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Girl talk on the road

Sometimes I get guys who try to push me when I'm riding. — Rashna

VROOMING UP is in their veins. Waiting to race on dirt tracks, country roads, or on Bangalore's mean streets, these women have something for speed. But hey, they are not the tomboys you would expect. Anitha Kholay is a motor rallyist who's also been Miss Bangalore, is a model and fashion designer, who can handle her make-up at her beauty salon, Shades, as niftily as her rally car.

Rashna Joshua looks cool on her Yamaha, but she's great at embroidery and teaches the art to destitute women at SEDS, the NGO being run by her parents in Andhra Pradesh. Starting off at 16, with a bike her father presented to ferry herself to college, she's hoping to make a career out of racing.

Having just biked down from Penukonda, she arrives like a cool cat, her kaajal and nose-stud a surprising contrast to the image of a drag racer.

Both women have met on and off at races. BHUMIKA K. catches up with the racers and their mean machines.

Anitha: Hi! (Giggling) How have you been?

Rashna: Yeah, cool. Nice to see you again.

Anitha: Remember the last time we met? I think it was six years ago. You remember the first race?

Rashna: Yeah! It was on the Ring Road, right?

Anitha: Yeah, there you were, this biker... that was when I used to be a biker too... not that I'm not one now, but cars are more my kind of wheels now. (All excited) So tell me, when are you getting into cars?

Rashna: Oh the cars, hmmm, the cars... .I drive. But I prefer jeeps.

Anitha: (Laughing) Oh! More like you, more macho...

Rashna: Yeah, jeepy!

Anitha: (To us) Oh, you should see her riding. (Turning to Rashna) Truly, truly hats off to you, the way you ride. There are quite a few women in Bangalore in this sport... a handful maybe, five, six...

Rashna: Yes, even I know just about four or five girls who race in Bangalore.

Anitha: I think a motor sport is dying in India. Only a few drag races (a quarter mile race where the fastest is the winner) and dirt races happen. There's no race happening every month, no regular events as such, right? I'm into drag, and dirt racing and rallying with drags happening on Jakkur Road, and sometimes at Palace Grounds.

Rashna: There are motor crosses that happen at Palace Grounds, no?

Anitha: You've done them?

Rashna: No, I've done an auto cross at Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. I have not done jumps, but a lot of dirt! (Laughs.)

Anitha: So when did you start your racing?

Rashna: It was that day ... at the Ring Road.

Anitha: That was your first day? (Yelping in surprise.)

Rashna: Yeah, that was my first drag...

Anitha: I think it was my first too... that was 1998. But I started racing and rallying in 1995 as a navigator for my fiancé Rupesh, who's my husband now! (Giggles) Then moved on to riding and driving. You placed first at the drag, right?

Rashna: (Bashfully, almost embarrassed to admit she won) Yeah! Since that day I've done about seven or eight drags and hill climbs like Nandi Hills. But I really would love to do some track racing...

Anitha: Don't you think there are very few events happening? There's very little encouragement, but as a woman, I feel I have a lot of support from sponsors because it's the national championship rounds. But on the whole, motor sport is really in focus.

Rashna: Yeah, I agree.

Anitha: It's always different when you are a woman driver! In 2003 I started driving as part of an all-woman team. (Getting all nostalgic) 2003 was a good year. I completed three championship rounds in Chikmagalur, Nashik and Bangalore. To finish the rally is the most important thing, and I managed to save my car and finish! Rallying is interesting. Howz your experience been?

Rashna: I've always got quite a positive response from men. They're quite `wow' about me being a woman racer. But sometimes I get guys who try to push me when I'm riding. If they see my hair and realise I'm a girl, they keep bothering me.

Anitha: Yep, when a guy knows it's a woman, he fools around. Initially at races and rallies, people looked at me with that can-this-girl-drive look. Now people come and ask for autographs or say, `Can you show me some stunts?' (Laughing) So I take them for a spin.

Rashna: Yeah... if a woman is going faster, they really get annoyed... they tail you. Some people tend look upon me as a tomboy. My mom thinks I'm too feminine. I scream when I see spiders and lizards! (Giggles)

Anitha: I'm a complete street-racer. And when someone's trying to fool around on the city roads, I make sure I win. My love for speed is innate. You need a lot more guts and reflexes on the street than in a race! Men tend to give space on the road, and when they see it's a woman, they close in. That's when I have to give it to them! (Turning to us) And you must see her (pointing to Rashna and laughing). She can kick anybody. That's what hurts men.

Rashna: Yeah! When I ride my bike, I feel strong. I feel free and I'm in control and anything that happens is my move, my decision. There's a kind of something between my bike and me... I even talk to my bike! When I get onto a bike, yeah, there is that instinct to simply go fast. Even on roads like M.G. Road. I like to get out of the traffic quick, because I think it's really dangerous. There are all these buses. The more you stay close to them or if you go slow, I feel it's so much more dangerous. When you go faster, you get out of it all.

Anitha: Yeah, before anything happens, you're gone!

Rashna: It's also very safe. Or there are cows and people and bicycles... all more dangerous than the dirt tracks and races! But I'm not that much of a speed freak all the time. I sometimes like to ride slow. But when I want to rip, I do.

Anitha: But isn't it fun on the roads?

Rashna: On the roads, definitely. You have to "be there".

Anitha: But do you overtake them and show them?

Rashna: I overtake when I have to. But I don't always want to win. I back off. Sometimes it's not really worth it...

Anitha: So I guess we say bye now and we'll soon meet on the tracks at some race!

Rashna: Yep! (With a quick hi-five, the two zoom off.)

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