A little on the outskirts of Pune, and not too far away from Mumbai, lives a man and his family on a lush green farm surrounded by trees, organic vegetables, cattle and a whiff of hope every morning.
Their story reminds me of a saying by T.S. Elliot, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go”.
I imagine Varun sitting at the kitchen table as he humbly narrates his story to me over the phone. It almost felt like I was living the different paths of life he and his family chose to tread before finding this one. Once a cinematographer living in a city draped with tall cemented walls and a swift way of life, Varun was limited within the superficial space.
“I met my wife at a shoot in Pune”, and the story begins here six to seven years ago. This was when the decision to move to Pune was made. “As a child, I always wanted to do something with bikes in general.” However, the biking scene at the time was still in its infancy. It was only in the late twenties of Varun’s life when he started working as a freelance photographer and with a decent amount of free time went riding in the local hills of the city.
A community gradually started growing after discovering more riders, and the introduction to the sport became what was once a childhood dream, now a living reality.
In 2016, Varun made the biggest decision of his life after shifting from the city to his wife’s ancestral place on the outskirts of Pune. What was supposed to be a temporary shift turned out to be a lifelong decision. “I left my job as a cinematographer,” a statement you don’t often hear too much. The month-long shift was the call for Varun to embark on a new journey of life. “ It was a big internal shift for me, I had to let go of the career path and start envisioning a different type of life when we moved,” says Varun with an uplifting tone to his voice.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to make this life happen”. After a year living at the farm, Varun wanted to start contributing to the community. He got on two projects of building pump tracks in the city. The introspection into what he really wanted grew stronger and with it came another big step to build a dirt pump track at the farm. With little to no experience in the field, Varun only had one thing in mind - he had to do it. The four-month-long journey and the constant support from his wife and family birthed Spirit of Mogli. “Since then, we’ve built another one and it’s better and will keep getting better”.
The intention behind the pump track comes from his own personal experiences in life. A vision to build an inclusive community where kids, the youth and adults can come together and share their love for cycling, art, music and the environment. Hoping for a better and sustainable future, Varun seeks to eventually help the younger generation gravitate towards mountain biking as a sport.
After a new life was added to the family, Varun took more time with his wife and son until the end of 2020 when he decided to revamp the existing pump track. It only took a month now with the experience Varun gained in the past and it's bigger, and better. “I consider the project the real deal - planning, building and eventually running the business, making ends meet while having a bigger impact on the community”, says Varun.
Varun dreamt of a healthy way of life for both the body and the soul. As he puts it, “a beautiful green haven and in the middle of it lots of trees that provide clean air, food, and shelter to birds and animals that this urban sprawl is displacing”.
I finally ask Varun about the future prospects of mountain biking as he gives a perspective often overlooked in the sport. He says, “Each ride is a personal journey to overcome your blocks and face your deeper fears. Drops, rock gardens, switchbacks and berms are metaphors for the obstacles that can be turned into opportunities that one faces in life”. What’s needed are for like-minded people, organizations and riders to “organize so that our small and scattered efforts building up this scene do not get wasted”.
While the conversation ended, I realised Varun's journey and continued efforts is paving the way for a brighter biking future in its own small way.
"It can be a deeply rewarding sport depending on how you approach it" - Varun Dutt, Spirit of Mogli.
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