Taxing route to the top

Indias MotoGP ace Sarath Kumar has made a mark in Italy but drives a taxi at home to make a living

Taxing route to the top

American humourist Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw) once said: ‘Adversity has the same effect on a man that severe training has on a pugilist: it reduces him to his fighting weight’.

It could not be more true than it has been in the case of Sarath Kumar.

India’s first Moto GP rider, who now represents Mahindra Racing in the Italian Championship, is not a man of many words and it does progressively get worse when he is in ‘race mode’ but once his battered race suit is shelved and he is coaxed, gripping tales stream ever so politely.
Sarath began his career as nothing more than a hopeful on the National racing circuit. He was in for the surprise of his life when he was signed up by Ten10 Racing to drive in the Moto GP. A disappointing season later, he was taken under the wings by Mahindra Racing to ride in the Italian Championship.

But if you were expecting him to have turned into super star,  you couldn’t be farther from reality, as this interview reveals:

Excerpts:
How was the transition from the Moto GP to the CIV-Italian Championship?
It was very easy to be honest. The competition is tough here as well but when I drove in the Moto GP last year, it was very hard for me. It was the first time for me at such a big stage and right away I was riding with highly experienced riders and I failed to cope. The Italian championship is one of the toughest championships in the world but there are some riders who have just begun and that gave me that chance to grow.
How was it to be the first Indian to score points in the Italian championship (finishing third in the third round at the Monza circuit on April 29)?

It was unbelievable. The thing I was most happy about was the fact that I proved to everyone that Indians can do well in motor sports. We are in no way lesser than Europeans or the Americans.

Yes, we lack infrastructure and training facilities but we are still here and we will remain here. We have done what people believed was not possible at one point. I am not done yet though… I will win races in the future and prove to everyone that we are as good if not better than everyone.

What sort of training plan do you have ahead of the next race in Mugello (June 23)?
When I come back home I don’t really train on the bike. I do go for physical training and stuff but off late it has become really hard because I have to drive a taxi all night and then go and train in the gym.

Taxi!?

There are some financial problems at home. See, we are a middle class family and I am not a paid rider so I have to do what it takes to run the family.

I have been driving the taxi for two months now and it has been hard. I would like some sponsors to come forth and help me train in India or abroad so I can focus on riding and nothing else.

If I had enough support I could do really well, I know it. People already know that and are beginning to understand my situation but it would be great if more such people come forward and help me out.

Is it not hard to one day be an Indian representative in Italy and ride some of the quickest bikes on the planet and the next day come home and drive a taxi?

Of course, it is. I have to open the door for people and carry their luggage and things like that but it is what I need to do to provide for my family. I cannot sit on a pedestal and say ‘Oh, I’m an Indian rider and I ride all over the world. I cannot carry people’s luggage and drive them around’. I just cannot afford to do that. There are no negative feelings at all. Riding is my job and I do it without any issues, so is driving the taxi.

Have people recognised you as an Indian rider while you are on the job in Chennai?
It is very hard to come across taxi drivers who speak English in India, especially Chennai. So when I do speak to them they ask me about what I do and if driving the taxi is a full-time profession. I then explain to them about what I do and some of them get very emotional.

Some people talk to me for hours about why I drive a taxi, some people go online and immediately check my website and are astonished that I am here driving their taxi. Last Sunday, a couple and their son from Noida boarded my taxi and overheard me speaking over the phone while I was booking my flight tickets. They asked me why I was booking the tickets and I told them that I was flying to Italy to ride in the championship and then they asked more about it.

I spent a day travelling around with them and at the end of the day, the father got out of the car asked me to come out as well and he hugged me on the middle of the road for a long time and said, ‘I respect what you are doing and when you ride in Noida (Buddh International Circuit) I will come and see you. I am very proud of you Sarath’! I will never forget that moment. The thing is, I don’t know any of them but they show me so much love and that is heart-warming.
How does it feel when you board a taxi nowadays?

I have always been friendly with them (taxi drivers). They are people just like you and me. If you see in Europe, a taxi driver’s job is held in high regard and it’s very simple: you pay, I drive. It’s not like I am a slave or anything. I come to Bangalore to meet my manager sometimes and when I take the taxi to the airport, I spend nearly two hours with the taxi driver and we have a nice time. I ask them about why they work there and how it has been and things like that, and sometimes we stop at the side of the road and have a nice tea. I enjoy such experiences. It is where I come from, that is what I am.

Does the fact that you have to drive a taxi when you come back home affect your riding in anyway?
Like I said, they are two different jobs. If I think about this I won’t perform well there and if I think about that I won’t put food on the table here.

When I am on the bike, the only thing I think about is the ride. I have no time for family or the taxi. I am riding for my country and I will ride to the best of my ability. And when I am riding the taxi, I cannot sit and think about what I did in Italy. I just need to put it all out of my head and do what I need to do at that time. It is hard sometimes but some people have no choices. I don’t even speak to my mother and my sister when I am preparing for the race. I only call them once the race is over.
What about your family?

My father moved to some country when I was very young and no one knows what happened to him since. We don’t know if he is dead or alive. My mother (Shanti) and my younger sister (Sai Priya) have been everything to me. They watch my races on TV and sometimes I show them videos online and it’s fun. We might not be doing very well but we are very happy with what we have.

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