitterly.
I hurriedly took the phone from her. “Bhabhi!” I started…”Shit! The phone is dead!”
Mine was dead, too, when I checked. There was no time to settle Mrs. Reddy’s apprehensions with the incoming sextet descending from their bikes and advancing menacingly upon us.
I would never have believed it of Sudhir. One moment he was standing next to me and the next he had streaked forward and planted a fist in the midriff of the first opponent. Rajiv’s phone rang.
“What is this I hear about Reddy committing suicide?” It was a day for penetrating feminine voices.
Sudhir had just managed to bounce once off the ground and, with a streak of blood on his forehead, he was back into the attack.
“Later, dear! I am kind of busy now!” I advanced into a superbly executed uppercut and did a graceful reverse somersault.
“Busy? Talk to me now or I will leave you”
Reddy was clinging like a limpet to one of them when another guy plucked him effortlessly off and flung him into the trash can.
“Get off the phone or I will leave you..” a fist knocked off the phone, “for the next world!”
After that the melee was a kaleidoscope of movement. Sudhir was getting dribbled like a basket-ball; Reddy was figuring centrally in a vigorous foot-ball match while Rajiv and I were alternatively featuring as the ball and ninepins – sometimes I was the ball that knocked Rajiv down, sometimes he was! In the midst of all this vigorous athletic activity roared in a magnificent sardar astride a magnificent bike and a stentorian voice called out, ‘Stop this right now!”
Such was the command in the voice that all activity ceased on the instant. Believe it or not, Sudhir and I froze midway through falling to the ground and continued the action only after a second!
“Karnail Singh Sahib!” said the sextet in one over-awed voice! From the cacophony of adulatory voices I gleaned that the Sardar was not only the father of Jasmit but also the founder of the biking club to which our sextet of toughs belonged.
Karnail Singh had also managed somehow to get the gist of all the happenings.
“Boys! What is the first rule of our biking club?” he asked censoriously.
The sextet of toughs looked like shame-faced schoolboys and one muttered, “All bikers are my brethren”.
“You are bikers only if you can take joy in biking and spread it around. Behaving like hooligans only makes you a rowdy riding a bike and not a biker. I am ashamed to think of you as belonging to my club!”
“But…they damaged our bikes.”
“Your bikes seem quite all right now! Come, shake hands and be friends!”
If someone had ever told me that I would do something as corny as shaking hands with the guy who was using me for a punching bag, I would have called him a fool to end all fools. But here I was, holding my hand out sheepishly and wincing with the strength of the grip of the other guy!
Believe me or not, in the three days that it took for Mrs. Reddy and Mrs. Rajiv to land up here we were thick friends with the sextet. The dhaba owner had his reservations, of course, since his was the major loss but the others were quite decent lads.
Mrs. Reddy came all tears and contrition. “I never thought you would do this. I knew you were hurting but I couldn’t help myself. I won’t talk down to you again. You, too, promise me that you will never contemplate suicide again!”
“But I never..” started Reddy and gulped down the rest of his words in the face of the 10000 KW glare from the rest of us! Here was his chance at a peaceful home life and he was well on his way to fluffing it by saying that he never contemplated suicide.
Mrs.Rajiv had her own litany. ‘At last! For once you treated me as a person. Up to now it seemed to me that I was an object of desire, which should not be lost at any cost. When you said you would leave me…that was the first time you ever said anything that meant that you considered me as a person to be liked or disliked”
‘But, darling! You don’t understand exactly how..”
Another 10000 KW glare! Electricity was certainly in the air that day. I know it seems traitorous to my sex but men can really be such fools!
“You love me, darling?”, said Rajiv, recovering from his folly.
“Of course, you idiot! Why do you think I stayed with you…for lack of choice?”
There was an interregnum of inchoate noises that need no explanation.
“Rajiv! There are other ways than anger to show that you consider me as a person”. There was a hint of steel in her voice. “I am not exchanging the position of trophy wife for that of a door-mat”.
Looked like it was not going to be entirely a bed of roses for Rajiv!
The biker crowd was happily planning Sudhir and Jasmit’s wedding. It seemed to me that Karnail Singh was not entirely happy with the idea – going by the disbelieving look in his face every time he looked at Sudhir – but Jasmit proved to have a will of steel, especially when it came to her father.
One unhappy voice intruded in all this festivity. “What will I do? My dhaba is gone and I have nothing to live on.”
That is when I had my brightest idea. Here I was, wondering about what to do with my time and here was this guy situated off a main road and a grand cook too. Sitting on the road, watching traffic, meeting the odd customer, going on bike rides and visiting the city every now and then seemed like a very attractive proposition.
“Listen! I will go partners with you. I will finance a small motel at your location!” I said. My erstwhile nemesis was so grateful to me that he almost drowned me in his tears of joy.
Having arranged happy endings for every one I leant back satisfied. The only fly in the ointment for me was that, when I proposed living so far from Delhi, there was a noise suspiciously like a sigh of relief from three sets of feminine nostrils! Women! I will never understand them!
Disclaimer: A fellow-blogger challenged me to write a desi version of the movie 'Wild Hogs' for the Castrol contest. I hope there are enough similarities in story-line to satisfy him, enough differences and enough biking to satisfy the contest requirement of an original biking story!