Us & Them: Mumbai Street Runners – Featured


Shoeb Hansari is a motorcycle rider you’ve never heard of. You were probably never going to do it. In a few weeks, a newspaper column could appear neutrally mentioning his death in a traffic accident. In order to fill in the blanks, the story could be embellished with some perspective on the increase in motorcycle fatalities. At best, you would nod resentfully and turn around to find out more about the celebrity that angered the nation that day. Shoeb doesn’t want you to hear from him anyway; it’s just a statistic waiting to be realized. It might be all of us, in a way, but finding complacency in knowing is what separates us from them. Its identity is irrelevant.

Adjust the controls

It’s a quiet afternoon at DCP Nandkumar Thakur’s office at the Mumbai Traffic Police Headquarters in South Mumbai. Friendly face, although visibly tired, DCP Thakur had been instrumental in the Road Safety Month, which had only concluded the day before. “We took 300 bikes off the road!” he exclaims, seeming satisfied with the feat. With hundreds of motorcyclists apprehended and reprimanded for reckless and negligent driving, the Mumbai Police Traffic Division had spent the month working around the clock and producing tremendous results. It is high risk work and over the years many police officers have paid a heavy price for it. There is, after all, a difference between standing in the path of a motorcyclist heading in your direction at 60 km / h and one who is determined to do nothing.

“Our goal is not so much to penalize as to educate. It’s a dangerous and irresponsible business, and it can destroy families, ”he says, browsing through a series of messages on his constantly buzzing phone. “To be honest, they are not criminals, and we try to dissuade them because they do not understand the consequences of all this. A canceled license can impact things like passport verification and sometimes even hinder getting a job. The fact that street racing is a sociological problem is well established; this is where the cafe racers of the sixties also come from!

Six heads, not a helmet in sight, and not a problem in the world either.

I’m past my brief date and as I gather my things he quipped, “The only solution to this problem is education. If children were taught road safety at primary school level, the situation would be much better. It’s an obvious observation, but with well-meaning intention. He would surely prefer not to have this problem to master.

What do you want from me?

For a brief moment, Shoeb was visibly irritated by the confrontation. I had seen him descending a desolate stretch of the spectacular Bandra waterfront, the front wheel of his motorbike comfortably hoisted in the air, and decided to report it. I was in awe of the effortless wheelie he’d pulled a few moments ago, but I cared not to express it. “What do you want?” He asked brazenly, though it didn’t seem like it came from a grudge. “I’m writing a story about bikers like you. If that’s okay with you, I’d like to take pictures of you and chat a bit. The police had their say, why don’t you have yours? My frankness was unexpected, even to me, but it broke the ice. We parked our motorcycles near the Armco barrier.

“I’m Shoeb, you can search for me on Instagram. I have 8,000 subscribers. Is that what it is, then? A popularity contest of the deadly genre? “Not at all! I just happen to be popular. Fame attracts a lot of people, because we struggled to grow up in these areas. I have a pretty exhausting job. I come here in the evening, I shoot a wheelie or two, and that makes me happy. Shoeb is barely in his twenties and looks at him, with such enviable childish charm to his intonation, you’ll forgive him for something far more heinous than a wheelie. drag races – usually everything happens on a Friday, Saturday or Monday. I like drag races, but I only ride for myself. “

His talent on a motorcycle explains something, although in the end it is a foolish and irresponsible act that is too far off the scale of nonconformity to be substantiated. In any case, aren’t statistics, determined law enforcement and, above all, the possibility of destroying families – theirs – a powerful deterrent? “I think about it sometimes, but this scene is addictive. We have so many WhatsApp groups, a very well organized structure and very few runners can really shine – I’m one of them. This fame and respect is very important. But I run because it makes me happy. I know it won’t last forever. My mom already wants me to get married and have children!

Sheep

Most racing boys fund their dreams by doing odd jobs, usually long enough to be able to buy a used motorcycle. Some, happy with the stability of cash flow, stick with food aggregators as delivery agents. This forces them to ride motorcycles – unofficially they are expected to go a bit fast too. Rehan is one of those racers, the youngest of four brothers, one of whom died in a motorcycle racing accident just over a year ago. With the help of encouraging and less skilled friends, he frequently finds himself wrecking the Eastern Express on a borrowed Pulsar 220F.

Failure to comply with laws, or with gravity in general, is a compelling theme for street runners.

Unlike Shoeb, Rehan isn’t a terribly captivating speaker, but he’s quick and has the scars to show. He is flanked by Sagar, who claims to be 18 but doesn’t look at him from a distance. For Sagar, Rehan is an idol – like a Rossi or a Marquez from his universe. His growing YouTube channel features Rehan’s law-defying antics, somewhat explaining the fear. It’s a different story with everyone you meet, but it is all beyond belief.

Echoes

In a narrow, dimly lit alley, lives Shoeb. It is a noisy and dense locality, with children running around as if they were possessed, and a pungent smell. I shake the extremely steep stairs, using the time I have to contemplate the consequences of my actions, and I’m not talking about those that involve hitting the stairs. This very quickly turns into regret. What was I even thinking, trying to extract a story from an outlaw with no interest in playing by the rules? What business did I have while being here? These runners can go and kill themselves – why do I care ?!

“Come on, my brother!” Shoeb is screaming. He finds my struggle with the stairs hilarious. Half a dozen kittens scurry for shelter as Shoeb’s dad asks me to sit on the balcony, which I watch serves as a separate room. He looks blunt, speaks with visible disdain, and certainly dislikes motorcycles. Then he tells me.

“Aren’t you afraid of what he’s doing?” I ask him cautiously. “What is the use of it? It just makes me angry and upset. He only listens to his mother, and being the youngest in the family, he did it way too easily. than a bicycle… ”The conversation takes the stereotypical trajectory of the city’s dominant middle classes. Asked why he doesn’t choose to end it, he expresses his weariness and suggests instead that I do something about it. subject. “I don’t approve of his actions, but he’s a good boy and he’ll figure it out, hopefully in time,” I told him. It wasn’t for me to take sides.

Shoeb, meanwhile, escapes the constant screams of passing motorcyclists, vying for his attention, as he’s somewhat of a celebrity in those parts. To be seen riding with him is a matter of pride, and pride, in these regions, is paramount.

Time

I’m at the office on a Monday afternoon, halfway through lunch, when my phone rings. “What’s up brother?” I try to seem busy. I like the report, but I am aware of its ability to cloud my objectivity. “Come on tonight. We’re running. 9pm.” I accept and hang up. Something’s wrong. This is the moment I was chasing and, suddenly, I wish I hadn’t been. Nonetheless, it was time.

It’s dark by the time I meet Shoeb. He looks like himself, but not quite, and he’s not the only one. The timing, strangely, is shifted. Or maybe I imagine it. Shoeb may be the biggest idiot in the world, but I’d rather he live to tell the story. He’s a young boy with a glint in his eyes, and the goodness in him will be of much greater value outside of an obituary.

A traffic police officer, flanked by his well-equipped patrol bike, apprehends a lawless cyclist.

We are cutting traffic at a moderate pace; he obviously takes things slowly, so as not to lose me. At each traffic light, he pulls away with a wheelie that lasts a quarter of a mile, deftly shifting into the 6-speed gearbox. His contempt for the law and for other road users is stupid. One untimely variable is enough for everything to end with mutilated metal and scattered plastic, interspersed with their anatomical equivalents. Forgive the graphic storytelling, if you will. We soon come to an intersection on one of the city’s two still busy highways. I realize that I am alone now.

Shoeb waves his hand with another rider of his ilk. This may be the last I see of him. The thought is poignant and very valid. Before I could extract my camera from my tank-mounted bag, they pulled into position right in front of a red light, the traffic behind them having stopped. I barely manage to aim my aim at them before they set off, with a thunderous racket – and a shocking spectacle – in a neck-and-neck drag race that will be decided by mutual agreement. Another quartet lines up on the makeshift “grid”, with seconds to spare before the lights turn green again. It’s completely absurd and, to be objective, not very scientific either. One of them clearly skips the start, but in a world that thrives on blatant violation of all societal rules, a good start is hardly sacrilege.

Twenty minutes later, it’s over. After gaining attention, everyone is now on the run. It’s a chaotic dispersion, as the riders blend into the flow of traffic, becoming invisible, as their lives would have been without these motorcycles, with ill-fitting helmets hastily pulled over their heads. I don’t know if I’ll ever see those faces again – and I’m not even sure I want to. I have survived motorcycle crashes on my own youthful exuberance and feel desperate to do something, but helpless too. I would have, if I could separate “us” from “them”. But it’s easier to let someone else do it. After all, we are just ordinary men.


About Todd Wurtsbach

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