Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In great stillness...

When you reach great speeds, you reach great stillness.

As you go faster and faster, the frames become more and more blurred. Space begins to become warped around the helmet visor. The field of vision narrows down. The entire road and vista ahead shrinks to a dot in the centre of your visor. You are hurled towards this point at 136 km/hr by a staggering force. Every muscle in the body, from your jaw to the very tips of your fingers, is taut or clenched. The mind starts reacting to the slightest of provocations - a twitch of a chain link, a tiny movement of a dog 200 feet away, a cylinder misfire which might have been entirely anticipatory, the trajectory of a leaf falling from a branch. As you go even faster and faster, the mind processes more and more. It gauges, calculates, deliberates on, decides and acts upon an ever-increasing flow of information through the senses. When you stretch to an extremely high speed, you will suddenly find that the real physical world around you draws thinner and thinner. You will find that everything has slowed down, almost to a halt. The chain stops turning, the pistons stop in their tracks, the gears and cogs and shafts and bearings and sprockets all stop suddenly as if it were a change in timescale. Slowly you realise that time hasn’t entirely stopped, but is moving silently, impalpably, as if in slow motion. Then you turn your head around and see the landscape, which had suddenly become frozen. The trajectory of the leaf has become still and it is suspended in mid-air, slowly falling down. There is a lot more time in between heartbeats. You hear the buzzing of a bee, slowly flying by, as you view a macro angle, panoramic view of the suspended surroundings. You see the tacho needle nudging 9500 and shuddering violently as if in a fit, but it is strangely muted. You see it, but don’t hear anything you might expect to hear. Everything is still.

When you reach great speeds, you reach great stillness.

But it is difficult to keep this stillness for long. It is difficult to keep the mind stretched at this speed forever. Something is always bound to happen to break this balance, this beautiful harmony. A patch of rough road, or a truck in the hazy distance. Then suddenly you go just fractionally slower and the entire world screeches back to life! From nowhere the engine suddenly starts whining from the assault of nine thousand crank rpm, the chain roars from running too hot and dry. The intake and exhaust shriek in extremely rapid tandem, the tarmac below the foot-pegs suddenly an immediate presence. The rear tyre squeals as the tightly sprung rear suspension rapidly unloads causing it to lock up on downshift. The sensation of the earth moving backwards in a giddy choreography of violent physical movement. The pull back to earthly senses from that sublime speed is so tremendous and so sudden that it hits you like a bat in the face. As if dragged back by the force of nine thousand rpm.

Absolute stillness is pretty hard to explain. It is a state of mind. It is a place beyond fright or instincts or logic. A place beyond the immature eagerness to show-off, beyond the mortal fear of injury, beyond the calculated logic of riding physics. It is a state of being that is neither too eager to receive nor too keen to act. It is that fine line between peace on one side and fear, instincts, memory, courage, senses, pain and everything else on the other. It is beyond the limits of the road or the machinery. It may appear to the uneducated as a thrill or a sensation, but to describe it thus is to give it a false meaning. It is above thrills or sensations. It is art, it is electricity, it is poetry.

In great stillness we find ourselves.

PS: I feel obliged to write a post-script. The picture in this post was clicked by Boon when we were riding on the NH15 from Radhanpur to Barmer. That was Boon riding with a death wish on his P220 fitted with a K&N free-flow filter. On his motorcycle, he was safe at that speed. On yours, you wont be. Kindly ride safe. Do not cross 125 km/hr if you are riding an Indian motorcycle.