and now for something completely differe

in the middle of october, i took two weeks off and went travelling. i flew my cycle to panjim. pedalled from there to palolem, a beach in south goa. then cabbed it to dandeli, the wildlife sanctuary in north karnataka. a day of birdwatching and trekking followed. and then, i cycled to anshi tiger reserve. and then, after a day of traipsing about in the rainforest/semi-evergreen forest, i pedalled down to karwar. rested for a day there. and then pedalled to gokarna.

shortly after getting back, i wrote this timepass little column for et. classic marketing con, this one. para one sells the dream of a cycling vacation. para two says you do not even need to be fit to cycle. para three sells the dream some more. and then, the sucker punch — para four. which talks about the gear you MUST have.

i told you. a classic marketing con. :-)

that said, the trip was great. my first cycling holiday. and it went like a dream. will have to do more of these. and soon. and i should take a shot at writing about the experience itself. the experience of cycling, i mean. not about the places i went to and the stuff i did. but an article in the mould of tim krabbe’s the rider. or matt seaton’s the escape artist. or robin harvie’s the lure of long distances. or ted bishop’s riding with rilke. or melissa holbrook pearson’s the perfect vehicle.

the last two books are about motorcycling. something i used to be passionate about till a couple of years ago. in both, it is the experience of being on the motorbike which gets scrutinised.

take something as simple as downshifting as the bike enters a turn and then accelerating out as the turn ends. you ease up on the throttle as the turn draws near. your left hand draws in the clutch. the left foot taps the gearshift. the bike downshifts, starts to slow as you enter the turn. next, even as the heel reverts to its earlier position, the left hand gently releases the clutch. by now, you can see the end of the turn and so, the right hand gently squeezes the throttle open and the bike, given that it is in a lower gear, slingshots — there is no other word for it — out of the turn.

and here is the thing. for downshifting, that is five actions executed in a tightly defined sequence by two hands and one foot in less than a second. what is this if not choreography. a dance between me and my buce (which is what i call my bullet).

it is strange that this spirit, this experience, gets described so rarely. strange that it gets written about so rarely even though it is the experience — of running, cycling, motorbiking or whatever — which draws us to them.

while on that, here is something i had written ages ago to some friends. “nothing sticks in my mind as much as that bike ride to ladakh. i can close my eyes and summon up entire reels of images. and then, there are fragments. downshifting, leaning and then accelerating out of the gentle curves that comprise the highway that connects the hill stations of almora and nainital. or, another road, i forget which one, where, for a magical moment, the bike passed underneath the shadow of an eagle circling in the sky. it was geometrically perfect. i saw the eagle’s shadow move on the road towards my bike. and then, the shadow covered the bike’s tank for a fraction. and then passed by. what are the odds of something like that? that a bike moving since morning from delhi and the shadow of an eagle circling since whenever would actually meet on a road?”

some day, i will have to take a stab at writing about this cycle ride. it will be good to try and write something evocative. to try and describe cycling as the body and the soul experience it. as opposed to my usual cut and dried analytic stuff.

some day. hmmm.

3 responses to “and now for something completely differe”

  1. what an interestingly different article from you. the picture of the bike is also fascinating and imagining you as the motor and master of the cycle! belated happy birthday again and keep the letter handy, the one i sent :)

  2. you told me your bullet is called rampyaari, not buce. liar.

  3. Such a beautiful article! Makes me want to ride a bike, something I loved but could do only for a short while when young. Never now. Keep bicycle riding, and keep writing, about everything.

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I am an Indian journalist with interests in energy, environment, climate and India’s ongoing slide into right-wing authoritarianism. My book, Despite the State, an examination of pervasive state failure and democratic decay in India, was published by Westland Publications, India, in January 2021. My work has won the Bala Kailasam Memorial Award; the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award; and five Shriram Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism. Write to me at


…une plongée dans les failles béantes de la démocratie indienne, un compte rendu implacable du dysfonctionnement des Etats fédérés, minés par la corruption, le clientélisme, le culte de la personnalité des élus et le capitalisme de connivence. (…a dive into the gaping holes in Indian democracy, a relentless account of the dysfunction of the federated states, undermined by corruption, clientelism, the cult of the personality of elected officials and crony capitalism).” Le Monde

…a critical enquiry into why representative government in India is flagging.Biblio

…strives for an understanding of the factors that enable governments and political parties to function in a way that is seemingly hostile to the interests of the very public they have been elected to serve, a gross anomaly in an electoral democracy.”

M. Rajshekhar’s deeply researched book… holds a mirror to Indian democracy, and finds several cracks.The Hindu

…excels at connecting the local to the national.Open

…refreshingly new writing on the play between India’s dysfunctional democracy and its development challenges…Seminar

A patient mapping and thorough analysis of the Indian system’s horrific flaws…” Business Standard (Image here)

33 മാസം, 6 സംസ്ഥാനങ്ങൾ, 120 റിപ്പോർട്ടുകൾ: ജനാധിപത്യം തേടി മഹത്തായ ഇന്ത്യൻ യാത്ര… (33 months, 6 states, 120 reports: Great Indian journey in search of democracy…)” Malayala Manorama

Hindustan ki maujooda siyasi wa maaashi soorat e hal.” QindeelOnline

What emerges is the image of a state that is extractive, dominant, casteist and clientelist.Tribune

…reporting at its best. The picture that emerges is of a democracy that has been hijacked by vested interests, interested only in power and

Book lists

Ten best non-fiction books of the year“, The Hindu.

Twenty-One Notable Books From 2021“, The Wire.

What has South Asia been reading: 2021 edition“, Himal Southasian


Journalism is a social enterprise…,”

Democratic decay at state level: Journalist M Rajshekhar on book ‘Despite the State’,” The News Minute.

Covid-19 en Inde : “des décès de masse” dont un “État obscurantiste est responsable,” Asialyst.


JP to BJP: The Unanswered Questions“.
Mahtab Alam’s review of “JP to BJP: Bihar After Lalu and Nitish”.

Urban History of Atmospheric Modernity in Colonial India“. Mohammad Sajjad’s review of “Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India, c1860-c1940”.

Westland closure: Titles that are selling fast and a few personal recommendations,” by Chetana Divya Vasudev, Moneycontrol. (Because this happened too. In February, a year after DtS was released, Amazon decided to shutter Westland, which published the book. The announcement saw folks rushing to buy copies of Westland books before stocks run out.)

Time to change tack on counterinsurgency” by TK Arun, The Federal.

All Things Policy: The Challenges of Governing States” by Suman Joshi and Sarthak Pradhan, Takshashila Institute (podcast).

The Future of Entertainment“, Kaveree Bamzai in Open.

On What India’s Watching“, Prathyush Parasuraman on Substack.

The puppeteers around us“, Karthik Venkatesh in Deccan Herald.

Will TN election manifestos continue ‘populist’ welfare schemes?“, Anna Isaac for The News Minute.

Why wages-for-housework won’t help women“, V Geetha in Indian Express.

The poor state of the Indian state“, Arun Maira in The Hindu.

Book discussions

26 December, 2021: Rangashankara, Bangalore, a discussion with Dhanya Rajendran.

16 November: Rachna Books, Gangtok, a discussion with Pema Wangchuk.

29 August: Books In The Time of Chaos, with Ujwal Kumar.

21 May: Hyderabad Lit Fest with Kaveree Bamzai and Aniruddha Bahal.

28 March: Paalam Books, Salem, Tamil Nadu.

19 March: The News Minute, “Citizens, the State, and the idea of India

6 March: Pen@Prithvi, with Suhit Kelkar

20 February: A discussion between scholars Usha Ramanathan, Tridip Suhrud, MS Sriram and me to formally launch Despite the State.

6 February: DogEars Bookshop, Margoa.

5 February: The Polis Project, Dispatches with Suchitra Vijayan.

30 January: Founding Fuel, “Systems Thinking, State Capacity and Grassroots Development“.

25 January: Miranda House Literary Society