Not many people know about Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s bicycle expedition. The first expedition in 1950 was a 4,500 kilometer solo trip through the rural provinces of Northern Argentina on a bicycle. Soon followed the motorcycle expedition across the South America, which laid the foundation of his brilliant political career. It is believed that this journey made him a different man who could see, feel, and understand things differently. He never had a plan, he just wanted to see the world he was born in.
Akram Feroze, a college drop-out embarked on a journey on his bicycle in the late 2011. His journey was based on the idea of understanding villages, towns, and people through theater, stories, and plays. Let us hear from Akram Feroze.
What is Cycle Natak?
The Cycle Natak is about a man travelling on cycle performing Natak(Theatre) .It is like those old troupes who used to travel across villages and towns, set their stage for few days, perform theatre, and travel to some other destination. Ever since I was a kid, I had fantasized about this journey, travelling alone on my own and life has given me an opportunity to fulfill my dream. It is a journey with infinite time and zero budget to start with. I think I am living a dream.
Tell us something about your association with Nataks and Cycles.
This is a tricky question. I am not a cyclist, that’s for sure, and I am not a trained theatre artist either. I bought a cycle 2 days before this journey started. It had a lifetime of only one day because someone stole it the same night. Honestly, I had not touched any cycle since my 12th standard. And as far theatre is concerned I was a college student performing in college events and that too once in a while. I was doing my graduation in genetics and I dropped out of college in the final year. I took a break of one year and returned to theatre and that brief stint showed me the way. I decided to take my journey one step ahead and thought of touring the whole country on foot and learn about various theatre groups performing across the nation and hopefully perform with them too. By then I had started writing my own plays and that strengthened my belief of taking up theatre as my area of expertise.
I wanted to see people who make this country such a diverse nation. I wanted to experience the vastness of this nation and this wild fantasy of mine gave birth to The Cycle Natak. Initially I wanted to travel on foot but my parents were against the idea of walking all the way from one corner of the country to another because they thought it was unsafe and impractical. My father suggested that I should take cycle as my companion and thus cycle came into the story.
Problems, if any?
In real-time, problems infuriate you and test your patience but in the long run, they make you a better human being. Problems make our journeys, our lives, and our stories better and interesting. Trust me the word problem has become a part of my journey since its beginning. Just a day before the journey had started, my cycle was stolen and I was not in a condition to buy another. One of my friends helped me with money so that I could buy a new cycle.
My first few rides were baby rides, as I could not ride more than 8-10km in a day. My friends had suggested me to train before starting the journey but I decided to make The Cycle Natak my fitness guide as well, so I trained as the journey progressed. Body aches were my second companion and they dominated the first few days of the journey. I am not saying that now I have become the master of cycling and ready to clash horns with Lance Armstrong but now I am comfortable with my bicycle and my rides. Struggle for food and stay was another worry and that is going to last until the journey concludes. Loneliness gets on my nerves sometimes, mostly when I am travelling on long, straight highways, or riding through the remote villages of a region. However, I have now devised certain ways to fight loneliness. I sit alone on the road for hours sometimes singing songs, sometimes crying, and sometimes dancing. People come and inquire with daggers in their hands and I have to make them understand that I am no fanatic but a man on mission.
Road accidents scare me and they make me sick in my head. That happens when you see fresh blood spilled on the road. I could not ride for two days after I saw a young man dying on the road with his skull open, I think I am an emotional man. I think wearing helmet is a cool thing and it fits well on heads than elbows.
I had three flat tires on the same day and I did not know how to fix it, as I wanted to have real-time learning sessions. It went flat in the middle of a lonely road with no one around. I fought with the tire for one hour and then an elderly man appeared from nowhere and helped me fix it. We did not understand each other’s language but we had a real nice time. Tea is the second best invention in the history of humankind, first one is the cycle.
“I am Awesome” has become my favorite one liner nowadays because when I have to drag myself for the last few kilometres everyday, this one liner makes me strong. Self motivation is important and I have chosen to call myself awesome, if it helps me to ride more and better. Every night when I go to bed, I tell myself it was the toughest yet most satisfactory day of my journey. The same story runs in an infinite loop.
India, tell us about the country through your eyes, as you have seen it.
In simple terms, the nation I see is full of emotions, excitement, hope, and love. When I started, I didn’t know how people will respond. I used to worry about my night stays and my meals but as life unfolded I found people welcoming me with open hearts. The villages are simple, cities have become bit complex. In villages you stay in your host’s house, in cities houses are replaced by community halls or guest houses. This country has shown me vivid colours and I am expecting to discover a new colour that doesn’t belong to the colour spectrum.
Once I was cycling on a highway, I saw a couple selling custard apple. They called me and inquired about me. They offered fruits to me and when I tried to pay them, they declined and asked me to pray for them. It happened many times when people offered me their services and just expected prayers in return. This country is woven with the fabric of faith and despite our problems if we keep marching ahead, that’s purely because our fundamental building block is faith.
What about the great language barrier?
Language is a barrier but one can always devise methods to overcome barriers. At times it becomes difficult to tell people that I am not a con man but an artist. Sometimes people think I am trying to exploit them. I try to explain things in slow motion with optimum use of hands and eyes. Sign language, they say, works even on the Mars, so there is no point of it not working in India. I am learning to collaborate and cooperate with people. The world is suffering from trust deficit but India is not.
What are your plays/natak all about?
I go to a place and ask about the theater groups working in that area. I mostly find performing groups in every city, town, and village. I learn from them, understand their way of performing theater and try to share information with them. I also try to implement their stories in my plays and stories. Villages are actually the lifeline of our country and as far as theater and performing arts is concerned, we still have a lot to learn from them.
What about the monetary aspect of your journey, how do you manage that?
Why do I need money is my question? My stay is free; food is provided by my hosts. I have decided not to spend a single penny on my stay, irrespective of my location on the map of India. For emergency conditions, I am carrying a tent. I devised a new term “Gift Economy” and that is my lifeline. I don’t ask for payment anywhere, I take whatever people give , I call it my Gift Economy. I lost my phone, but few noble men collected some gift money and gave me to buy a mobile. I lost my sweater, cycle meter, and many other things. I go them back through Gift Economy system. I have become a gift man and sometimes I wonder if I am a god-gift to myself.
The Goodbye Note
I will say dream on. The Cycle Natak has grown far bigger than I ever thought. It was a fantasy that became a reality and now it is showing me the colours of life. One day a truck driver stopped by me and told me that he knows about me. He offered me to be in his truck, as a guest, on the highway. It can’t get beautiful than this. One day you meet Pundlik Wagh who traveled across the nation on his motorcycle. Another day you meet Arundhati Nag and she makes sure that you are medically insured on the road and some other day you are a guest speaker at TechMahindra trying to inspire the best brains of this country.
At 23, you can’t ask for more. If you can understand that will-power is greater than money power, everything will fall in place, on its own.