Some time ago, I decided to start cycling to my office and back – the office is quite close to my home in Noida, a suburb of New Delhi, India. I announced my decision to my wife.
“Are you crazy? Who cycles in this traffic, that too in summer, at 43 degrees Centigrade? What if you have an accident? You could get kidnapped!”
That was an expected reaction from a wife of 20 plus years. Indeed, Noida, where I stay, is crowded and not too law abiding. But the words of our office security guard, while I was leaving office after work one day, summed up most reactions and the prevailing attitudes.
He said, in my native Hindi, “Sahab yeh mat chalaya karo. Aap ko shobha nahin deta!” (Sir, you shouldn’t ride this. It doesn’t befit your status!”)
In India, for a business person to cycle, is to brand oneself as insolvent, considering the fact that one is expected to wear one’s success on one’s sleeves.
That said, from the moment I started pedaling on Day 1, I was liberated for 15 minutes, from the incessant hurries of modern life, the ringing mobile, the urge to check one’s watch, the next meeting, the ever-overflowing email inbox,…, everything!
For those 15 minutes, on the bicycle, life slowed down. There was no hurry to get to the office – you could not speed up beyond a point, so you stopped trying. In the car, I could somehow never overcome the urge to get ahead of the car in front!
On the bicycle, however, life slowed down to the pace of nature. One could even say, that life actually slowed down to the pace for which it was originally designed.
In effect, whilst the world rushed by, I glided.
We are mostly, voluntarily, hurrying to someplace or the other. We are trying to pack in more in less. We see that as our sole purpose in life. Conventional wisdom reinforces our habit. Every self-help book that we see on the stands, screams at us, “Life is too fast. Hurry, or you will be left behind!”
The moment you stop hurrying, however, you notice that time actually slows down. Paradoxically, it actually begins to stretch longer. You suddenly start finding time to notice things and to think thoughts for which you never otherwise found the time.
Perched on my bicycle seat, to office and back, my mind begins to wander. I notice my surroundings, people passing by and many things that I never noticed before. And while that is certainly not my aim, in those few minutes, I pack in a lot more than I otherwise do! In between its wandering, my mind seems to find time to plan the day ahead, to anticipate and be better prepared for it.
Another immediate benefit has been that since I started cycling, my daily 2 o clock energy trough has disappeared. It could be due to the exercise or due to my increased water intake, but what the heck – the end matters.
Another month, and a number of mild disorders – digestion, backache, insomnia, etc. – start disappearing.It is actually amazing what those 15 – 30 minutes a day do. Is it psychological? I don’t think so.
None of this is actually surprising. In my Army career of 27 years including as a trainee, my bicycle never left my side. In the Army, physical exercise of any sort was encouraged. A sense of balance was encouraged to – between work and play, exercise and rest, extreme stress and periods to letting go! On entering corporate life, however, I somehow slipped into the conventional mold of a 9 to 5’er without a thought. I never noticed when that balance in life was lost.
Cycling to my office has since been banned for me, by my wife, “It is not safe!” I now wheel out the bicycle in the evenings, after the traffic has eased and pedal away anywhere, with no apparent direction or aim.
When I am cycling like this, I am perhaps catching up on those lost years. Yet ‘catching up’ is not the right word. There is nothing to ‘catch-up’ with! So I just get on my bicycle and glide…
Sunil Prem, Jan 2018