The View from Swaraj Terrace

12:49 AM Thursday, November 11, 1999

I'm sitting out here in the 'skeeters typing. The explosions have slowed down to once every 5 seconds. They're distant rumbles like thunderstorms. It's a week since the last time I wrote and the fireworks have not subsided. In fact, I'd "hazard" to guess that there has not been a period of more than 20 minutes, day or night, in the last week that an explosion has not been audible from Swaraj Terrace here in Bombay.

I'm writing 'cause this is may be the last time I can do it before I'm brainwashed. I want to get this down as a last testament, a final flurry, as it were, if it happens that my brain is turned to chutney. Tomorrow starts the "art of living" course here in Brian's apartment. We're having a guy named Dinesh come and teach us some stuff. It will be about 10 people, sitting around, learning some breathing techniques and stuff. A couple hours a night for about a week I think. Not so bad. Nothin' invasive, no wife-swapping or head shaving. I'm sure Ami, who helped set it up, is rolling her eyes at this one. I make fun of this stuff 'cause I've kinda weaned myself off the self-help gravy train and I'd rather not pretend the chuck wagon is hiding in the cupboard.

There was a time when my life was constant spiritual crisis. Every new thing I learned just seemed to fuel the fire. One week Taoism, the next existentialism, then I think "to hell with all that lernin' stuff" and I try to relax. I put on some music and then I'm under the spell of some absurdist indierock song lyrics, trying to keep my universe from imploding. Maybe now I rag on it 'cause it truly does support me and I just don't appreciate it. I'm basking in the ubiquitous background radiation of burnout on Grand Unified Theory.

Ok, so maybe it's a "refresher course", but who needs tune-ups anyhow? Everything I need is in working order and waiting at my command. I was reminded of this just 2 days ago, when I was doing a full cable overhaul on Brian's rusted-out mountain bike. With my greasy hands flying over the chassis I was in the Zen bike maintenance zone faster than you can say "Shimano!"

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And speaking of bikes....I'm not giving up on the skateboard but I can hardly imagine a more magical feeling than flowing through Bombay traffic on street slicks and out accelerating, out stopping, out everthinging every other thing on the road. Brian and I lubed up and sped out into the city the other night and felt like we'd just won the Tour de France. I was literally afraid to go out into the traffic. I'd already repeatedly refused to drive a car here, I can't seem to remember which direction cars are supposed to go on the street, and I haven't ridden in a few years. But once again, none of that mattered to my body, which has learned the laws of thermodynamics, and pulled me through a mess of traffic and people that had a rhythm that was hidden to me until I became it. Every time we stopped at a stop light we'd shout in excitement to each other. We took pictures. We leaned against taxis to balance at intersections. We swerved around firecrackers. We waved and shouted to cheering onlookers like we really were winning the Tour de France. We found ourselves in a series of bazaar streets that had been closed off to traffic and was absolutely packed with people. The streets went on an on and every way we turned it just kept going. There must have been half a million people on the streets in the area we covered. It was the thick of Diwali and once we were in some sort of "temple street" where every other building was either selling flower garlands or was a temple. Colorful paper lanterns hung from every terrace and fairy lights twinkled. Women wore their finest saris and shopping fever was high. We decked out our bikes with beautiful flowers. They string on the blossoms sort of like a Hawaiian Lei but they do it here so much nicer. Enough to cover our handlebars was about RS.10. I said to Brian at one point while we were pushing our expensive western bikes through the market that it seemed like we were the only two white guys in a city of 15 million people. I'm pretty sure we could've ridden all night and not seen the likes of us. I have yet to see a western bike or a westerner riding any kind of bike. What's really excellent is that we have all the gear. MMmmMMMmm gear. Gloves, messenger bags, pumps, Lithium grease, wrenches, bike shoes, bike shorts, Everything. We ride. We sweat. We smile.

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Peace out.

This one's to Eben Carlson Sr., father of many bikeriders, who passed away last night. RIP.