Sangeetha Jairam: In The Fast Lane

A life of discovery on two wheels.

With her diminutive frame, infectious energy and a smile that can charm the socks off almost anybody, it’s easy to mistake Sangeetha Jairam for one of her students. But looking younger than her age is not the most impressive thing about this rocking 50-year-old yoga teacher at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. In fact, it might be the least.

She has dirt biked in Cambodia, been a Race Official for the MotoGP in Australia, ridden with wildebeests in Africa, through the dreaded ‘Tunnel of Death’ in Tajikistan, and along the length of the Pamir Highway (the world’s second highest altitude international highway), and accomplished more awe-inspiring motorcycling feats than one can imagine.

Sangeetha learned to ride at 15 and time hasn’t diminished the passion. “But the need to explore has grown,” she says. “For me, a good life is a life of discovery. The discovery of myself as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a ‘biker’ and through this to places beyond my imagination!” Her many experiences of being on the road, meeting new people and understanding new cultures are as important to her as riding itself.

“Riding a motorcycle has always been exciting for me. The machine itself, its power, the sense of freedom.” She adds, “And of course there is the attention I get, for being different. I have to admit, I’d get a kick seeing the surprise on people’s faces when they realise I am a woman on a motorcycle.” The kick comes from the power to inspire by altering perceptions. She says, “I always hoped I would inspire a little girl in a remote village to think differently and do something that she was dreaming of and follow her heart instead of tradition.”

Tradition, in her experience, is a barrier that can be overcome with age. “I grew up in a family that was quite patriarchal. And at the time, given my circumstances, I didn’t really challenge the values I was taught. But as time went by, I allowed myself to step out of these beliefs. I chose to be happy. Challenging my own fears made my life better as I grew older."

Sangeetha has had no dearth of motorcycling adventures. Her passion has taken her to Bhutan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kenya, Australia, Finland, and Norway and to Ladakh, Nagaland and Meghalaya amongst other states, in India. 

She describes one of her experiences. Riding through the 6.2 km long ‘Tunnel of Death’, between Khujand and Dushanbe in Tajikistan. “The warning one is given before entering the tunnel is that it is dark, has broken roads with deep trenches on either side and is filled with carbon monoxide from vehicular pollution. Another warning was to not stop while in the tunnel or else one could die within 4 minutes."

Riding makes her feel happy, strong and free. It also keeps her feeling young. “Ageing is always related to the changes the body goes through as one gets older. But in my experience, because of my yoga and my love for motorcycles, I know I have a strong mind and body that allows me to continue my passion,” she says.  

“I live each day looking forward to what the day brings – and it always brings wonder.” With this optimistic outlook and free-spiritedness there’s no doubt that Sangeetha Jairam is truly an ageless adventurer.

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