I first came to Australia on Australia Day 2002. I was 23 years old. For 23 of those years, I’d lived with my parents, wrapped in cotton wool like most Indian kids from well-off families. Sure, I wasn’t your average Indian kid, having roamed the Himalayas on my own and had spiritual discussions with nomadic ascetics in caves. But I’d never lived away from home, even in another city, let alone another country. Never managed my own finances, put bread in a toaster or even washed my own plate. We’re sheltered, us privileged Indian kids. For those 23 years of my life I woke up at 11AM on weekends, was given a glass of milk in bed by one of our servants and then began an extensive ritual of being handed delicious food at regular intervals by family members and servants who did everything for me from ironing my clothes to cleaning my bathroom. Sometimes I reminisce about those days of excessive comfort when I collapse into bed from a hard day of working, looking after kids and doing house work. And I wonder “What the hell am I doing in Australia?”. In India, I’d only have to do the “hard day of working” bit, everything else would be taken care of.
Anyway, I digress from the story I want to tell. There are obviously underlying issues I need to address.
I’d dreamed of coming to Australia since I was about 10 years old and first saw a poster of an Australian beach with a tanned blonde lady who’s swimsuit was highly modified. I later realized that the swimsuit was actually stock and was called a bikini. I remember that poster clearly and have no doubt that it was a major catalyst in my relentless march towards puberty. After finishing school, I nagged my father to send me to Australia to study. All the kool kidz wanted to go to America and England, enticed by fancy names like MIT and Oxford. But I wanted nothing more than to be at that beach from my favourite poster, with kangaroos hopping around me while a bronzed blonde handed me my chocolate milk (I hadn’t caught onto beer then). I didn’t even know, or care, how good the education in Australia was. It was the education I wanted. But it was too expensive and my Dad wasn’t a “debt” kinda guy. He’s still not. I tried to sneak my way to Australia again after finishing my engineering in one of the top engineering colleges in India. This time trying to get Dad to pay for my Masters in Environmental Science at the University of Sydney. I got the brochures, put in my application, got accepted and begged Dad for money. It was still too expensive though so I got an IT job instead and replaced my aussie poster with one of an attractive Indian model in a Sari, resigned to my fate.
Which is not as bad as it sounds because fate works both ways and it worked out a way for me to get to Australia anyway.
I had opportunities to go to America but I knocked them back. My colleagues thought I was insane, it was everyone’s dream to go to America. But the idea of America never appealed to me. It was like I was waiting. For what? I didn’t know. And then I did. A request came in from Australia for a software developer with exactly my skills. My company arranged a telephone interview for me with someone from St.George Bank in Sydney. To prepare for the interview I listened to Ritchie Benaud’s cricket commentary. I can’t remember what I said in the interview but I got the role and was on a flight to Sydney within a week, the first employee from over 1,000 in my office (most of whom were a lot more skilled and experienced than me) to go to Australia. If this isn’t fate, I don’t know what is.
I reached Sydney on Australia Day 2002, which is co-incidentally also India’s Republic Day, the day the Indian Constitution was framed and India was declared a republic, January 26th 1950.
I was shocked as the taxi drove me to my B&B in Strathfield from the airport around 9PM. The streets were so deathly quiet and empty that I thought there must be a curfew on. Now, it is likely that many of my Australian friends will be unfamiliar with the word “curfew” so let me explain. In India, there are regular riots. Not like your cute little Cronulla riot where a few drunk yobos took their shirts off and drank marginally more VB than they usually do on a Saturday arvo. No, I’m talking about people burning their fellow countrymen alive impervious to their terrifying screams of agony, raping defenceless women at knifepoint and setting alight and destroying all and any public and private property they come across. Riots are worse than war. At least in war, you know who your friends are and who the enemy is. When a riot happens, after the mandatory (and crucial) lapse into shock and paralysis, the authorities clamp down with a blanket ban on civilian movement. Any person seen in public may be arrested or shot at. This state of virtual emergency is known as a “curfew”. It’s supposed to give everyone some time to calm the fuck down. It used to happen with such regularity across India that it became the butt of jokes and worked its way into Indian language slang. That’s what I was imagining had happened in Sydney that night. Coming from 23 years of living in the constant noise and commotion created by 1 billion people living in close proximity, it was inconceivable to me that such silence and isolation in the middle of a world-class city was “normal”! I have never really reconciled to this, even now.
Anyway, this was supposed to get to motorcycles quickly but I’ve obviously failed spectacularly in that aim. Immigration is a pandora’s box and it was ambitious of me to try to weave it as the prologue of a motorcycling story.
But let me at least kick off the motorcycle story here.
My Indian IT employer booked me a week’s accommodation in a B&B, gave me $2,000 cash as a salary advance and sent me over to fend for myself. On the first weekend after I got here I blew all my cash, which was supposed to pay for my rental bond and living expenses for the next 1 month, on a motorcycle.
Close Motorcycles in Redfern saw me coming from miles away I reckon. They sold me the most dilapidated shitbox in the whole shop, an ancient Yamaha XJ600. But hey, it was 600cc and it was mine.
Continue onto the First Australian Bike Trip