A few months ago, I stumbled across Preethi’s blog, IfeeIthinkIsay.
I was delighted to discover she also is a cyclist..in southern India. In addition to bicycling for health and fun, she is also busy as a full-time physician (psychiatrist) there for last 9 years for children with disabilities and emotional problems, as well mother of 2 young children.
She graciously agreed to be interviewed by answering some questions and sharing her thoughts. Do drop by her blog!
Tell us highlights about yourself and how you first got into bicycling.
Bicycles, I can say, are an important part of childhood in India. It is a means of transport easy for children to go to and fro from school, go for their tutoring after school and to run errands. It is a mode of transport which needs no driver’s license. Hence, almost every child here learns to cycle and owns one. I started similarly. Over the years, others seemed to move on to brighter, shinier and faster moving vehicles, while I remained enchanted with my bicycle.
Did you ride with anyone often as a child / teen?
As I have mentioned earlier, cycling was an important part of my life till I turned eighteen (which is when we get to apply for a driver’s license). As a teen I would cycle with my friends, but it would be mainly to college and never road trips. This is again because, class eleven and twelve in India are crucial years before we decide on our careers and have important exams to take.
As an adult, how often do you bike? Is it for utilitarian purposes (shopping, community centre, work) or recreational/fitness?
Not even once for utilitarian purposes, I’m sad to say. As adults, cycling in India is not as well accepted as it is for children. Certain cities are taking up to it in a big way recently, but sadly, mine is not one among them. Here, bicycles are a means of transport for people who cannot afford anything better, and female adult cyclists are a rarity. Luckily, I live in the heart of the city, hence my commute to work and for other stuff, is within short walking distance.
But as a recreational activity, I do take it out every day. On weekends, we cycle to places which are close by along with a group of cycling enthusiasts.
In North America, we just don’t see TV nor magazine images, of Indian women cycling in their own country. Is bicycling as a form of transportation /recreation or fitness, not undertaken by Indian girls and women? Or is it just the Western media choosing certain images?
As mentioned earlier, cycling women are a rarity. Surprisingly, I found a large amount of people, both male and female, use bicycles in Pondicherry as a means of transportation. But, across the length and breadth of India, the use of public transport, motor bikes and cars, far outweigh the amount of people who use cycles consciously, as adults.
As a positive change, due to the smart and clean city initiatives taken up by the current government, cycling is slowly making a foray into the mainstream.
Summarize any safe areas for people to bike often for a distance in your area? Is safe cycling infrastructure, such as a bike lane or signage necessary?
As much as I can say, there are no separate safe areas or special cycling infrastructure in any of the places that I have cycled in. There are no specific rules that apply for bicycles, separate from those for other vehicles. You just have to be careful, and watch where you are going.
Since you are a doctor, tell us your observations on healthy or unhealthy lifestyles. Any motivators or barriers that are different for local women and girls vs. in other areas of India, to encourage bicycling or any form of regular exercise they liked?
In India, I feel we are bound by certain social barriers to cycling. It is not yet a part of the norm for people who have crossed a certain financial and social milestone, to cycle.
Though most of our cities have high levels of pollution, we have very minimal awareness regarding this.
Hence, if people who matter, take up the cause, we may see a surge in cyclists. A new set of rules for cyclists and safe cycling areas may make a difference. Improving awareness regarding environmental concerns among school going children, may make a difference in the way children choose their mode of transport in the future.
Note: Preethi added later that in her state, Karnatake, “Regarding children cycling, it would possibly surprise you to know that cycles are so popular here ( among children), that the Government of Karnataka gives out free bicycles to girls from economically disabled backgrounds, so that they will not drop out of school! Each school has about a minimum of hundred to two hundred kids cycling to and from it. With the advent of school buses in the bigger cities, the numbers who cycle is slowly dropping!”
As a doctor and a mother, I had slowly slumped into a lifestyle which was extremely unhealthy, and it showed. I was irritable, falling sick and somewhat depressed. Getting some form of exercise seemed a necessity, and cycling seemed to fit in to fulfill my needs, both as a form of exercise and as a fun option. I find myself a more fun and fit person now, than I was a year ago when I started cycling seriously.
There are many methods and ways out there which give you gyaan (supreme knowledge) on how to make a better life for yourself. I would not want to add more jumble to it. But, to put it simply, I would say: keep fit, keep up to your goals and have fun. After all, we have only one life.
Many thanks, Preethi for sharing with us your experiences and thoughts!
Here’s a sampling from her blog:
Cycling in Pondicherry.
Her reflection on stigma of mental illness for some female patients in India made more complex due to some misygnostic attitudes on lower societal status of women.