'I learnt to ride when my feet could barely reach the ground.'
'Belonging to a Muslim family, I obviously had my own set of issues to deal with but I don't remember my father saying 'no' to anything.'
'I am a single mother, raising my son with the help of my parents.'
'People do act funny on the road when they see a girl riding a motorcycle.'
For two days in mid-February, Arpora, North Goa, turns into a home away from home for bikers from across the country.
In the midst of amazing bikes and riders, Laxmi Negi/Rediff.com spotted Shirin Shaikh who was busy posing for photographs with her signature victory sign.
At first, she comes across as a young girl having fun at the India Bike Week. But when you see her ride the Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350CC, you are amazed.
Talking to Shirin makes you realise there is more to her than just a female bike rider. This 28-year-old, who works for a software company in Pune, has broken many stereotypes.
How did your love for biking begin?
I remember riding my first bike, a Yamaha Rx 100, when I was 14 years old; my mama (maternal uncle), Ayub Khan, has played the most important role in channelising my energy towards bikes, jeeps and adventure sports. He taught me to ride when my feet could barely reach the ground.
I learned to ride a bike in 15 minutes. I was a National Cadet Corps cadet in college (2006-2009) and part of the Maharashtra Air Squadron. I represented Maharashtra at several national level NCC camps and competitions.
One of those was the All India Vayu Sainik Camp-2007 for which I trained for six months at the National Defence Academy. I learnt how to fly a micro light aircraft called Zen-Air (a small, two-seater aircraft like a charter plane). We bagged the gold that year and I won a bronze medal in the 0.22 rifle shooting competition at national level as well.
How many falls have you had riding your bike? Any injuries while learning?
Fortunately, I never had a fall while learning how to ride a bike but, yes, I had a major accident in 2009 and it taught me a great lesson about wearing a helmet before starting my bike.
How did your family react to your love for biking?
My father has been the most supportive person ever! Belonging to a Muslim family, I obviously had my own set of issues to deal with but I don't remember my father saying 'no' to any of the extracurricular activities I participated in.
My parents taught me to be responsible for my actions. Fortunately, they are very practical and broad-minded.
How do you take time out with a baby in tow?
Reality of my life: My husband and I separated when Kabir (my son) was born. I am a single mother and am raising my two-year-old son with the help of my parents. My parents have been more than supportive when it comes to Kabir and my riding and off-roading activities.
I rode my Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350cc bike to Goa for the India Bike Week 2016. During this time, Kabir, as usual, is looked after by his favourite nani (maternal grandmother). I am able to follow my passion because I have my family to take care of Kabir while I am away.
How did society react? I mean, were you encouraged? There are various types of harassment. Did you face any?
'Society' is definitely a dominant world and can force an individual to make choices. But my upbringing has taught me that 'society' is the last thing I needed to care about (thanks to my parents).
As a Muslim girl, I was looked upon as being too bold but that did not stop me from riding.
Fortunately, bikers are an amazing community and take care of their fellow female riders!
I don't deny the fact that people do act funny on the road when they see a girl riding a motorcycle. But I was always encouraged by my family and people close to me to pick up my bike and ride on!
'Has to be a woman!' This is the favourite comment by both men and women if they spot a female driver driving slowly or making a mistake. What is your take about this stereotype?
Wow... that's a difficult one because, every day, I have seen the silly mistakes women make while riding or driving. But they are not to blame.
We all are learning. Nobody is perfect. Professional women riders have definitely proved that all women are not bad drivers.
Tell us something about these long trips you take. Isn't it tougher for women?
Long rides can be tricky sometimes. But women who ride will mostly overlook basic issues that revolve around long distance travelling (like washrooms, etc).
Most of our roads and highways are well-connected and have regular hotels or dhabas (roadside restaurants, mostly on highways, catering to travellers). More importantly, petrol pumps have washrooms for ladies.
Tell us about the potholes; we can't miss them when we are talking about riding in India.
I think everything has potholes, be it a job, a society, a family, a person or a road you are riding on.
Riding in the city is usually tiring because of the (never-ending) traffic. The highways are pretty well-maintained! We all must overlook the pot holes, no matter where they are, and move on.
Your favourite route to ride is...
The coastal routes; I love beaches and visit them often.
I love riding to Dapoli (in Maharashtra) for its amazing weather, bending on the ghats and obviously the view! Who you are riding with also plays a very important role in how much you enjoy the ride.
Are you obsessed with biking gear/clothes? The leather jackets... the boots... do you get a diva-like feeling when you take your helmet off?
I was never and will never be obsessed with leather jackets and riding gear. I know they look cool but, as far as I am concerned, they are just part of my safety kit.
I'm usually dressed in comfortable jeans and tee shirts. People wouldn't know I'm a rider unless they see me on a bike.
I believe it's the attitude a person carries that makes him or her a rockstar or a diva.
Tell me about your association with the India Bike Week? And how was your experience this year?
IBW is a much awaited event in which bikers get to reconnect with their buddies from all over the country.
Over a period of years, all events become commercialised. Now, there are more display stalls. Biking legends and celebrities join such events and pull in more crowds each year.
Riding makes me happy. I ride alone and sometimes with my gang. I love spending time with my fellow biker friends.
IBW 2016 was great. The only additional thing I wish they did was promote the use of helmets on such a big platform.
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