Sunday, September 05, 2010

Man and the bike

A B-grade hollywood movie thief tells his interrogator: "Never take away a bike from a kid!" I learnt this truth the hard way when dad sold off his bicycle when I was a kid. It was a perhaps my first heartbreak! I had learnt to ride on a heavy metal A-Von cycle which dad had used for years to commute to work in Ambala. I used to sit on the front metal rod of the frame and my elder brother used to occupy the carrier seat in the rear. Dad is short (5 and a half feet or so) and he got on top of the cycle after running along it with one foot on the pedal. Once the bike gained some momentum, he'd hop on it. Bhaya would hop on shortly afterwords. Dad would bike merrily to office through kutcha roads of Ambala cantt. singing Kabir's couplet:
"Aisee Vani Boliye, Mun Ka Aapa Khoye
Apna Tan Sheetal Kare, Auran Ko Sukh Hoye".
I kept wondering why this was his favourite Kabir Doha when he and mom had squabbles nearly every day. Later, I realized that we had financial difficulties and parents were in stress to manage expenses.
That was 1978 and I was 9 year old. We returned back to Kashmir and our very first act at home front was to rebel against Dad! We went to our Taya ji's place at Verinag some 70 Kms south of Srinagar. Taya ji was a big business man in the entire Dooru Tehsil, he owned a rice and an Oil mill; he wanted our father to join him in the business and persuaded all of us (mother and us three kids) to sign a petition supporting him! It was fun to sign some officious looking document and we signed! So, in our minds, the matter was settled, we would stay in the land of plenty, of milk and honey. We'd live off the fat of the land! There was the shiny red coloured bike of my cousin and he'd let me pillion ride it as he rode cockily through the market and in front of the local high school.
Dad decided against us staying at the "village" and thought it best for us to attend city school in Srinagar. So we shifted to Srinagar, much against our will with a failing faith in democratic satyagraha. I was devastated! Mainly, because I never got to ride the cousin's bike.
During very first week of our arrival in the city, my (another) cousin brother stormed into our house announcing his new-found mastery of new bicycle. It was a second hand bike gifted to him by his dad. We rushed to Idgah in downtown Srinagar to try out our bike riding skills. En route we ramming into a cow, narrowly missed a cart and came to a dead stop between the legs of an elderly gentleman who was trying desperately to avoid us, but froze up at the last moment. There is something very sinister about biking, the more you avoid going into a direction, more you are dead set to go into that very direction. Idgah adventure didn't go well, we were bruised all over and I was convinced that bike riding is a black art that cannot be acquired in near future.
Years later, I met this sardar Ji at the garment factory where he was the Managing Director. His spacious office was full of garment samples, guest chairs, some photographs of the hills and he sat grumpily behind the flickering monitor. I thought he wouldn't like the intrusion of someone "wanting to bike", particularly during peak working hours. Contrary to what I was expected, he was a paunchy grey haired sardar ji sitting, as I mentioned: grumpily, behind the mahogany desk.
He lit up on seeing me! He called me to his side of the table and for next hour or so, he showed me photographs of his biking trips: Spiti valley, ladakh, Faridabad, Jaipur and so on. He forgot all about the business day and in no time I had a free gift of a red bike with me. his staff loaded it in my car and we promised to ride in the coming week.
Many rides have happened, I have had my shares of broken ribs and bruises. The garage door is awaiting the Trek to buzz out, I keep a meticulous record of the bike rides now. The sound of bike tyres over the asphalt roads, the quiet hum! One is a set of legs pedaling to the horizon, nothing else but, that humming of the tyres kissing the road, noisily. Sometimes, it sounds like a hushed dialogue between the tyre and the road plotting against me. Maybe, to pounce a pleasant view, a sudden downhill or a couple of squirrels haggling over a prized nut.
I take a sip from the camel pack and ride on. Sometimes, involuntarily Kabir's "Aisee Vani...." repeats in an endless loop in my mind. It makes pedaling-on an involution of me, the bike and memories of a lonesome childhood.

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