Ghost Riding in India

-English version-

 

Happiness is when what you think,
what you say,
and what you do
are in harmony.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

 

Mumbai, 6 February 2015

The convention is about to end. Vinod and me are skipping a lecture on new recycling developments in processing batteries, inspite of the organization of this convention who are practically pushing us inside the conference hall.

We are basically killing time. We wanna go home.

“So what are your hobby’s except from working working working?”, Vinod asks me.

“I like writing and cycling. I do both with equal passion. How about you?”

“You cycle? Really? I’m a cyclist too.”

A moment of silence follows. I can hardly believe my ears.

“Are you kidding me? Cycling? In India?”, I ask him, suspicious as always.

Being distrustful is a sign of weakness, according to Gandhi. But suppose if this is true dear Mahatma, please explain how on earth I was able to climb four times Alpe d’Huez, three times Mont Ventoux, fifty times our local Bridge Van Brienenoord in Rotterdam and one time the Stelvio in Italy all in one year? Would you call this weakness?

“No really, I do. I cycle.”

Vinod shows me his cycling pictures. I see coloured men on their race bikes. They all smile. The difference could not be bigger with their European cycling brothers. It seems to be a great sin in Europe to actually smile while riding your race bike. We all try to look tough and mean, but I don’t know why. I wish I was Indian.

“Next time you’re in India, we go out riding OK?”

“Yeah sure.”

 

Ahmedabad, 14 October 2015

He kept his promise, good old Vinod. Exactly two hundred and fifty days after our Mumbai meeting we are definitely going to cycle in Ahmedabad, the capital of the state of Gujrat.

Vinod is a man of “no words but deeds”, which is the title of the Feyenoord anthem, the football club from Rotterdam which I proudly support.

It’s damn hard to clarify what we call “the Feyenoord feeling”. In fact it’s pretty impossible to explain this to Dutch people, let alone to my Indian friends who do are brought up with no football roots at all. Being a Feyenoordsupporter is self-punishment on a day by day basis. We hardly ever win. It feels like a life sentence. It’s a weekly torture. The history of our club, being the world’s biggest club in 1970, is richer and bigger than our team.

“You’re a man that keeps his promise. You put words into action. That’s the Rotterdam way, you know. We sing it in our stadium each week. ‘No words but deeds’.”

I can hardly believe Vinod catches my drift.

 

One day later I am waiting in my hotelroom for Vinod to pick me up. I am nervous as hell. I cannot believe that I am actually going to cycle in India. I am doubting if I should wear my Ghost Riding Jersey (with the No Entry sign) in the hotel or my neutral sport shirt. I might look like a fool in my Ghost Riding Jersey. Nobody in India would understand what I am trying to express wearing this big No Entry sign on my chest and back.

In a literal sense ‘Ghost Riding’ means driving on the wrong side of the road. In Holland that would be on the left hand side. In India it’s obviously the complete opposite.

It’s both funny and complicated: imagening how it would feel to cycle on the wrong side of the road in India. At that very moment a dromedary passes us on the left side of the car.

 

...een dromedaris...

…being passed by a dromedary…

 

Being passed by a dromedary, it’s definitely impossible in Holland, yet it did happen just now in Ahmedabad, a city with a traffic system which I would like to describe as ‘ruleless’. I can hardly believe that I will be cycling in this chaos.

Nobody in Holland has ever heard of Ahmedabad, yet the city is as big as the city of Paris. I am not really sure about the exact population of Ahmedabad. Each time I ask for the exact number, people reply to me “about seven to eight million”. We have one million of citizens in Rotterdam, meaning my hometown is nothing but a village in their eyes.

Yesterday I tried to explain our the chauvinistic sentiments that fill our Rotterdam hearts. We refer to our city as “010”, being the area telephone code. While I heard myself talking, I suddenly heard what stupid people we really are. How on earth can you be proud of the areal code of your city? I tried to make a parallel with Ahmedabad.

“Can you imagine that all citizens of Ahmedabad are proud that their area code starts with 079? As a sign of your community…as a brotherhood?”

Vinod was silent for a few moments and then said “no, I can’t…”

 

 

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I hardly slept, because I was afraid to oversleep. I killed the time by watching television – I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this almost naked man with an enormous beard giving yoga lessons.


 

The phone goes off in hotelroom 928. It’s Vinod. He’s ready to pick me up. My heart bangs like a hammer. At the very last moment I decided not to wear my Ghost Riding Jersey in the hotel lobby.

Two racing bikes are packed on Vinods car. My helmet, three Isostar bars, my cycling glasses and my Ghost Riders Jersey rest on my lap. God, I am too nervous.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it”, according to Gandhi. I fully understand why this great man said this, yet simultaneously I wish he would never had said it. I feel horrible. I know I just have to do this, yet I still don’t know why.

Did Gandhi know the word ‘fear’?

 

We stop at the HP Gas Station at the Bopal Road. Vinod sets up the bikes. Meanwhile I am trying to gain time by changing my clothes as slow as possible. There are no excuses anymore: we will be cycling in the city of Ahmedabad in a few moments only…


 

The sun is about to come up. We need to leave now. In only one hour time it will be extremely hot and cycling will not be possible. Apart from the heat, traffic will be a big problem: it will be increasing tenfold very shortly. We need to leave. Right very now!

As stated before, traffic in India is barely definable. It is an ongoing unstructural merry-go-round of cars, rikshaws, trucks, bikes, motorbikes, scooters, donkeys, streetdogs and pedestrians.

And not last but not least there is the Holy Cow to which I am personally very attracted. I have visited India many times and the role of the Holy Cow in every day’s traffic keeps on wondering me. I just love the way they quietly claim their place in traffic.

2015-10-14 10.28.50

 

What can I expect during this journey? I am eating an Isostar bar. Normally, in Europe, I enjoy the sensational feeling in my belly before the start of a cycling event. But here, under these circumstances, I just wish I would kept my mouth shut months ago in Mumbai. And I wish Vinod would have forgotten about the promise he made that we would definitely go out cycling in India.

The air is coloured orange. A street-dog sniffles my legs. An employee of the gas station takes a picture of Vinod and me. Apparently he has never seen an iPhone before. It’s completely new to him. He turns and turns it around until Vinod yells something in Hindu to him.

He takes sixteen pictures, just in case the other fifteen would have failed.


Finally. There is the moment of our take-off. We’re off.

I don’t have time to be nervous because I need time to get used to my bike which is too small for me. And I believe my helmet does not really fit. I actually think I look rather stupid but there’s no going back.

2015-10-14 07.24.44-1

Sun rising over Ahmedabad City

 

My biggest fear are not the rikshaws that drive around like maniacs, neither are the motor bikes who do not respect one single traffic rule. No Sir. The street-dogs are my biggest fear. They can attack when they feel they are being attacked. Vinod laughed out loud when he said this to me.

“They are not used to our racing bikes you know hahaha.”

I had no idea why he started laughing. I hate animals. All of them. Because they are unpredictable. For this reason I prefer to have them baked and fried on my dish.

“So what do you do when they attack?”

“Best thing you do is to sing a song out loud.”

“Are you kidding me?”

Vinod didn’t say a word. He was serious.

 

I am a musicfreak, no doubt, yet this answer puzzled me. In blind panic I was trying to find a proper song to sing when a street-dog would attack me. I know thousands of songs by heart, but at the monent I need one, not a single song comes to mind.

2015-10-23 08.27.40-2
I am too scared to move: I am not prepared to leave the strip that divides the road from the sandy hinterland. I couldn’t drive any “lefter”. This is it.

Half way we take a big roundabout which obviously needs to be taken on the left hand side.

“Now!”, Vinod screams as if he is guides his troops in the middle of a war zone, yet I don’t feel like a soldier. I am scared shitless. The sensation I feel is comparible with being in a rollercoaster. Problem is I just hate rollercoasters.

 

2015-10-14 06.36.11

2015-10-23 08.27.40-1

 After gazing to the Planet Jupiter

 

Thank God we stop for a selfie-session.

An old man stares up high. My fellow cyclists also look up. They all start chatting in Hindu, as if they know eachother for years. What’s going on? I’m looking up as well but all I see is the sky. Why aren’t we just cycling? Is it a missile? Is Pakistan attacking India? Is this the beginning of World War III?

“Marco! Over there in the sky! Look! That’s planet Jupiter.”

To be honest: I could not care less. I just pray to God that I’ll reach the HP gas station safely.

 

We are riding our bikes again. Jignesh sings along with the music that comes out of the speaker which is attached to his bike. He wears a grey goatie-style beard. He is a happy guy and a good cyclist too. He rides a beautiful Giant TCR Advanced, similar to the one I have in Holland.

Jignesh is an architect in real life, I understand from Vinod.

 


 

One hour later we have arrived at the Sarder Patel Ring Road at the Decathlon Sports Shop. Funny but this is the favorite sports shop of me and my family when we’re on holiday in France.

But here in Ahmedabad, the local Decathlon shop is more than just a shop selling sports wear.

Three years ago Vinod started this initiative. Each day he brought his daughter to the bus stop where he met other men of forty who all struggled with the same problem: they gained weight, their wives were complaining, they did not exercise enough. They decided to do something about it. Why not cycling?

They all bought a new race bike at the Decathlon sport shop – they got acquainted with the local branch manager who saw his turnover being doubled by selling that many racing bikes in a few days time. That’s how the local Decathlon became more than a meeting place of the Ahmedabad cyclists: it became a pilgrimage place!

Vinod started the Cyclone Cycling Club. In 2012 the club had eight members. It became fifteen. Thirty one. One hundred fourteen. Three hundred and sixty. At this very moment they have “a thousand plus” members. These are Indian numbers. Just to compare: our Ghost Riders Guild two hundred and forty five members.

Cyclone handles a a free membership principle. Anyone with a safety helmet can join, free of charge. All costs are borne by those who can afford it. By people like Vinod.

I had been following the activities of Cyclone for a while on Facebook. In June this year Vinod visited our company in Holland. He again kept his promise (no words but deeds) because he brought an original Cyclone cycling jersey for me. Just as he had promised at the Mumbai convention earlier this year.

“Proud to be the one and only owner in Europe of the original Cyclone jersey”, that’s how I described my picture of myself on Facebook. I obviously got many ‘likes’ from India.

2015-06-19 10.10.04

Vinod and me in the Cyclone Jersey in Holland

 

Stefano is present too. He is an engineer from Itay and he’s working in Ahmedabad for a period of six months. Stefano is a cyclist too. He is clearly very happy to meet someone from Europe because he starts talking to me instantly.

“Ju riellie didde ze Stelvio last-e week-e?”, Stefano asks me in this great typical Italian-English mixture.

“Yes I most certainly did”, I reply him, “together with Olympic Champion Leontien and Johan van der Velde, famous of the legendary stage on the Gavia in the Giro of 1988.”

Stefano appears to be a very good cyclist because in one minute time he sums up all the mountain tops he climbed recently.

Meanwhile Vinod is starting the preparations for handing out the medals for those cyclists who have achieved something special over the last years. In India and in Europe.

He already showed me the beautiful medals in his office a few days ago: special medals were made for those who passed the 100, 200, 300 and 400 kilometer.

 

2015-10-12 11.50.46

 


 

Cyclone started a collaboration with the Audax Club Parisien, a well respected cycling club founded in 1904. This club is famous for founding the Paris-Brest-Paris tour, a mad cycling race over 1.200 Km that needs to be completed within 96 hours. Meaning 300 km should be covered each day. Some Indian cyclists fullfilled this so-called “Pee-Bee-Pee” this very summer.

Vinod introduces us as “guests of honour from Europe”. Stefano keeps on talking about having climbed the Gavia. And the Mortirolo. And the Stelvio. He says Fabio Cancellara is his all-time hero. He says he loves climbing mountains with his bike. He wants me to tell him about my experiences on Alpe d’Huez. For sure he’ll be climbing this world famous mountain in 2016.

He misses Europe, inspite of the first-class Indian hospitality.

 

I am standing in front of my Indian cyclist friends. They are quiet as a mouse. I am not the reason that they are silent. It’s my jersey. My magical jersey. The Ghost Riders jersey. That uncommon jersey that always provokes jokes, discussions and smiling faces.

I need to explain the real meaning of my jersey. And I need to talk out loud, so they can really follow what I’m about to say. No time to be nervous now.

I start my story with the Mumbai conference where Vinod and me shared our passion for the racing bike. Then I tell them about the Cyclone jersey that Vinod gave me in Holland and finally I tell about the famous cycling event in which I participated on Alpe d’Huez.

“I am raising money fort he Dutch cancer fund. The event is called Alpe-d’HuZes. The challenge is to climb that world-famous mountain six times in a day.”

My Indian friends give me a big warm applause. I’m fighting my tears. Please good God, please don’t make me cry now. Reason for getting all emotional is that I think about the people I have been writing about. My close relatives and friends from Holland who are still suffering from cancer and others who died from cancer. It all comes back to me as a steam-roller in just a few seconds time.

There is no such thing as coincidence: my mind is with my syster in law Diana who is getting the results on her medical test in a few hours time, exactly today. The oncologist found something on her breast a while ago. Good God, what will happen when it turns out to be bad news? We need to stay positive. That’s for sure.

“I hate cancer and it gives me extra motivation to ride my bike. And I have to write stories about it. I see no alternative.”

Then finally I can tell them about the Blog we started in 2013 – the Blog we named Spookrijden, Ghost Riding in English. Now I can finally make the connection to Cyclone, the cycling club of Vinod. Thank God.

“Spookrijden, Ghost Riding is a metaphore for chosing the other direction. Doing the complete opposite of the usual. Having the courage to change your opinion. Taking nothing for granted.”

Listening to Stefano’s speech

 

“I love the ‘No Entry’ sign. I am proud to be a Ghost Rider. And you guys, you are all living examples of Ghost Riders. What I mean is: you guys don’t play cricket. You don’t play hockey. You are cyclists of Cyclone. You are heroes. You are Ghost Riders!”


I might have sounded like a politician just now, I am not sure. What I do know is that the people are giving me an applause once again.

After Stefano’s speech it’s time to hand over the medals. Vinod calls out their names, then me and Stefano hang a medal around her or his neck.

All cyclists are happy – they even introduce themselves to me.

The friendliness and interest of my new friends is genuine. It even makes me feel slightly unconfortable because I’m European where you normally do not get acquainted with people you don’t know this quickly.

“What do you think of Western civilization”, people asked Gandhi once.

“I think it would be a good idea”, the genius replied.


Everyone here knows my name and call me to appear on their selfie picture.

“Marco, Marco come on selfie here please!”.

I cannot believe it but I actually made friends here. We even considering to make a cycling tour in Holland in the spring of 2016. I can hardly wait: me cycling with my Indian friends of Cyclone! I tell them about from the 010-Cycling team.

Last but not least I am saving the last picture for Vinod – the man who never heard of Feyenoord before, but who lives his life according to the very principles that made our club big in 1970: putting words into action.

 

Vinod with his medal

Vinod with his medal

 

 

In a stolen moment of complete loneliness I stare into the sun. The sunlight blinds me.

In my imagination I see a funny almost-naked yoga guy riding a dromedary. I hear a street-dog howling at the planet Jupiter. I see Gandhi in a rikshaw wearing our Ghost Riders Jersey. He is waving a Feyenoord flag. I saw a fountain-pen and a racing bike melted together in a sculpture that looked exactly like me.

I couldn’t remember the last time I was this happy. I decided to sing alongwith the singer:

“Yippie yi Ohhhhh
Yippie yi yaaaaay
Ghost Riders in the sky”

Johnny Cash – Ghost Riders In The Sky

 


 

 

 

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Spookrijden. Achteruit rijdend, met het verkeer mee. Geen paniek, want It's Life And Life Only. Windje tegen, de Brug op. Fietsen als een forel. Met een harslaag over mijn wortels. De B-kant van een singletje. En de terugweg. De schoonheid van verval. De Paus handje drukkend met Joop Zoetemelk. De film met de geruststellende gedachte aan de slechte afloop. De laatste lik pindakaas, Tammy Wynette op, Feyenoord nooit meer kampioen. En splinters, overal splinters. In onze gespleten stad. En Broes (tegen de kou). Meegezogen, vuistdiep, die trechter in. Hij. Zij. Wij. Spookrijders.

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