Lipstick Under My Helmet
By Aditya Kiran Nag
“I was slapped by my dad. I don’t understand why he did that I mean I bought it on my own money and I like riding a lot… It’s a guy thing no way you should do it. Are you crazy what if an accident happens your face will be scarred, who is going to marry you then?..These are statements and incidents that happened with these women of Odisha everyday and every minute. And then there are the stares. A God damn woman riding a motorcycle! They can’t handle it.” Says Sikhyata Chhatoi an avid motorcyclist. ‘They’ are not men ‘they’ is our mindset. In a world which is becoming connected and technologically advanced certain mindsets have remained as bastions, difficult to breach. And one of them is the concerted effort at negating, denying and downright rejecting the liberty of a fellow human being or rather a woman in this case. We need not tell you the plight of women in India or in Odisha but those above mentioned quotes do showcase that something is rapidly changing in our society. The Odia women are slowly coming of age in their thought process. “Why can’t I be treated like my brother? Why does he get the perks of riding a motorcycle?’”Says Priyanka Ghoshal another biker. Coffee Bytes caught up with two members of Odisha Bikerni Chapter (Sikhyata Chattoi [SC] & Priyanka Ghoshal [PG] ) who have broken all taboos and have joined along with a few others to form the Odisha Chapter and do their own thing. Which is basically taking a motorcycle ride and enjoying the wind on your face. We met them at a café in Bhubaneswar to which they had biked down to. For us covering this interview was also a test to the writers own beliefs and experiences. There is a myth perpetrated in the riding community that women cannot ride, they have no sense of direction and that it’s difficult to ride with them. Sikhayata confirms this by sharing with us that the first hurdle, they face are their parents. Who would say “You, are riding a motorcycle, what would other people think about you? A girl on a bike is it even safe, what if you have an accident and break a bone? No riding a motorcycle is a strict no no for you?’” The Odisha Bikerni Chapter was formed in November 2017 with Silvana Ceresola, Proshish Golyan, Arshia Mussarat, Priyanka Ghoshal, Manisha, Sikhyata Chattoi and Nirali.
So tell us what bikes do you guys have in the group?
PG- Ahh we have Royal Enfield T-Bird, Enfield Classic, Yamaha R15, KTM 250, 200 and a Bajaj Avenger. But we are not keen on the type of bikes in-fact everyone is welcome. We have certain ground rules for admittance like one should have a valid license, proper gears like helmets and gloves. A valid vehicle insurance. SC- Most importantly being obedient to traffic rules, we don’t encourage anyone in our group to do any kind of stunting or rash driving. Adds Sikhyata.
Could you tell us a little bit about your group members? And are you like real badass women on a motorcycle?
SC & PG (They burst out in laughter) – Oh no, we are not badass riders. As we told you earlier we are very concerned about safety and security while riding. Our group consists of members from various backgrounds, Like Priyanka she is a student and then there is Proshish who has her own business and is also a mother of a four year old. Then there is Silvana an Italian national who too is a mother. Sikhayata di’s a working professional and Arshia is also a student like me. Adds Priyanka..
Do you think that riding on a motorbike is socially acceptable here in Odisha?
SC- Yes & No. See I will narrate two incidents from our own daily life. First one happened a few months ago with one of our riders. She was coming back from office on the Patia road when all of a sudden this guy on a motorcycle who wasn’t even wearing a lid (helmet) overtakes her on the wrong side and does a stoppie right in front of her. She breaks and swerves right had there been oncoming traffic behind her she would have been dead! Do you think such behaviour is correct on the road? Almost all of us have been subjected to such behaviour on the road not to mention cat calls and gestures. But in all of this there have been incidents of appreciation too. (She says with a smile) I was riding to Kolkata and while on the highway I was flagged down by this family and they took selfies with me and said that they are really proud of a girl riding a motorcycle. For a moment I felt like a celebrity it’s a feel good thing. (She laughs) I mean here in our state it may not be acceptable to see a woman on a motorcycle but that mindset is changing fast.
Talking about being a celebrity. Do you think that this recent media attention that your group has got, done anything to chang e the mi n d s e t ?
PG- I will tell you, I have been riding a motorcycle since I was 18 and now I am studying in University. My father was always against me riding a motorcycle but thanks to my mum he finally got me a KTM RC 200 and you know how much noisy it is. So he would tell me that to take it out of the colony and start it. No one should know that you are riding. I was like No way! that’s gonna happen I am gonna ride it straight out from the house like ‘normal people’ do. The bike is a little high to balance I have to tip-toe and sometimes I would fall off which is normal it happens when you are learning how to ride. I would get cut and bruised which would make dad mad and I ended up getting grounded too. Even dad’s friends and office mates also raised objection to me riding a motorcycle. But when we started getting covered in the media and were praised by people my dad’s viewpoint changed. He was happy about me riding and he realised that it’s normal for a woman to ride. Yes thanks to the media and journalists we think the mindset is changing.
We have heard that a woman buying a bike is impossible? Is it correct?
SC- Well yes in one odd way it’s correct. This incident happened with me when I decided to buy my first bike. I am a working professional (A senior software engineer) and my salary slips made sure that I can sure as hell finance my bike and pay it off since I am in a stable job and my credit score is good. I was in for a surprise when I walked in to buy a Yamaha R3 which has a 321cc engine. It was a hefty 3.2 lakhs, so I told the guys at the showroom to finance around 1 lakh. I had the money but I wanted the finance option so that if there is some breakage or damage I could still have some money to fix it as insurance doesn’t fully cover your claims. Apparently there was a clause in the financing norms which prohibited me from having the bike in my own name. This clause specifically states that a woman cannot finance a vehicle over 125cc. You have to be a co-applicant. I mean I see no logic to this. This is an incident that happened with me at Bajaj Finance. I couldn’t question them so I had to change my mind and finally booked a R-15 all cash. I mean isn’t that discrimination a woman has no ability to purchase a higher engined vehicle in her own name. Isn’t that wrong?
We individually asked each member (on email) What made you start riding?
Here are their responses :
I started riding a bike back in the 90’s in Thailand on my first trip to South East Asia. I started renting small 120cc Honda Wave bikes to travel around cities and islands. My first experience riding fully geared bikes was in India while residing in Goa where most of my friends were riding RE to travel along the coast line, I soon rented my own bike and started riding daily from beach to beach. I love traveling and my bike has become my best adventure companion.
It all started with a simple bike learning session by my dad on his splendor 125. Thats the only bike we had. Not just me, he taught my sisters and brother too. We were all brought up in Nepal and started learning at an age of 13. Frankly speaking, we had no clue riding a motorbike was a big deal until me, my sister and a friend went on a bike tour to Ladakh for 7 days, 1100 kms to cover World’s 3 highest motorable passes starting from Manali through Ladakh. The love for adventure took me to this trip to ladakh. So yes that’s where the idea of riding began and it all started with a personal aim to bring more and more adventure and fun in life..
It all started with my dad’s bike, a TVS, when I was in 7th standard. I used to take the bike out from the house as mom had to clean the courtyard early morning. First I rolled it like a bicycle and slowly learnt to ride like an expert. One fine day, I took it out early morning when everyone in my house were asleep. Riding a bike by a girl in a small village was a big deal. The stares, the gossips, the freedom did not let me sleep all night. I kept riding every morning and parked the bike like nothing happened. Knowing about my riding I got beaten up by my mom. Then when they saw me riding they changed. My parents were shocked. From then on there was no looking back. I took my friend’s and brother’s bike and travelled many places in Odisha including Vizag and Kolkata. Now I own a Yamaha FZs Ver 2.
It was 2015 when I learnt how to ride a motorbike from one of my closest friend, Shabrez Ahmed. Being a curious person by nature, I would often question my capabilities on how I can do more than the boundaries set for a normal woman in my society. It wasn’t about breaking the stereotypes, I learnt it because it’s all I’ve seen my father, Shabrez and my male friends doing. I started learning on a Ktm Duke 200 with the help of my friend, and almost caught my dad’s attention and surprisingly my father showed his interest thus gifting me a brand new Ktm Duke 250 2017 to live my dreams.
I started riding when I was in standard 11. My parents just couldn’t digest the fact of buying me a bike. I had no elder brother to teach me and I couldn’t convince my father to sit behind me in his bike. Taking help of a few relatives, friends I started learning how to ride, what freedom feels like and after discovering it no matter how much I tip toe, how many times I fall whatever I have never looked back.Now at times when I drop my father at his office or somewhere when his colleagues, their sons and daughters praise him and get inspired from me, the smile at my father’s face I guess makes him forget all the criticism he had received at the beginning of going against the society and letting a girl ride. My list of rides that I want to are Delhi to Leh, Mumbai to Goa, Jaipur to Jaisalmer, Ahmedabad to Diu, Guwhati to Tawang and hopefully do a cross country if my luck, parents and the developing society supports.
Who are the ones who supported you in the formation of the group? And is it growing?
SC & PG- We have support from like-minded people who came forward to help us form our group like Proshish’s husband supported us since he too is a rider. He is there to help us plan our rides and trips. Then there is Nirali di she is really supportive of our cause. She is a rider and off-roader too. She is the first woman in our circle who started riding superbikes in Bhubaneswar. And there are many more, some would soon be joining our chapter. Social media also plays a very important role in the growth of the chapter and also popularise riding culture amongst women in Odisha.
Since you mentioned about Social media. Today it’s where one voices there each and every activity, have you faced criticism or adulations on social media?
SC & PG- Oh yes we have faced criticism on social media. Our first ride was all over the news and also on social media. So this random person from Bangalore uploads a photo on his social media account and starts attacking us for no reason. We were like ‘bro’ have you even seen us riding? He started spreading content targeting us as a bunch of publicity seekers and that we have no real motivation for riding,Says Priyanka. Sometimes journalists label us a ‘gang’. We are not a gang that’s quite a negative word. We are not rowdy or rude bunch of people, we are just enjoying our motorcycling and we have no bone to pick with anyone on and off the road. There have been incidents with bikers around India where because of something they said on social media ended up with them getting beaten up for no reason which makes me question that these people don’t believe in biker brotherhood, adds Sikhyata. On the other hand we have received much adulation from folks on social media. Literally hundreds of messages and comments on our social media handles congratulating and praising us. For some we have become role models. It feels nice to receive such warmth and affection albeit on a digital platform,says Priyanka.
SC- Actually highways are more woman friendly compared to state roads. The facilities on the national highways, the signages, rest stops. They all help a rider or a group. Highways and state roads both are safe during day time but at night it’s not at all safe for any rider may it be a male or female. Rash drivers, drunkards show utter disregard for rules, makes some stretches a no go at night. Truckers also are a major problem. Even badly sized speed bumps also contribute to accidents on our highways. The numerous petrol pumps on the highways where one accesses restrooms is also a big help. There should be more emergency facilities and more surveillance which would help. Rather than investing in fast corridors we should spruce up our existing road network. We should have a proper highway patrol for women and travelers in general to feel safe. Riding motorcycles aren’t just wearing a leather jacket and jeans it’s much more than that. You should be careful about the environment you are passing through. A wrong decision on the road could be the difference between life and death. Riding on highways is a serious business.
Any interesting anecdotes on your trips that you wish to share?
SC- I don’t know how far it is interesting but I was riding to Kolkata. When you are riding on a motorcycle you get to see life in a different perspective rather than going on a train or bus or a car. The best form of nature you can see is when you can ride. I had gone to Chandipur which is called a hide & seek beach. So when the tide went out I took the motorbike into the beach and it was amazing riding on a surface where just a few moments ago was the sea. It truly felt as I if I was one with nature. It was pure thrill. My bike was half sub-merged but it was fun. PG- I along with a friend were going from Bhubaneswar to Keonjhar and we stopped at a village where the villagers came forward and greeted us. They were happy to see a girl riding a motorcycle. They offered us ‘chaa’ and biscuits and asked about our well being. I was so touched by their affection it was different from the attitude city folks have towards women on motorcycles.
A bucket list of rides that your group wants to do?
PG- Leh-Ladakh trip is a must we have planned it and everyone in the group are waiting for me and Arshia to graduate so that we can begin the trip. The Delhi- Manali stretch is also a great ride which I am looking forward to. Maybe when I am a little older I plan to do a cross country for sure. SC- I have a long list a India tour is a must on the list. Leh-Ladakh is a separate trip that I plan to do with the group. I also really want to explore all of Odisha along with the group we are planning to ride and plan to put up content on the web for the world to see. Odisha is one those unexplored places which has a huge potential in tourism. It’s a gem waiting to be found. If we can put Odisha on the biking map through our group then there’s nothing like it. For a biker there is no bucket list may be its about getting up and making a decision and you go for that.
What would be your next ride?
SC & PG- We are planning to ride down to Chilika Lake sometime in December. We intend to spend a day or two and also go out on a boat ride to view the Irrawady Dolphins and photography the migratory birds. As we say good bye to the group members of Odisha Bikerni one can understand the fact that for woman to exist in India being one’s own person is a struggle right from the beginning. But slowly and steadily this group of bikers from Odisha are changing this outlook . We wish the Odisha Bikerni Chapter all the best and if you wish to join them then do look them up on social media.