This is in continuation to 44 hours of biking nirvana. It was initially part of the same post but at the last moment I decided to separate the two. This has some of my thoughts on why people find it so difficult to adjust in India after they come back from US.

While riding through the interiors of Karnataka, many times we take roads that are not national or state highways. And sometimes, we have rode on roads that are not even on the map! And that’s the kind of road we were riding on when we were heading to Chikmagloor. Which made me think about something that I call Indian Riding Conditions. This is just a name that I have given it. You can call it something else too. What provoked me to think about this was a meeting I had with a person who has recently come back from US. He was back after spending 5 years there and if you don’t know it already, 5 years in US is a long time to change the conditioning of your mind. He was kind of dejected with all that India had to offer to him. Not big stuff like salary and career. Rather small things like he couldn’t go around on his bicycle here as he could do in US or that the things here are not so systematic. That reminded me that most of the people who come from US share this sentiment. Vishy and Ripple, I think, are the only people who never had any problems after moving back to India.

So, I was thinking about this guy and the others I have known. I concluded that these are not snobbish people. These are all very nice people. And some of them quite humble too. So, why this dejection? What is it that they are looking for? It is not the same country it used to be 6 years back. It has better infrastructure, multiplexes, Pizza Hut, broadband, better electricity supply. Only the traffic conditions have worsened but that’s a world wide phenomenon. So, provided that they have a much better lifestyle than they could even think about before going to US, why are they a dissatisfied lot? For instance, this person I met recently. He had two mountain bicycles that he got from US and his source of dejection is the question ‘where do I ride them?’. Well, for me the answer is as simple as ‘anywhere’ but that’s not the case with him.

And well, here I believe is the answer. I cooked it up on that road that is not on the TTK and Lonely Planet maps. The road which is just wide enough to accommodate a mini bus and there is no chance you could overtake a vehicle. The road which is used by bicycles as well as big trucks alike. The road which has all the pits and holes in the world. The road that doesn’t have any milestones, directions or any other form of any sort of useful marking. This road and the traffic on this road is the answer! Simple.

Now, I can see why this person is dejected. He probably had a SUV in US. Over the weekend, he’d put his cycle in his SUV and go to a place where the US government has made bicycle tracks. You’ll see bicycles and only bicycles there. No car, no bike and not even a truck is allowed to get there. He’d ride on that track (in fact, there may be many of those tracks with different levels of difficulty). Come back to his SUV and go home.

Now, let’s look at what he’d do in Indian Riding Conditions. First ,there are no official bicycle tracks. So, he has to start by asking himself where he could go. He won’t find any information on Internet (so, even though India has broadband it’s pretty useless for his purpose as there isn’t much India specific content out there). If he can answer this first and most difficult question, he’ll probably put his bicycle on top of a bus and tie it up with a nylon rope to get to the place where he wants to bicycle. The roads are bad and he can’t have any idea of the difficulty level beforehand. He’ll be harassed by the cars, Sumos, Buses and Trucks as for them he would be small nothing. And after all the labor when he is extremely tired, he has to take a bus back which doesn’t have a cycle stand.

This is the reason. He has a mental picture of how bicycling should be done. And he has some very pleasant experiences associated with that mental picture. However, after coming here, he has to ride in Indian Riding Conditions. What he does? He tries to fit his mental picture into Indian Riding Conditions without actually changing that picture. But the environment in which his mental picture was formed and the environment that has created Indian Riding Conditions are completely different. End result is that it is impossible to fit that mental picture in Indian Riding Conditions. What follows from here? He clings to the mental picture he has. Indian Riding Conditions won’t change just to accommodate his idea of bicycling. He is dejected.

You would say, “Come on. He can’t be dejected just because his idea of bicycle riding cannot materialize here”. I am sure this is the thought you would have. Well, I have an answer ready for this. His bicycle is symbolic. Indian Riding Conditions is also just another symbol.

When he comes back to India, he has a mental picture of every thingy, every system, every process that touches his life. And he has heard that things have changed here and they have changed for better. Things have changed in India but he can’t duplicate his US experiences here. He has a picture for everything that touches his life. And he has pleasant experiences associated with it. He doesn’t want to change any of those pictures. Indian conditions for all those things are different. Those mental pictures can at best be sweet memories here but not something that you try to duplicate!

Do I intend to say that India is a bad place after all?

No. I don’t mean to say that India is a bad place. It is a different place. Simply “different” (yes, with double quotes and optionally caps). The problem is not whether something is good or bad. It’s a problem of incompatibility. The Indian Riding Conditions are incompatible with bicycling experiences in US. Period.

[Note: I can write at length about the fun of riding here which is difficult to duplicate in US but I just don’t want to play a patriot for now…]