Text and Photo by Eman Kahled. Originally Published at her blog
It was just another rough day at the hospital when my friend invited me to a cycling endeavor on the streets of Karachi. I thought to myself, “cycling, in Karachi? Why would someone pursue cycling had they been on good terms with the gym? Or risk their lives to flaunt their recreational mood on a good day? Could it be safe keeping in mind the safety concerns and political unrest for the past few years? What do medical professionals do in their idol space? I sat behind a desk flooded with in-patient files broadening my perspective on harmless fun in Karachi. Being an adventure aficionado, I left behind a lot of memories of creative writing and favourite sports which began their slow decline as I entered the realm of medicine.
Taking the sage advice, we decided to ride solo because my friend feared I will unleash my wilderness on to the streets. However I kept my cool and didn’t hit the roads and limited my edition to parking spaces and sea front. After much decent practice, we departed succeeding morning prayers and embarked on different routes decided prior to departure. Over the weekends, mums and their little duckling joined the ride and suddenly, I felt I was riding into another dimension. Cycling re-defined life in Karachi and the peloton I cycled with totally had me re-imagine its limits. Every Sunday, over 100 cyclists joined and rode into different parts of Karachi; of course the line of travel were carefully selected in accordance with the safety concerns. The group also announced competitions by the kilometer and planned trips to slightly remote islands, beaches and highway.
During one of my rides, I met a woman who owned a 1000c.c motor bike and professed her lifestyle and the taboos attached to it. Her rousing story moved me when she disclosed how she performed daily chores including going to work on her motor bike. Graduating from foot to cycle empowered me with my right to move around freely. When deepika defined her choice to arrive late from work, I thought why not ride to work? I found it difficult initially as people cooled their eyes off, followed me briefly, mouthed obscenities, and mistook me for a daughter of anarchy; nonetheless, the chauvinists failed to throw me off my pedal. Using cycle as means of transportation to work gained me a space in the parking lot though it did prompt an ongoing war between the motor lads and I. people en route became accustomed to my standard routine and I was praised by my fellow colleagues who drove my confidence over.
The government perhaps could join in hands to promote this two-wheeled action and act upon building a network of segregated lanes for bikers for a safer journey and prevent danger posed by trucks and construction roads. However, one of the paradox elements of cycling in Karachi is that it’s not as safe as people might think. Female riders suffer disproportionately as drivers are impatient against their slower average speed. We need to polarise all the fractious groups into a united front to get these basic facilities take form. Perhaps, with the advent of metro bus facility which apparently in shambles, and lack of divided lanes for heavy and long vehicles; cycling network is eagerly awaited by the connoisseurs of the pedaling platoons.
My story is perhaps another women empowerment story on wheels, defeating the conventional notions of female domesticity. However this story only implies to me and perhaps people like me. Just like how deepika’s movement implied to her only. Where women’s participation in variously areas of workforce is debated, this could hopefully abrogate the poison from reflection over several issues associated with women and their right to move freely. Defying the repressive tradition, women should use this mode of transportation to reach schools and offices, healthcare facility and other workplaces. I’m content with the activity as it keeps me fit and healthy, mentally empowering and physically forward. Perhaps a hashtag trend could spell out which way the masses pedal!