"Why a bike? Why can’t you ride a scooter like other girls, it’s much lighter and easier to handle.” Every girl who ever set her eyes on a motorcycle, has heard this on multiple occasions.
What is it that draws a person to a motorcycle? It’s the raw power at the twist of a throttle, the sense of freedom to move about whenever one wishes to, the connection one feels while riding amidst nature, the vulnerability one experiences as also the feeling of overpowering it and, of course, the heads you turn your way. But why should it be restricted to men alone?
Every day, we come across women who smash this stereotype to smithereens, who slap patriarchy right across the face by merely slipping on those riding gloves, strapping on that helmet and kicking that Bullet to a start. One such lady, who didn’t give a damn about what people said, is Meghna Khanna Hoskote. Hoskote, 39, who runs a craft and travel boutique called ‘Levitate’ in Bengaluru, dedicated to the crafts she has learnt and acquired through her travels across India, actually started riding motorcycles at the age of 15. And by then, she had already had three years of experience on a scooter.
Hoskote is one of the two women participants who, together with 40 other men, completed the first edition of the Himalayan Odyssey.
Recently, in the third edition of Royal Enfield Woman, 12 women rode from Delhi to the Himalayan playgrounds and endured the journey that Hoskote had undertaken 15 years ago. We caught up with the rider...
How did you begin riding, and what drove you to a Royal Enfield Bullet?
Well, I have been riding since a very young age, 12 to be precise and I have been riding Royal Enfield since the age of 15. On one of those days, when I was thumping across on this bike, I happened to see a man teaching his wife how to ride a scooty. As I crossed both of them, they looked at me for more than a moment, I would say. That moment was obviously empowering. What defines masculinity in India better than a Royal Enfield? The mere weight of the beast has convinced generations that this is a machine only a few can truly handle.
How did you come across the Odyssey and how was your experience thereafter?
Well, one fine morning, Sachin Chavan, whom I knew, called me and asked me to be part of the first-ever Himalayan Odyssey. I obviously jumped at the idea but before that, I did enquire if there were more women. Growing up around my brothers, I knew how to take care of myself around strangers, yet I needed to know. Sachin told me there was one more female. That was enough for me. I had done my graduation in Pune and had faced the likes of Amboli and closeby ghats before. I knew that this Odyssey would kick up the adventure quotient considerably.
How has riding as a woman been, considering when you started touring, you were one of the very few in India at the time?
I come from a Defence background, my father served in the Indian Air Force. I grew up with brothers and a tight-knit friend circle mostly comprising guys. I knew how to take care of myself anywhere, in any condition. At the same time, I was also aware that many women in my shoes may not know that. Like for example, for the Odyssey we were just two women with 40 men, which I’m sure not everyone would be very comfortable with. But today, women participate in the same Royal Enfield rides; Himalayan Odyssey Women is a ride especially for the female folk, which is led by Hema. She is from the biking sisterhood who makes sure that these women know what it feels like to ride together with the same fraternity, truly independently.
Can you tell us about your most interesting experience as a rider, out of the many you must have had?
My most valued moment as a rider has been the time my husband lured me to Bengaluru all the way from Mumbai, by promising me the Royal Enfield, he had been riding. To this day, I tease him how he knows that the way to a woman’s heart is through her bike. From there on, I have always had his support for my passion to ride. We have kids now and we still travel a lot. Living in Bengaluru and being an entrepreneur, I can really devote a lot of time to riding and travelling now.
How do you feel rides such as the Himalayan Odyssey Women help re-enforce the strength to fight against patriarchy, not just on the road but off it too?
Certainly, an all-woman ride is bound to instil a feeling of pride, unity, self-reliance and freedom amongst women. The number of women you come across riding or driving geared vehicles has significantly increased. As women get behind those wheels for daily commute, a large section of them get to understand the thrill, adventure and leisure aspects of riding.
Many of them ride with their male friends who are easier to find in the general crowd, but not many get together to experience such a journey with other female bikers who had probably faced a lot of the bull**it — which any female biker does — to get on such challenging terrains as the Himalayas. I’m sure every female biker who passes by on the street, all geared up with hair flying in the wind behind her, inspires five other women to ride. That’s enough I think. Why leave the fun stuff for the guys? Why not get on those wheels and teach them how to do it right?