Shyni Rajkumar, from Thiruvananthapuram, is on a motorcycle with a mission: to travel far and wide, and speak up on issues concerning women.
This woman’s journey exemplifies that the only limits we place are on ourselves. If you want to go the long haul, then the short stops have a lot of meaning too.
From July-September this year, Shyni Rajkumar traversed from Kanyakumari to Leh and back on her Royal Enfield Himalayan Bullet, traversing a total 0f 12,000 km in 42 days, with the slogan ‘Azadi – Stop Violence Against Women’ directing her ride.
The 35-year-old woman from Kerala is on a motorcycle with a mission. She aims to travel far and wide and speak up on issues concerning women. Not one to mince words and speak up, Shyni wants to be the voice exhorting women to take a stand against violence, break free of the shackles of discrimination, and aspire to stand on their own feet.
She should know - as a woman born and raised in Kerala, she faces societal pressures and gender bias at every step to take the road less travelled.
Over a lengthy phone call, Shyni traces her path from childhood to the present and also speaks on what she looks forward to in the future.
Growing up, Shyni idolised her paternal uncle, Thangarajan, who was a policeman. He told her many stories of his life in the force and his passion for fast bikes, especially Bullets. He also encouraged her to take up athletics and she literally “ran” her way through school, participating in 100m, 200m races, high jump and long jump competitions, and winning laurels for the school.
“I was raised by my uncle and he introduced me to the Bullet… and it became my dream to buy one someday. I belong to a middle-class family and it seemed to be an impossible dream at that time, but then no one can stop you from dreaming, right?” she asks.
After school, Shyni enrolled in All Saints College, Thiruvananthapuram, and extended her sporting life to include cricket and football. Here she learned to ride a bicycle and also a scooterette, quite by accident.
“My friend and I found an unlocked Honda Activa in the college parking ground. She started the vehicle and I rode it. And we parked it back quietly,” she says of her first uneventful ride.
In the midst of pursuing her undergraduate course, Shyni moved to Gorakhpur where she joined her sister’s school as a Physical Training instructor. There, she learned to ride an old model of the Bullet that belonged to an acquaintance and loved it.
“Soon I switched to another school where I enforced a rule that every weekend we would visit the parents of students. At first, I used bicycles but later switched to the Bullet.”
Soon after, following in her uncle’s footsteps, she joined the police force in Noida, under the sports quota and though she made short trips, it restricted her freedom to travel regularly.
She left the job after three years and returned to Kerala in 2007.
Once home, Shyni felt incomplete without her Bullet. Despite her entreaties, her father declined to sell the Hero Honda that was lying idle at home.
“My cousin asked why I couldn’t ride the bike. So I took it as a challenge and there was no turning back. I started riding to other towns in Kerala. Joining Kotak Mahindra as field staff fuelled my riding urge further,” she says.
However, when she was in line for a promotion as manager she quit because she felt the new role would chain her to the office desk.
She left Kotak in 2012 to concentrate on her riding experiences. She made several solo trips and also with her husband Rajkumar. She made the transition to different bikes – Pulsar, Passion, Shine, Standard Bullet, Classic Bullet, and, in 2016, the Royal Enfield Himalayan Bullet.
The challenges are many. Women bikers are often the butt of sexist comments and frowned upon. Families also do not take too kindly to their daughters or wives riding bikes.
Last year, Shyni started a biking club, the Dauntless Royal Explorers, for women bike enthusiasts.
“The idea was not only to nurture passion but also to encourage women to stand on their own feet. Sometimes they need to take permission for even a one-day trip. So when they really come out and take up a challenge, they feel empowered,” she says.
The club has members from all over India and they regularly go on short and long-distance trips.
In 2011, the rape and murder of a young girl, Soumya, who was thrown off a train in Kerala, shocked the country.
For Shyni, it was a turning point, she felt compelled to do something to instill courage and embolden women to face any situation.
On July 16 this year, she embarked on the 12,000-km ride from Kanyakumari to Leh, supported by the Kerala Ministry of Tourism.
“A couple of hundred kilometres into the journey, between Tirunelveli and Madurai, I met with an accident. Since my safety gear was in place, I escaped with a scratch but my Royal Enfield Himalayan Bullet was majorly damaged. I did not inform anyone except the Enfield company. They came to my rescue and repaired the bike in one day,” she recalls.
Shyni’s husband, Rajkumar, is her “riding partner” in all her endeavours. He helps her manage the Royal Dauntless Explorers, rides pillion on her trips, and also encourages her with mural art, which she had stopped doing for a while.
“I hope to have an exhibition in the near future, to coincide with International Women’s Day,” she informs.
Meanwhile, the rides will continue with day trips planned with the club members and solo trips to continue spreading awareness on women’s issues.
“Be aware of what you can do, be confident about yourself and march ahead. The world is yours,” she says, as she signs off with promises of meeting soon.
I am already dreaming of bike lessons, the wind on my face and zooming off into a world of self-discovery. Shyni’s enthusiasm is indeed infectious.