“About saddle discomfort, opinion is in favor of going natural down there, in the nether regions, you understand? It gives good cushioning, don’t go shaving, it makes pedaling prickly,” Ajooni had to smile at how upfront sports persons were with their anatomical tips. “And girl, bacteria loves Lycra, wash and dry and wait a minute!” her team cyclist cast a surreptitious look about before dipping her voice, “There is a cream called ‘Ass magic’, it is all about loving your bum if you want to haul 100 Km daily on that road bike you fly upon. Get going now.”
A tiny push and spring, Ajooni had swung her right leg over the saddle expertly, eyes watering with merriment behind her custom glares. As soon as the bike gained momentum, she threw back her slim neck and hooted out an unladylike guffaw at the name of the chamois cream. Ass magic indeed! Had her grandmother even an inkling of this cycling culture, Ajooni would be home, honing her rajmaah and aloo gobhi skills.
“What kind of a mother are you, tell me, letting your young daughter roam around long distances alone? And on a cycle?! What if the tyres punctured out there on some deserted stretch? She could be knocked down or worse, kidnapped. Mark my words, that cycling club she is so fond of is an evil influence on her. Our Ajooni is too naive!” the home of this adventurous cyclist was thick with these hyper cautious notes.
They were three generations living together and it was the middle one that bore the brunt of foretold tragedies. Ajooni’s mother played buffer as best she could but Bebe Ji was if anything, as stubborn as her granddaughter. The two often argued over their Sikh identity. “Puttar, it is a privilege to be born a Sikh. We have some unique concepts of the Saint Soldier, the Guru, our Mul Mantra, Naam and Hukum, let me give you some books on Sikhism in English, it is important to have a sense of who you are and where you come from.”
The intensity with which Ajooni tuned out this indoctrination was in direct proportion to its frequency. An Ivy League graduate, she was a do-it-yourself millennial, not exactly trusting of institutions that had let down her generation more often than not. “Bebe Ji, we just need one religion in the world, that of humanity,” she was fond of cutting short her grandmother’s spiel.
Brought up by progressive parents in a liberal environment, Ajooniwas used to following her heart and mind. At the dinner table one night, she made a declaration of sorts, “I want to cycle across India and document the ride, more as a campaign to highlight women’s safety issues on our roads,” The table clatter braked all of a sudden, multiple goldfish mouths of her family members, sucking on air in abject panic. “Oh my God, I warned you she was being given too much freedom,” Bebe Ji’s body quivered with concern. Using the dismayed silence as a cue, Ajooni expanded on the theme, “I want to prove that it can be done and that it is safe. My aim is to encourage and motivate more Indian women to step out of their fear zones when it comes to solo traveling. I have picked a challenging route from Leh to Kanyakumari, about 3000 plus kilometers. I may need your inputs Dad and Mum on budget breakdown and route plan. My fitness preparation is going well.”
That’s it. Just like that. There was no time for dissuasion. A lot had to be done. Bicycle accessories, tools, kit, spares to be bought. Ajooni’s father got busy booking her one way ticket to Leh. Her Mum pitched in with the media coverage material. And Bebe Ji settled down for what she knew would be a long haul in her tiny Baba Ji’s room. Ajooni was looking at about two months of cycling to cover the route.
Their hearts in their mouths and prayers on their lips, Ajooni’s family ticked off the days, one at a time on a special calendar Bebe Ji insisted they hang in her room. She would take the broad red marker pen and slash the date cross ways with a vengeance. Weekends came and went.
The day she was to launch on her final leg, Ajooni called to speak with her grandmother. Tears rolled down the aged eyes, as she pressed the phone to her ears, “Bebe Ji, do you know what kept me going on this ride, your Gurudwaras… our Gurudwaras, they became my default plan of action, such stunning, unhesitating, unrivalled hospitality Bebe Ji. They met my requests with good will and chai! I slept and ate there. I experienced charity first hand. This trip has changed me. You were right about spirituality being in giving with no expectation of a return. Wahe Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji ki Fateh Bebe Ji!”