The 54-year-old broke barriers and battled stereotypes in her journey towards becoming an entrepreneur. She founded BacknBeyond, a venture that organises bike tours all over India. Along the way, she also championed some important social causes.
It’s classic, has kept pace with advances in engineering and ergonomics, and is ideal for long distance travel. I am talking about the silver 350 cc Electra bike. And like the machine, the lady who rides it is a strong woman who has weathered many a storm.
Fifty-year-old Moksha Jetley, single mother and Enfield rider holds a Limca Record for travelling from Leh to Manali in record time. Moksha leads by example and the two things she holds close to her heart are women’s empowerment and saving the girl child. Being a single mother and a role model herself, both causes have become an integral part of her life.
Her first memories of riding a bike are of being taught by her father and driving around with her two sisters.
Moksha hails from Hoshiarpur in Punjab. She got married in 1984 when she was quiet young and had a daughter a year later. With motherhood, came a set of different challenges, the most important being protecting her newborn. Moksha’s mother-in-law was upset at the birth of a daughter and made the disappointment evident. One night, she tried to physically harm the newborn and that to Moksha, was the last straw. She decided to leave home with her daughter when she realised that her husband chose to support his mother.
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Going back to her parents was not an option, so she moved to Chandigarh and started working, first as a chauffeur for a family and then in a hotel. It was the late 80s and not an easy time for Moksha. “A single mother, trying to stand on her own feet was not a concept that people were comfortable with but I had no other option,” she says.
In 1989, the divorce came through. From 1999 onwards she started working as a Warden in the same school her daughter was studying. Her main aim was to ensure that her daughter Prachi had a stable environment while growing up and at school. When Prachi passed out of school in 2004, Moksha moved onto a new opportunity in Kathmandu. In the same year, she completed a course in mountaineering.
Moksha has no regrets walking away from her family. She is happy and proud that she struck out on her own and cared for her daughter. When she narrates her story, the purpose is not to seek sympathy but show that daughters matter and if a woman decides to stand up for herself and her child there is no stopping her.
“Mindsets need to change. Especially those that prefer sons over daughters. Society remains healthy if there is not much of a gap in the male-female ratio. After all, a son is born from a woman. Look around you and you can see women making great strides - as ministers, civil servants, scientists, astronauts, pilots - donning diverse roles with ease. Daughters are also strong pillars of support to their parents. It’s time we recognised the important role women play as daughters,” she says.
In 2007, on a friend’s suggestion, Moksha left her job and moved to Manali, whereher father had an apple orchard. But this time she wanted to do something new- start a travel agency that would offer tours. As luck would have it, Moksha discovered her passion. She met Connie, an American in her late 40s who had been biking across India on her own, on a Royal Enfield.
The hidden embers were stoked, and the fire caught on as Moksha started thinking about doing a trip on her own. Shortly after, she undertook a maiden recce bike tour from Manali to Leh. From there on there was no stopping Moksha. She founded BacknBeyond in 2009, a venture that organises bike tours all over India.
She completed the Leh-Manali route in record time, in 20 hours and 20 minutes and made it to the Limca Book of Records. “It wasn’t planned, but happened on the spur of the moment. A cameraman was filming it at 3am. I was tired and sleepy but continued driving. We also got stranded for two hours in between because of rain. It was a challenging ride with tough roads and high altitudes. But I believe that only when we are put to the test do we realise our full potential,” she says.
Though age has never been a deterrent, fitness does matter when you are riding a bike. Moksha works hard on her fitness routine. Biking for long hours is not easy and needs more than just grit, determination and passion.
Also being on the road with reckless drivers is a challenge, she says, “People need to be extra cautious while driving.It’s easier driving in the mountains than on the roads.”
Her work keeps her driven. It is what gets her out of bed every day, “The moment I open my eyes, I thank God for another beautiful day, for his graciousness and bliss.”
It has been eight years since Moksha took to biking. As she turns 55 this year, she has big plans to mark the occasion. She is preparing for an all India solo tour starting from Leh on October 2 which also happens to be daughter’s birthday and ending it at Kanyakumari on October 18 on her own birthday.
As she signs off she has a powerful message: “A woman is the most beautiful creation of God. She is so strong that she can manage her life independently. She doesn't need a man as a husband or son for support. I am proud to be a woman and a mother too. Another point I want to drive home is that age is just a number. It is never too late to follow your heart. Keep exploring, learning and growing.”
Video credit- Moksha and team and Praveen Kumar from YourStory