It was a hot and stifling summer night, pregnant with the promise of rain on a parched, cracked Earth. The winds whispered a silent prayer as they went about their work, waiting and watching. The tarmac shone bright under the stray moonlight. I craned my head at the sky and had an insane desire to howl at the moon. I sniffed the air. Yes, tonight is the night.
I was in the middle of nowhere really. Outskirts of the city at two in the night, on a route which is rarely frequented by truckers and is better known for being a virgin strip to motorcyclists and drivers, I was at an all night tea – shack just by the side of the road. The only sounds were those of the crackle of the firewood as the flames licked up the sides of the kettle, a transistor playing a long forgotten tune and me sipping on the sweet, hot kaawa brewed up by the Kashmiri tea guy, wondering at his persistence in pursuing his livelihood. The jacket felt warm at best, and hot at worst. I stared into the horizon, unclipping the cigarette from my ear, and lit it. A steady drone from a distance grew in my ear. My life was about to change, I was just too foolish to not see it already.
The drone turned into a roar. I could almost breathe in the acrid smell of the smoke now. The custom made chambers gave out a foot-long tongue of fire as the revs climbed. Rider and motorcycle slung-shot past me as I stared at a white trail of smoke. Not good. Frantic phone call ensues. Squeal squeal. I see the rider in black and his White Stallion fishtail, steady and slowly, purposefully, take a u-turn. White Stallion and rider comes back to where I am standing.
I stare. I stare. When am done staring, I stare some more.
Some folks have the habit of sipping on stuff. Some of them gulp it down. And some gulp, then regurgitate and chew the cud, so to speak. I am of the third kind. I take it all in, in gulps and mouthfuls. The smooth flowing lines and the curves. The light from the stove bouncing off the chrome on the oddly shaped chambers. The low, forward reach handlebars. The round, big headlight. Then stop and stare at the details. The White Stallion. The legendary letters “350 Torque Induction” stand out. The black thin double lines surrounding the words Rajdoot add layers to the motorcycle’s character. The headlight cover proclaiming Yamaha Japan, the plastic scoops glinting with the touch of wax and hours of polishing. Heart achingly exotic. Heart breakingly beautiful.
Done drinking in the details, all the while on my haunches, I stand up, stretching the cramped muscles. The motorcycle seems to be growing in stature every time I look at her, beckoning me to sit astride her, to ride, to burn rubber, towards freedom from all I hold dear. I ask the rider. He says, “Sure, but she is going to turn twenty five this year. Be careful.”
I seat myself on the comfortable leather seats. Put the keys inside and gently twist. There is a gentle click as the key locks into position. I pray to the Holy Trinity. I push down the kicker and give it one soft quick kick. The engines roar into life.
Let me take a moment here and explain what the roar of a street bred, ported and chambered RD 350 sounds like. The roar that goes up is not unlike the one you head often in war cinemas, of a hundred Heavy Machine Guns, Uzis and Lugers firing at random. There are gurgles, missed clicks, chains of bullets being fed into the guns as the fingers stay depressed on the trigger and the safety catch stay locked into an On position. A brilliant cacophony of sounds, if you may. You can hear it from a mile off, the din heavy enough to raise hell, and yet musical enough to set the adrenaline pumping in the meekest of us. In one word, it is ecstasy.
I take in the large round dials of the speedo and tacho. I take in the customized FZ handlebars, which will give it the much needed weight-in-the-front distribution to handle the extra power and torque. I gently depress the clutch and engage the first gear. Rotate the throttle a bit and dump the clutch.
The feeling is gut wrenching. The wrists groan in agony as my right palm straddles the throttle on a lock, two fingers on the brake. Four thousand, clutch, switch, second gear. The cacophony settles down into an arrogant drone.
The winds play around my ears as I try to decipher a sudden burst of unintelligible sounds. My mind shrinks away, confused and searching for a plausible explanation. No! It cannot be real. And yet it is. It is the motorcycle. She starts talking to me.
“Hunch over, twist away, let me see what you got.”
Five thousand, clutch, switch, third now. Whispers which I thought was voices in my head turn out to be real. The motorcycle starts grumbling.
“Aah, you old woman, come on! Hunch over, these old bones have it in them still! “
I decide to go the whole hog.
Hunch down completely, look over the dashboard, a quick flick of the neck to check for oncoming traffic on either side, and I downshift back into second to tap into the torque band and give her the stick. She flies. Despite the frontal weight, despite the hunch-over, despite everything, the front lifts off. I grip the tank with the thighs as my knees lock into position awkwardly under the tank. A soft prayer escapes my lips as I understand that I can barely whisper, the lips and the mouth seem parched, on fire.
Five thousand, six thousand, seven thousand, ninety kilometres an hour. Upshift quickly, third now, back on the throttle, eight thousand. I hear a bloodcurdling scream from the engine as the needle effortlessly climbs to one hundred and twenty kilometres an hour. More whip.
Have you had those times in your life, when you desperately pray to God to rescue you, I mean really pray, because you certainly do not have the skillsets to do it yourself? I have. That time when I nearly skidded into a ditch because I missed an oil-spill in the middle of a curve, and that time when I took on mighty Joe in school, who stood a clean foot above me and could pound me to a pulp if he wanted to?
That moment passes me by. The head barely over the instrument cluster, I start to pray again. The power-band is still meaty, but it is just beginning to show the signs of tapering off. More throttle. One hundred and thirty two kilometres an hour. And climbing. I have an estimated two kilometres in front of me before I hit end of this road. I decide to give it everything I have got. Brakes, slow down a bit, and shift back to second, a bone jarring jerk and a slight fishtail as the transmission gets used to a new set of cogs. Throttle wide open. Things around me start to get blurry, as the needle, after dropping back to eighty, starts to climb. One hundred and ten, twelve, fifteen, clutch, upshift, third gear, one hundred and twenty. One hundred and twenty seven. I flick my eyes from the road to the speedo and back. Clutch, Upshift, fourth. One hundred and thirty, thirty three, forty.
I am at the end of the road, where a downhill stretch begins. Non existent drum brakes be damned, low powered headlights be damned, worn out treads be damned, the smell of blood thickened as I sniffed in the acrid fumes. Clutch, downshift, back on third. Squeal, squeal. The Stallion roars as I feel the heat from the chambers seeping into my pants. Holy fish, did I just bust the pistons? A whisper stirs up again, lores of days past and glories yet to be seen, as the front fork lifts effortlessly, even in third gear! One hundred and twenty five, twenty seven, thirty one, thirty five. Downhill continues effortlessly. One hundred and thirty eight, thirty nine, forty, forty two, forty five, fifty, fifty two. The body screams from having hunched over, and I feel like I am watching myself from a distance. I chicken out and decide that it is enough.
A blast of warm air hits me squarely in the face and on the chest as the motorcycle stabilizes herself and starts to climb down from madness, retracing my steps. I bring her to a stop in front of the tea-shack and to the rider. I get off the motorcycle gingerly. He is busy working his cigarette and tries to stop grinning.
Pit stops demand that we sit down and discuss the fine points. I am unable to speak for a full three minutes. The heart is still hammering away in the pits of my chest cavity.
My introduction to the legendary RD 350 will be a sweet memory etched in my mind forever. Uptil then, I loved motorcycles, sure. I adored them. I loved their lines, their curves. Their power to thrill. Their cult status, and what they are capable of doing.
But never in my life could I even imagine that a motorcycle could literally talk to you. Tell you whispers of days gone by. Tales of battles fought and won. Promises of what can still be done. Like in your ear. Like in your head.
I became a believer.