Zenith Irfan is the first Pakistani female motorcyclist to ride in Pakistan. She began by taking motorcycling lessons from her brother, her frequent travelling partner. In 2015, she rode from Lahore to Khunjerab Pass for 3200 kilometres. 1 Girl On 2 Wheels is her popular blog, where she documents her journeys.
Taking two more trips on her bike, including to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan, she completed 20,000 kilometres in travels. The film, Motorcycle Girl, is a biopic of her life.
Team Storiyaan spoke with the motorcyclist about her travels, her inspirations and plans.
Questions and answers
Motorcycle Girl is a biopic based on your story. What was your reaction when you realised that your journey was about to transcend into a cinematic experience?
The film director Adnan Sarwar approached me with his plan to portray the story of a father and a daughter to the Pakistani Audience, which was very unlikely, as the Pakistani Film Industry never had a biopic in its collection. I felt that my story could motivate women in my country which ultimately led me to give a green signal to it. The idea of seeing your life enacted on the silver screen feels very different, and there aren’t enough words to describe that correctly. It was actually as if my life was playing in a flashback right in front of me! But, overall, it was an exciting as well as haunting experience for me.
As the first woman to travel across Pakistan on a motorcycle, do you feel the pressure to bear the torch or do you feel proud of leading another generation of women to pursue their dreams?
Yes, I do feel the pressure, but mostly when I am surfing the internet or posting my updates on social media, I think that it’s my responsibility to portray myself in a certain way. At the time of the film-making, I realised that I have to act, think and dress in a certain way as I would be representing my own country and the majority of Pakistani women, so obviously there was a sense of pressure. But I was motivated enough to do my work and most importantly, it encouraged me to keep telling stories from the road.
Travelling can be a cathartic experience. How did you prepare yourself for the journeys and what have you explored about yourself throughout?
I believe everybody has that ‘tough time’ and back in 2015, I was going through a self- transition, and a lot of heartbreaks, and I decided to use the pain, which had built up through years, as my motivation. I can say that nobody can know themselves honestly until they are put outside their comfort zone. I explored my hidden qualities, like riding for long hours on mountains and also taught a lot of patience in me since travelling requires a lot of patience and the motivation to live in the present.
Did you ever get stereotypically questioned for being a female motorcyclist? How do you ensure your safety?
Nobody ever offended me while travelling on the roads and to be very honest I was never harassed, like catcalling, eve-teasing and such. However, I was pretty much harassed on social media platforms where people tried to curb down my spirit by disturbing; as well as through mean comments and questions. Since most of the time I am travelling with my brother, I do not worry about my safety too much. However, when he is not with me, it is still not an issue, as every check post has dutiful officers who are always at the public’s dispersal.
In one of your posts, you said that you wanted to build schools and playgrounds for children. What has inspired this motif, and how do you plan on executing it?
I was inspired by the sights of the Pakistani women and girls whom I met during my journey. Our “Hukumaat” is centred more towards “Islam, Karachi and Lahore”; they do not talk about villages or the education system prevalent. I always wanted to build a school which focused more on holistic areas and their development; so that under proper guidance and resources, these girls become capable of manifesting their dreams into reality. That is the reason why I spoke about large playgrounds and good schools, which was largely guided by all the children whom I encountered on my road trips.
What were the difficulties you faced when you moved from Sharjah to Lahore?
I think it took me a fair amount of five-six years to settle in Lahore, as I wasn’t aware of the logistics and dynamics of living in Pakistan. I was never taught or restricted on my clothing, like wearing jeans, but over here, I have to think twice before wearing specific dresses in certain places. In short, I feel that my freedom is somewhat restricted. The cultural difference was huge, and I didn’t know that people were sarcastic, and not so straight forward here. Most importantly, I didn’t realise that riding a bike in Pakistan was a taboo. I had no idea about this, and when everything happened, I then realised the reason behind me being famous!
Talk to us about your plans on opening motorcyclist workshops for women.
Firstly, as a motorcyclist, I want to learn more about my motorcycle, even before starting the workshop, but sadly I am not able to do that to my full potential. For example, if I go to a motor mechanic, it is such a male-dominated area, and there are so many men, that I, myself, would think ten times before going there. So, that’s why I decided that when I shall be pretty good at the basics of motorcycle, I shall open more workshops for women to learn motorcycle riding and also to repair their motorcycles and cars. I came up with this idea because this is pretty uncommon here, and it has the potential to turn out to be a good initiative.
How far have you come with your plan of opening your touring company?
To be very honest, I have not planned anything concrete in this area. It is just a floating idea in my mind right now, which I will probably work on, in the future. Rest assured, I will open a company that will promote and support motorcycle tourism; however, a well-structured plan is yet to come in my mind, since presently I am a little busy with other things.
Would you like to tell us about the genesis of your YouTube Channel?
I want to share a narrative about women’s condition in Pakistan, as in, whether they are oppressed or and why they are not allowed to express themselves? I want to talk about their plight in the country, and also about their safety. The channel is also about self- discovery and discovering new places where one can visit. I want to go to Balochistan and share stories of various people of Pakistan so that people can reach them and in the process, learn lessons from their lives and be inspired by them.
Having tried painting and boxing, are there any other hobbies or interests you wish to pursue?
I am quite interested and am currently working on Travel Journalism. Well, I also incline information technology. I love dancing, and I want to learn the art. I also want to learn different languages as these things interest me a lot, and I want to pursue them.
What are your views on the emerging feminine motorcyclist communities? Where do you think they are heading?
A lot of members of these feminine motorcyclist communities do not wear helmets. It’s something which I strongly disagree with, and would like to stress immensely On ATGATT- “All The Gear, All The Time”. Back in 2013, when I started riding, I remember that there were barely any women on the road. Fortunately, conditions have taken a better shape now, as I do find women driving big cars and vans on the streets these days, and I feel happy about it. These communities are heading in the right direction, but safety measures need to be taken more seriously.
1. Ghat Roads or Plain Roads? : Plain Roads
2. Light Night or Early Morning : Light Night
3. Fears you still can’t overcome : fear of the unknown
4. A souvenir from your journeys : Beaded necklace from a Kashmiri Girl, A small Buddha Statue from Nepal, A woven torc necklace from Kalash
5. Describe your journeys in one word : Liberating