With her kohl-lined eyes, svelte figure and skinny jeans, Bani Yadav hardly looks like a speed racer – until she gets behind the wheel.
The moment she starts up her gypsy, she is off – coursing ahead in the rugged terrain of Chitradurga during Dakshin Dare 2015.
And behind the wheel, Bani knows no fear, throwing her mean machine around an obstacle course in the route with what might seem reckless abandon.
She grins cheekily as bewildered locals gasp at the sound of screeching tyres, watching the rear end of her orange-coloured gypsy swing seemingly out-of-control in a semi-circle as she drifts it around the corners.
Speed became Bani's lifeblood ever since she was a little over 10. At 13, Bani would furtively get into her dad's garage in Jaipur, grab the steering wheel of her favourite machine and yank it hard. Soon, the teenager was as deft a hand in shifting gears. However, that dexterity was hardly an advantage when it came to convincing her parents about her need for speed.
“My parents kept telling me racing is not for girls. They were afraid of injuries and crashes,” Bani remembers. She was, however, not ready to give up her passion for motorsports.
Now, at 43, having proved her mettle in racing events such as Desert Storm, Raid de Himalaya and many other sprint rallies, Bani talks as if she just got out of her 'Red Devil' for a smalltalk; so full of life that it's contagious.
Once she got married, Bani found herself taking into the racing scene seriously, thanks to her husband Suresh Yadav, who according to the speedster is the wind beneath her wings.
“They say there's a woman behind every successful man. In my case, there's a role reversal. I owe all my success to my husband who made my dreams come true. Every time I go a bit low on energy, he would tell me: 'You do a good job, walk with your head held high and just ignore what people say.' That definitely freed up a lot of things for me,” her face lights up as she talks, perhaps brighter than her gypsy's headlight.
A mother of two teenage boys, viz., Arjun Rao and Karan Rao, the speed queen is based in Gurgaon and works with a telecom company there.
Watching Bani over the course of Maruti Suzuki's seventh edition of Dakshin Dare, were it not for the fact that she is constantly being asked about it, one doubts she would not give her gender a thought when racing.
“Racing is nothing unladylike. I want to inspire young girls to chase their dreams, do what they are passionate about and fall in love with it," she said.
Ever since her first victory at Jaipur Speed Sprint in 2013, Bani has been the subject of euphoric headlines among sports editors across India. “I wasn't expecting anything. Hence, I was thrilled by the win,” she said.
During the photo-shoot, Bani signals something to her navigator Sukhbans Mann – crisp, intricate codes of communication. Their next big outing would be Raid-de-Himalayas, which is all set to happen in October.
And when they strike a pose, their eyes envision the snowy Himalayan trail; faces, a picture of grit and gratification.