Nautanki Diaries sits comfortably in the travelogue niche, yet in the best traditions of travel writing, it does much more than just describe the passing scenery. With candour and a quirky sense of humour, the author carries the reader on a twenty-two-day journey on a cycle from Bengaluru to New Delhi, aiming to reach in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
As a schoolboy, Dominic Franks loolod up to his sports coach, Shikaari, as a mentor and inspiration. Shikaari inadvertently planted the seed of a journey that he himself had made in 1982 in his young student's mind Eventually, the author decides to use the same sort of Voodhwallah' bicycle and names her Nautanki.
Replete with anecdotes and (un)conventional wisdom gleaned from the conversations he has along the way, Nautanki Diaries is also $1 a 'cycling book'—but one that allows the reader to share the intricacies of cycling as a sport, as meditation in motion, and as craft. 1h° As for Nautanki—she plays her role perfectly, in true heroine style, right till her very last act.
Dominic Franks graduated from Bangalore Medical College. His passion for sports led him to give up his career in medicine and join a premier sports channel. In September 2010, he decided to go on a cross-country bicycle journey from Bengaluru to New Delhi to witness the Commonwealth Games. It's Not About the Cycle—winner of Best Adventure Film at the 2017 Toronto Beaches Film Festival—stars Nautanki, his bicycle, the central character of Nautanki Diaries. Currently, he is working on producing his first documentary feature about human-animal relationships. When not working to travel, or travelling on work, Franks holes up in Bengaluru where he lives, laughs and loves.
29 August 2010
First 100-km Cycle Ride
I woke up around five. I no longer needed an alarm clock, but I still needed a kick in the backside to get out of bed. Ordinarily, an hour (or three) lapsed before I roused myself from the sheets. That morning was different. All the preparations had been made the night before—rope to lash my bag to the carrier, weighty medical textbooks occupying the bag, apples and bananas on the table, knife to chop the fruits, tiffin box to carry them, a sweatshirt in case it rained. The morning was silent save for the first few feet trudging the dark streets of dawn. Even the wind slept on. The previous night, while watching the pipettes of rain, I sent Sibi a message: Even if it rains, we cycle tomorrow. In a minor indictment of our times, the Nokia T9 dictionary interpreted the text as: Even if it pains, we cycle tomorrow. Sibi replied: Pains or rains? Both, I texted back. It was a measure of how eager I was the night before my first 100-km cycle ride. We headed out to Savandurga, a large monolith on the outskirts of Bengaluru. Sibi always planned the long weekend rides; one of the cycling blogs had labelled this one 'Killer Ride'. Dominic Franks
We cruised down several slopes. I told Sibi we were having fun freewheeling down, but it would be hard work cycling back, that too in the afternoon when the sun would be out. Sibi was unconcerned. We could return by Magadi Road if we wanted, although it meant six extra kilometres, he warned. We went back to our cycles and our silences, revelling in the crisp clean air that deepened in tone the further we slipped from the city. We stopped for breakfast at Big Banyan Tree; the sun began to lose her shyness. A small tough incline had us panting. It dipped without warning and unexpectedly—the incredible vista of Manchanabele Reservoir! A large grey swathe of water lazed to our right; before we had time to admire it, we clattered down a steep slope. As was usual, my cycle gathered speed quicker than Sibi's Trek.
I stole a glimpse as I hurtled by. Eyes locked on the road, his face was alive with the exhilaration of shooting down a slope with only his brakes and good luck for recourse. `How quick are we going?' I yelled. He glanced at the iPhone strapped to his handlebar. '55!' I focused as the earth rushed by, a mere leg-length from my eyes, and though Sibi was in the present, he was already in my past. I crouched as the wind rushed me in a head-on tackle. We splashed through a cradle of water puddled at the end of the slope. The road went to pieces.
I thought about the steep descent we had come down. It meant a steep ascent too—an ascent so steep I had already decided I would push my cycle through it. I didn't have the stamina or the strength to take a slope that gaunt. The road narrowed. A few steady rises later we were cycling through forest—thick trees on both sides, few motorcycles, fewer pedestrians. There was just the wind singing, the trees sighing, the insects ringing, the birds chirping, the cycle churning as the wheels went turning, and only us and our laboured breathing for company.
The road began a deceitful rise where the harshness of the climb hid behind the make-up of gentle inclines. We didn't know how difficult it was until we began to gasp for breath. We lost our rhythms on those gradual forested slopes. Our cycles lost the straight lines they were always intended to have; they lolled like drunks, we swayed with them. Initially, I had stood on the pedals. Now I was stamping down on them, willing my body weight to drive me forward. Every downstroke ended in a virtual genuflection. Finally, my cycle stopped dead. With a resolve marked by immobility, it refused to move an inch further. I shook my head and muttered to Sibi through gulps of inrushing air, 'I can't cycle anymore.'
He had stopped too. We pushed our cycles and laughed—at least there were declines to look forward to. After recovering a semblance of steady breath, we proceeded to ride more slowly, more gently, without hurling ourselves at the road. Occasionally, someone went by on a motorcycle. Savandurga was a popular weekend cycle ride and Sibi half-expected a group of cyclists to descend on us at any moment. It wasn't our lucky day. After one more unavoidable stop for similar reasons, we reached Savandurga.
We did some cursory stretches as we waited for our tender coconuts. Sibi ran through an app on his iPhone. It chronicled the ride with statistical unnecessaries—bar charts, diagrams, heat maps—an endless orgy of details. In between heavy breaths, he read it out to me. Maximum speed: 58 km / hr Total descent: 50 m Total ascent: 35 m I was surprised. The slow climbs hadn't seemed as dramatic as the steep fall at the reservoir. We surveyed the large monolith that looked like it had been dropped in place overnight. It was an hour’s trek to the top . we gulped and left it for another day.
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