But anyway, 24 hours later and I'm on the back of the bike. Now I'm admittedly not a good motorcycle molly. The only dead person I've ever seen was after a head-on crash of two motorbikes right in front of me in Indonesia in 10th grade. I don't trust them to keep me alive. Every day the newspaper runs little stories on all people killed in Bangalore over the past 24 hours, and a lot of them are on bikes. In fact a great number of them seem to be the pillion rider. I don't know if its because riding pillion is inherently more dangerous or if because Bangalore law only requires the driver to wear a helmet, but there's always at least one dead pillion rider "fatally knocked down" in the morning news.
My hands start sweating before I even get near the bike. By the time we've reached Airport Road my heart is beating at about the same rate as a mouse or hummingbird (if a crash doesn't kill me I may just die of a heart attack, I'm certainly using up my lifetime allotment of heartbeats at an accelerated rate). It's not really the instability of the bike or any worry with Tim's skill that scares me, its the presence of everyone else on the road. Buses make sudden turns directly into your path, other drivers come by with (LITERALLY) only a few centimeters between their steel and my knees (I spent one afternoon limping around Bangalore after my knee made hard contact with someone else's front end), and despite the optomistic addition of white lines to the asphalt, there is no such thing as a lane in Bangalore.
In India, motorcycles move through the spots between traffic like blood flows through veins. The movement of trucks, cars and buses is restricted by the need for large empty spots but thin branched trails exist between them through which the bikes ooze their way along. When traffic slows, you can aim your bike slightly right, squeezing through the emptiness (maybe 18" of emptiness) between the service lorry in front of you and the Tata Inova to it's right. Once in front of the lorry you can veer back to the left, taking advantage of the equally restricted space between it and the bus ahead, then forward again between the bus and the trees that lean out over the road, reaching for any light they can find. In this dance of ebb and flow you are joined by hundreds of other bikers, each doing their best to pass the bike in front of them and win the empty space first.
I've gotten rather nonchalant about this when cruising down a neighborhood street like Sampige Road where traffic can't accelerate much past 30 or 40 kmh (and most of the time it's much slower) but it's a different situation when we hit one of the main arterial roads. Unrestricted by cross traffic, traffic in places like Airport Road will surge forward at 50, 60, 100 kmh for a few (or a few dozen) meters before coming to a full halt in a sea of red taillights. All of this while bikes and buss weave left and right, cutting each other off to gain that extra meter of forward motion. Exhaust pipes burn tender skin and other riders knees nearly brush mine on a regular basis (what happens when two riders brush knees at 50 kmh? My mind is never quiet on these rides). Last night's dead pillion riders are riding with me and I wonder if my helmet will be any protection against death. I wonder if perhaps it isn't better than to die immediately than to be brought to an Indian ICU (I recently learned that out of every eight ICU patients in India dies from infection contracted in the ICU and a full 25% of ICU patients contract sepsis while under ICU care).
When at last we turn right across 3 painted (and 8 actual) lines of oncoming traffic and arrive at the relatively rural streets that comprise the last few kilometers of the drive, I remember that I haven't taken a breath for the last 500 meters and allow myself to loosen the death grip I've placed on Tim's backpack. It's always a bit stressful, but, hey! I just shaved 80 minutes off my commute!