In the bustling lanes of a Mumbai slum Annul Pale is a star. His ‘offbeat’ passion for BMX riding has given himself and his family a passion.
‘They think I perform in a circus,’ Annul says sitting on his beloved BMX bike he fondly calls ‘my love’. ‘But I quickly correct them. I’m a BMX champion, not a circus act. I tell them to come and see me in one of my compeitions and they’ll soon be impressed. And they do.’
Annul Pale, 25, from a slum in Kurla, in Mumbai, central India, quit his job as a delivery boy at a fast food joint to pursue his passion for bicycle motocross, also known as BMX, a cycle sport where riders perform various stunts.
In 2005, during one scorching summer, it was around 3pm and Annul had just returned home from school. He sat next to his father, Maragya Pale, 45, who was seated on the floor watching television.
‘He was switching channels and he stopped on a sports channel. I saw a man performing some amazing stunts on a bicycle,’ he says. ‘I asked my dad what was the sport called. He replied: “BMX, It’s called BMX”. I was stunned to see that. It was something I’d never seen before or even knew existed. I kept thinking about it. It left an impact on me. I went to school the next morning and asked my friends if they had heard of it.’
‘They made fun of me. But my urge to know more grew with every passing minute.’
Eventually Annul plucked up the courage to ask his father for support.
He adds: ‘I picked up the courage four days later to ask my father if I could learn BMX from somewhere but he went crazy, told me not to be stupid and to focus on my studies. I was disheartened but I couldn’t stop thinking over it.’
Just a few days later his father, who worked as contractual labourer, passed away due to liver damage.
‘Things changed overnight,’ Annul adds. ‘Our responsibilities changed, as my father was the only earning member we all had to work.’
‘My dreams were gone.’
Annul’s mother Sayaka Pale, 46, started working as a maid in different houses in the area. She earned Rs 200 per house and she had about three to four houses. Her three sons helped run the house by doing odd jobs like sweeping, driving and being a waiter, while Annul continued with school.
But their total income was not enough to run the house, so eventually Annul quit his studies and found a job to help keep the family alive.
‘We all did odd jobs. I worked as a road sweeper and earned Rs.2 a day. I had killed the dream of BMX in my heart but while I was on a job one day I saw a boy with a flashy bicycle.’
‘The sight reminded me of my dream and it reignited the fire in me.’
Annul stopped off at a bike shop and asked the cost.
‘The shop keeper said he had a second-hand bicycle Rs 500 so I started calculating the money I had saved. I only had Rs 120. I asked the shopkeeper if we could negotiate and he accepted Rs 300. I then started working hard, did extra shifts, extra jobs, worked as a delivery boy during the day and sweeper at night and did part time data entry jobs over the weekend to earn the extra amount. In 18 days, I earned Rs 300 to buy that cycle. I didn’t know how to ride or balance a bicycle but I still bought it. I started watching sports channel on the television to learn. I used my friends’ house and watched online videos.’
Annul’s mother was not happy but Annul worked hard to balance his passion alongside his work.
‘I used to work as a delivery boy in the morning and practice in the evening,’ he says. ‘While working I realized that money was not important, what’s important is to attain peace and satisfaction in what you do so I decided to quit my job and do something I always aimed to.’
‘My mother was really angry when she got to know.’
During Annul’s early days riding he had many accidents, he broke his knee, ribs but had no money for the treatment. His mother used to heal the wounds through massages and oils.
He adds: ‘I still have problems in both knees but it does not stop me practising.’
After three years of rigorous practice at Bandra-Kurla Complex, Annul got his first break in 2008.
A man from an event management company in Mumbai spotted his talents and offered Annul a slot in a stunt show.
He says: ‘There’s a saying ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, so keeping that in mind I quickly agreed to perform at the event. I was given Rs 8,000 back then and it was a lot of money for me.’
‘I felt my journey had begun.’
Annul now performs stunts at different events like mall inaugurations, personal events, stunt shows at different places in India and each show pays him nearly Rs 15, 000.
But due to the lack of such sporting events in India, he is only able to bag one or two events a year.
Annul has won many accolades for his talents at various bike competitions in India which are now on display in his one room house in the slum.
His new bike was a gift to him by Red Bull during one stunt competition in 2014, in Pune.
He says: ‘India is all about cricket and football. Nobody cares about offbeat sport like BMX. I am often complemented for what I do but people don’t really know what I do. For them, it’s some kind of circus. I don’t blame them, but I wish to open a school for BMX so that people can learn about BMX. I now want to reach India’s world championship and hold a trophy. I know it’s a long way away but I am certain it is not impossible.’