Friday, March 07, 2008

I did a wheelie today!

I’m in a strange state this morning. It’s past 5 am as I begin typing this. I just rode a bike over a longish distance and back from IIM. My study group for the first two terms decided to go for early morning coffee and snacks at the Ahmedabad Le Meridien. My friend decided to let me ride his bike in order that I learn. My aim is to be able to ride a bike properly next year while on trips with my friends. Anyway, I ended the ride with a fall from the bike and a couple of impressive cuts on my hand that my friends have variously suggested can pass for those earned in a fight and those received from smashing glass. My unfortunate friend said I’d done a wheelie for a moment before we – he, I and his bike - were all splayed on the ground. I don’t remember because it must have happened in the half-second before touching the ground in which I gave up trying to establish coordination between what I wanted the bike to do (stop) and what I was making it do (go faster) and prepared to notch my first road accident. I’m wondering, however, whether the wheelie counts if one lands back on more than just two wheels. I went to my biker friend’s dorm and applied some Savlon on my cuts and it got me wondering about Savlon.
Savlon is possibly the best example of a product whose (relative) failure could not have been predicted by absolutely any one. It’s a better antiseptic than Dettol and it hardly hurts while Dettol burns. The product team must’ve worked long and hard on developing such a product to take on Dettol. When they developed it, they must’ve rejoiced at finding an antiseptic that had it both ways – medicinal value and painlessness. To see it fail in the market must have been heartbreaking. What happened was that consumers simply didn’t believe in the healing/antiseptic properties of a solution that didn’t hurt and stuck to Dettol. Whoever saw that coming? Of course, Dorm 8’s First Aid Kit contains Savlon (perhaps because it is maintained by a Doctor) and that means Savlon’s not completely routed.
However, I intend to continue learning to ride because riding a bike is exhilarating in a way driving a car (which I’m used to) never is. Robert Pirsig says in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that looking out of a car is just more television while riding a bike lets you become a part of the environment or some such and I agree. The very first time I rode a bike was on a long straight road with slowly moving windmills on either side made glorious in the orange and red of dusk in Jaisalmer. I kid you not. I had come to spend a fortnight with my Mama who was posted in the Air Force Station in Jaisalmer and he was taking me out to begin my lessons. Those lessons continued for exactly one more day but my debut was spectacularly memorable. Perhaps it was the Air Force-ness of everything around me or the permanent damage watching Top Gun at an impressionable age caused me but I thought it was the height of cool to stand with my helmet against my waist with the windmills all around and the day slowly setting as we changed seats for the ride back home. All I needed to complete my fantasy were Ray Bans – they’re absolutely the first item I’m getting myself if ever I get contacts. Actually, I need contacts for the sole purpose of being able to wear sunglasses so they’re joint products, in a way. Or bundled or something. I remember thinking then too how watered down the experience would have been in a car.
It’s a little like stopping somewhere wonderful during your trip and taking a photograph to capture the sublimity of the place and going back and seeing the photograph and finding nothing extraordinary in it at all. It’s because the photograph captures only one dimension – the visual – of the environment. Chances are the magic of the place was a bewitching mix of scenic beauty, the wind howling in your ears, the clouds moving in from far away, the welcome warmth of the sun and the wonderful music playing in your car, or some similar multitude of factors. The awesomeness and the sublime quality of the experience are hopelessly dwarfed in a photograph. It remains, at best, a reminder of how great things were but the greatness cannot be communicated to someone who doesn’t have it in his/her memory already.
There’s a good reason why my friends and I should do the soup-and-pizza-at-4 am routine more often and that is the wonderful insights that come but occasionally to extraordinary men and almost never to women and ordinary men. (I’m sorry for the sexism but it’s true – women, as Zen Babu often exasperatedly points out, just aren’t bakchod enough.) The insight then is the following:
An MBA is like a Swiss Army knife. Everyone wants one. It’s a status symbol. It’s expensive. It looks good. It enables you to do a whole lot of things that you couldn’t otherwise do. However, you are most likely to never use it for anything other than opening beer bottles (Zen Babu supplied the beer bottle opener function – the original developers simply thought a Swiss knife was useless and hence even more analogous to an MBA. Please note, however, that none of these arguments hold for a PGDM, which is of course an immensely useful thing.).
I just re-read the first line and I remembered why it was strange when I began writing this. It was strange at the time that I was nursing my manly lacerations and listening to Andrea Corr crooning Breathless at the same time and enjoying both. I’m clearly the biker boy with a romantic side now.

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