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Riding a dream on two wheels

It began as a child’s wish. Watching her policeman uncle come riding on his Bullet, Shyni Rajkumar had stood at her Thiruvananthapuram home, forming a vague dream of a day she would grow up and ride one. She did not then think of it as something she could or would do as a girl. The dream stayed as a dream all through her school. It was in college she first touched a two-wheeler, there was not even a bicycle before that. And after college, she had gone to work in Gorakhpur, where she first began riding bikes — TVS Victor and Bajaj Pulsar and then a Bullet (Royal Enfield) she would bring home one day. But coming back to Kerala, she shelved her biking days thinking it was just too hard to pull that off in Kerala where society still frowned upon women who acted too bold, rode bikes and got back home late and behaved like men.

And then her story changed, with the support of a few men in her life — her husband and brothers and relatives — and Shyni came out of her shell to not just ride Bullet on the roads of Kerala but also begin a club of Bullet riding women — Dauntless Royal Explorers. They have just finished two of their rides and are planning the next for the New Year.  “I come from a middle class family. The circumstances have not been that I could dream of riding a bike or even a bicycle. So at college when I used to stay back for sports, I'd try the two-wheelers left there by other girls unlocked. I don’t know how I learned to ride a bike, it must have been the sheer desire to do so,” Shyni says. After pre-degree from the All Saints college in Thiruvananthapuram, she took off to Gorakhpur for a job — becoming a physical education trainer at a school — and found out to her joy that people were more open and women riding bikes were not ‘stared at’. She began by first riding a cycle to the homes of every student at school.

“I must have been the only teacher who visited all the students at home. I really loved doing that, taking out my cycle and riding on the weekends.” That love led to her riding bikes, helped by other teachers of the school. She rode to the Himalayas once and another time to Nepal. “I didn’t go to the Khardung La or any top points, just touched the base. But I enjoyed riding so much.”   She joined the police those days, for a little while, but then came back home to Kerala. “Dad had a Hero Honda but I just wouldn’t ride it, I didn’t feel brave in Kerala. That’s when a brother of mine — Jayaprakash — talked me out of it, making a turning point in my life. He said we can’t live according to the whims of other people. ‘You love riding, so you ride that bike’, he had said. “Shyni’s parents too said the same thing and she finally got the courage to ignore the stares. “I used to work at the Kotak Mahindra as assistant manager but I would do the job of my juniors of going on bikes for collections just to ride.”

Then came a Pulsar, a Passion and finally a standard Bullet that she owned with her brother Reni. In 2012, she was encouraged to move ahead after an ego clash with another woman rider. “It was my husband who encouraged me those days. He’d tell me that I shouldn’t shy away from teaching any girl who came to me for help.” Rajkumar’s words brought a new light into her life. She wanted to especially reach out to girls who spoke like she once did — that they can’t ride. She’d show them they can, on her Royal Enfield Himalayan that she now owns. One of those days Shyni had visited the house of the late Soumya who was thrown out of a train and raped and killed. That visit made her want to come back home and do something immediately to make the girls of Kerala bold.

Even before, she used to find out and follow women who rode bikes. She got them all together, and invited others who wanted to learn to ride, to the Dauntless Royal Explorers. On their first trip together they rode to Braemore with a message of keeping the environment clean. That was last month. The second ride happened this month to Peppara Dam and the third is slotted for January. Rides are planned for second Saturdays of every month and the first aim of the group is to just make the women bold, convince them they can do it. The second will be on social activities, helping the poor of the places they ride to, in whatever way they can. Shyni had faced criticism, been teased that a group of women will not be able to make such a group last. But she is not spiteful. She simply goes on with what she began with members joining from all over Kerala, Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram, none of them hearing the word ‘no’.

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