Saturday, June 5, 2010

COLUMN: Learning to ride a motorcycle

COLUMN: Learning to ride a motorcycle

Jun 5 2010

Learning to ride a motorcycleGears, two wheelers, and the Xavier’s slope

By Cecil Pinto

In 1982 I was in Std XI and of the correct age, sixteen, to learn riding a geared motorcycle. Up until this point the only motorized vehicle I had rode myself was a moped. Mo-ped, because in addition to a motor it had pedals to help in taking off and climbing steep slopes. Popular moped models in Goa were the Kinetic Luna and the TVS 50. I’m not quite sure if it was legal or not to ride mopeds without a license, but we did ride them a lot. A single visit to the city to fill up the tank would ensure days of hassle free riding in the village, where no traffic cops ever ventured.

Now here I was of proper dating age, also sixteen, at the St. Xavier’s College Annual Fete with an eye on this lovely creature from the Commerce section. The Science girls didn’t even look at us Arts guys. Well this pretty girl, let’s call her Angela, seemed to be reciprocating. In the sense she didn’t outright refuse my offer to drop her home to Gaunsavaddo.

Now that was one problem solved; getting a girl to agree to be reached home at night. The second much easier task was to now procure a motorcycle. There were no mopeds in Xavier’s college. You can’t climb that slope with a 50cc engine. Period.Very few of my friends had scooters or motorcycles but even they were aware that I didn’t know how to ride a geared bike. Well I had a plan. 1) I didn’t intend asking them 2) I didn’t intend starting the bike.

Here’s how it works. First I surveyed which bikes were not locked. Only two fulfilled that criteria. Olav’s Vijai Super scooter and Terence’s modified Yezdi motorcycle. The more macho Yezdi won. I wheeled the bike to near where Cruz’s canteen used to be and put it on its stand. No danger of Terence turning up as I had someone on the job of keeping him occupied at the Killing the Rat stall by giving him prizes even when he didn’t hit the table tennis ball.

Angela was waiting where I had told her to, but alas, she had a girlfriend in tow. Somewhere in the few minutes that elapsed she had rethought her willingness to be with me alone and had chickened out.

Story of my life!Anyway now I had to drop them both home to, fortunately, Gaunsavado. I got onto the bike. Angela hopped on behind me and her friend sat at the back - side saddle. The Yezdi had a pretty generous seat. Without starting the bike we took off down the slope gliding silently and swiftly. First the very steep section, then right past the Muslim Cemetery and the Mapusa Industrial Estate followed by a sharp right turn at the St. Mary’s Junction. All this using just gravity and brakes. The way Angela held me tight told me I was gaining lost ground.

A sharp left soon after El Capitan took us down the steep slope that straightens near Ribeiro’s Hospital and then curves past Cine Alankar.

Now this Z-turn was crucial. If I braked I would lose momentum. If I didn’t brake I might crash into the food stalls. Taking a very calculated risk and with much body angling to maintain balance I managed to go careening past the Z-turn rapidly without touching the brakes. The girls were screaming by now. Which was all very well. Angel was holding me very tight, but I didn’t know whether it was passion, or fear of death, or Fear of Flying!The momentum thus gained carried us right past the Remanco Hospital, the Asilo, the Cemetery and miraculously right up to the side entrance of St. Jerome’s Church. If you re-read that last sentence, and the sequence of landmarks, there is a philosophy of life, living and religion in there somewhere.

Allowing the bike to glide to a halt I first asked Angela’s friend, but not Angela who was still unnecessarily holding on for dear life, to get off while I made few feeble phony attempts at kick starting the bike.

Then, putting the bike on its stand, I made a big sham of trying to locate the problem and muttered something about a spark plug. Neither of the girls noticed that what I was actually examining at the time was the carburetor. But then considering they had not even noticed that there was no key in the ignition, I knew I was on solid grounds. Parking the bike at the side of the road I walked them both to Angela’s house a stone throw away. I then walked all the way back uphill to rejoin the College Fete. For many weeks Terence was unaware how his missing bike was found, totally unharmed and unused, near the church next morning.

A week later my good friend and classmate Olav offered to teach me to ride on his Vijay Super, a small but powerful scooter which was basically an Indian remake of the powerhouse Innocenti Lambretta GP150.

We started off on the straight road near the Xavier’s football ground.

Olav sat pillion and reaching past me from both sides eased the bike into 2nd gear and allowed me to just cruise along with just the accelerator to get the feel of the bike. I managed pretty well and soon we went down the gentler slope to the T-junction near the Muslim Cemetery – all in 2nd gear. Olav again reached over, maneuvered a U-turn and urged me to try going back to college, this time taking the steep slope. Midway up the slope the scooter started struggling. Olav was shouting in my ear, “Topan ghall!”, which is Konkani for “Put it in top gear!”I engaged the clutch and looked down at the markings. There was a 1st and a 3rd gear adjacent to the 2nd. Whish was Top? 1st or 3rd?Olav kept yelling, “Topan ghall! Topan ghall!” Assuming ‘top’ meant 1st, I was about to gently ease into that gear when suddenly the blue Xavier’s College Bus appeared over the crest. I panicked and let go off the clutch abruptly. The scooter shot forward like a powerful rocket with me hanging on to the handlebars. Olav was jettisoned backward off the bike onto the road and landed on his derriere on the tarmac. I think it was his ego that was more bruised. Neither the scooter nor me were harmed.

Olav didn’t speak to me for many months.

First published in Gomantak Times, Goa - April 8, 2010