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If you’re an Indian who’s lived in India, you already know the why this is true. Indians really do make the best motorcycle passengers.
Here’s why. There’s no such thing as a passive motorcycle passenger in India. If you’re going to hop on, you have a job to do. You can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride if you’re in a city. You’re the co-pilot.
Firstly, no one uses left or right turn signals in India on any motor vehicle. We use hand signals to indicate our intention to turn. That’s your job, as the passenger, while the biker navigates through the two, three, four wheelers and live stock.
Secondly, you have to be ready to yell at those who ignore your intent to turn and swear at them until they get out of the way. When I lived in India, I swore like a sailor. You cannot show fear or hesitation. Waving your fists about is also very effective. In addition, if the hand turn signals don’t work, there is one hand gesture that works quite effectively, especially if you’re a woman and no one is expecting it. I never look like I would swear much less make rude hand gestures so no one sees me coming.
Finally, if you’re a woman, the swearing and aggression also comes in handy with “eve teasers.” Eve teasers is a term that exists primarily in India and Pakistan and is used to describe those men who harass women because they exist and because the opportunity presented itself. On motorcycles, in schools, at the bus stop, in the world. Motorcycles can be an easy target for obvious reasons. This is where the co-pilot needs to be ready. Ready with screams and swears. Ready to fight, wave your fists about and defend our right to be in this world. It’s a matter of pride. Then we ride off into the sunset feeling a sense of accomplishment.
So the next time, you’re in need of an engaged, effusive passenger on your bike and you find yourself next to an Indian willing to help, thank your lucky stars – especially if the Indian is a woman.
I love motorcycles. I love everything about them. From the way they look to the way they sound to the wonderful feeling of riding in the wind to the courteous nod of acknowledgment that all oncoming bikers are expected to give each other. If you’re the proud owner of a motorcycle, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, any serious relationship I’ve ever been in, the man always owned a motorcycle. I guess we all have a type.
I should point out here that I don’t actually know how to ride one. This is also the perfect time to declare that I am the one of the world’s best motorcycle passengers (For details on this, read my other post, “Why Indians Make The Best Motorcycle Passengers.”).
This is interesting given that when I was 12, I was hit by a motorcycle traveling at high speed. My friends and I were crossing the street and the biker thought he wouldn’t need to slow down for us. That we would cross by the time he got to us. He was wrong. Not only did he hit me, he went flying in the air and I stopped the bike in its tracks (I was a thick-skinned little kid back then). We both hit the ground, lost consciousness and when I came to, I had lots of bruises most embarrassing of which was a big fat lip. It looked like botched plastic surgery. Nothing too life threatening, just enough emotional scars to have nightmares for a few weeks. I was very lucky.
In time, my fat lip went back to normal and I stopped having nightmares. My heart skipped a teeny tiny beat when I crossed the street (it still does) but all in all I didn’t act traumatized.
Until I moved to India for college where most people my age had motorcycles, scooters or mopeds because cars are too expensive. All my college buddies had motorcycles or knew how to ride one; except for me.
I thought I was over it, until one day one of my girlfriends needed me to run an errand with her. She said “Hop on! Let’s go.” For a brief moment, I just stood there. I didn’t want to seem uncool but I kept thinking, “What if I fall off or get hurt again? What if we hit a cow? What if we hit a dog? A homeless child? A horse? What if an auto rickshaw runs into us? What if there is a 60 second torrential downpour?” All valid questions in India.
Just then a scooter passed us with a family of four. Dad riding, mom in a sari, perched sideways with baby in tow and little boy standing in front of the dad. A typical happy Indian family putting me to shame. How annoying. I decided I had no choice but to straddle on and say in an over dramatic tone “Let’s go.”
Initially, I was nervous and genuinely believed that I would fall off. Then I found myself starting to relax. With the insane traffic in India, we weren’t going that fast and there are millions of distractions. This allowed me to get accustomed to the idea and we avoided running to the aforementioned dogs, cows, children and horses. Luckily there was no short lived torrential downpour either. In the midst of all chaos that ensues on Indian motorways, I felt surprisingly calm.
Slowly, as we rode out of the city, and started to pick up speed, I realized that it was actually quite comforting to glide and lean with the motorcycle as it went around corners. To let go instead of resist. To just trust and be in the moment instead of over thinking it. In that moment, I felt extremely carefree.
This is why I love motorcycles and feel at home on them. To me, they’re symbolic of overcoming a fear and getting back on the horse (or this case on the motorcycle). Of course, it definitely helps that motorcycles are sexy. But whenever, something scares me, I just visualize a carefree ride on a motorcycle and it makes me feel better.
I’ve had a revelation. We grown ups are too grown up. We try to solve all our problems ourselves, we try to be strong, we try to be independent. It’s supposed to be a part of being an adult, right?
But then I think back to those times, as a child, when my parents bailed me out of things and how they worked wonders for me. That got me thinking. Why don’t we rely on that more? Your parents are your best publicity agents. They believe in you (well most parents) and they talk you up like you’re the best thing since 100 calorie snack packs. Indian parents especially do that. Children are a matter of extreme pride and extreme shame to Indian parents. When they’re proud of you, they brag about you like the world is ending. When they’re ashamed of you, it doesn’t matter. They just lie and talk you up, thereby saving face and the family name. It’s actually quite brilliant, if put to good use.
That’s what led me to believe I should have my parents with me when I’m about to lose a job. We’ve all been there. I’ve been laid off three times in my life. It’s like a punch in the stomach.
Here’s why I think I’m on to something. When I was 5, we lived in Kuwait and all the Hukmani children went to “The New Indian School” It was a rite of passage. It was a source of pride. There was another school called “The Indian School” but that wasn’t good enough for my parents.
The issue with ‘The New Indian School” was it was hard to get into. No matter what age you were. My first experience with the school was an entrance exam for Kindergarten. If I didn’t pass, I didn’t get in. The entrance exam had two parts. Write the entire alphabet. Count to 10. Seemed a bit ridiculous because that’s what you’re supposed to learn in Kindergarten.
Oh well. My parents taught me the alphabet. They taught me to count. We practiced and trained every day. It was like a Rocky movie. Finally, I was ready. I was going to get it. The Hukmani name depended on me.
We showed up the day of my entrance exam and walked into the school where a very tall, scary looking woman was waiting for us. Actually, she easily could’ve been beautiful and lovely but, in my head, I remember her as Maleficent. She rounded us clueless 5 year olds up, without our parents, marched us to a classroom, got us seated and locked the door. Yes, locked the door. She then announced, “There is a paper and pencil on your desk. Write the alphabet. When you’re done, come to me and count to 10. Begin….NOW!!”
I was terrified. It was the first time I had been separated from my parents. I just stared at the blank paper and started sweating. Reluctantly, I wrote “A, B…” and then my mind went as blank as the paper. So I asked the kid in front of me, “Hey what comes after B?” He looked at me for a while and and then said “D.” I wrote that down and stared at it. “A, B, D…” I knew that wasn’t right. But I couldn’t remember what came after B. I started panicking. Either this kid was just as lost as me or he had brilliantly sabotaged me.
So I started crying. The kind of crying where kids scrunch their eyes really tight, open their mouth wide and then wail at the top of their lungs till they are out of breath. I don’t know what Maleficent thought of me but next thing I knew she had taken me out of the dungeon and reunited me with my parents. She also told them I didn’t know the alphabet and I had failed. I wouldn’t be getting into “The New Indian School.”
I remember that day like it was yesterday. My parents saw red. They comforted me for a moment and then barged into the principals office. I’d never seen them that angry before. They yelled at the Principal and told him I was the smartest 5 year old he was ever going to meet. That I was sweet and an amazing person too. They yelled at him, till he gave in and allowed me to retake the test the next day. Not behind locked doors but in his office with my parents sitting next to me. Then my parents and I went out for ice cream.
The next day, we showed up at the Principal’s office, each parent standing on either side like my bodyguards and the Principal said “Begin…”
I aced it. I not only knew my alphabet, I counted to 15 and drew a dog on the paper when I was done and named it “Tommy.” The fact that my parents believed in me had a profound effect on me. I was a rockstar that day. I got into “The New Indian School.” Then we went out for ice cream again.
I think my parents and your parents could still do that for you. I really do. So next time, you’re getting laid off or let go, tell the pour soul who in charge of giving you the bad news, “Wait…I can’t do this without my parents.” Then let them come in and yell at whoever is in charge till they change their mind because you are, in fact, amazing. I bet we’ll never have to involuntarily clear out our desks again. Then go out for ice cream.
Sitting in front of the TV, age 6, mouth open and barely eating my dinner, I watched the quintessential American sitcom with my parents. A mother called out to her kids for Sunday breakfast; pancakes, of course. Living in Cyprus, that was the first time I had ever ‘seen’ a pancake. For some reason, I was mesmerized by its shape and texture, and blurted out in front of my parents ‘I just know I’m going to like pancakes.’ My father stared at me, perplexed, but never one to shy away from a challenge he took it upon himself to create the perfect pancake for his youngest daughter.
I never realized this at the time, but that offhand comment brought about one of my favorite memories from my childhood; the summer of the pancake. True to his word, my dad spent that entire summer creating the perfect pancake. He tried various ingredients and cooking methods (at one point even deep frying the pancake out of sheer frustration, even though he very well knew a pancake was never deep fried). But my reaction was always the same. I would take one bite, shake my head and say ‘That’s not it.’ Of course, that was usually followed by the same complaint ‘How do you know? You’ve never been to America or tasted a real pancake’ my dad would ask loudly. To which I would always reply with as much wisdom a 6 year old pull could off ‘I…just..know.’
At the end of that summer he gave up. But I continued to dream of the pancake for the rest of the year and the day I’d move to the US. Years passed and I forgot about it. I moved countries, tried all kinds of exotic foods and generally had a blast. Then finally, in 2001, I moved to the US (specifically NYC) to join my sister who had moved here a year earlier.
I didn’t choose the best day to move to NYC. My first day in NYC (and the US) turned out to be Sept 11, 2001. Despite the fear and chaos around me, to this day, I am still impressed by the empathy of New Yorkers who would overhear my sister telling her friends ‘This is her first day in the US’ and come over to tell me ‘Sorry you caught us on a bad day. Don’t leave. New York’s a great place to live!’
That was a day unlike any other and we were one of the fortunate ones to get out unharmed. My sister and her friends were able to get hold of a car and drive out of the city. As we drove out of NYC into NJ, my sister suggested we stop at a diner and get something to eat. Sitting at a typical American diner, thankful to be alive, memories of my childhood came flooding back when I opened the menu and saw ‘Pancakes’ on the menu. I knew what I wanted to order.
That was my first day in the US and the first day I had an American pancake – which tasted exactly how I expected it to taste and looked exactly how I had seen on TV. There sitting in an American diner, with my first American friends whose optimism amazed me, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. I knew I belonged.
That was 13 years ago. I am still living in the US and loving it (as the jingle of McDonalds goes). Now a proud American citizen, I often look back to my first day and try to remember, if I had any doubts or regrets about my move. I didn’t. Even on Sept 11, a day of devastation, I knew I was here to stay. I knew I had finally come home.