Ever since I can remember, I was obsessed with bicycles. I spent most of my childhood roaming around my then deserted neighbourhood in South Bangalore, on foot or on a cycle. I had an unnatural obsession for anything with two wheels. I used to jealously follow the kid down the road with the brown Hero ranger, who could cycle on one wheel for ages, and dream of owning a Hero Hawk – a road bike that was popular with the high school kids who used to tower over me then.
It had started with rides that my older brother and I used to get on my Granddad’s cycle, round and round on the huge driveway in his Government-allocated house in Madhya Pradesh. I had gotten addicted to the quiet movement, and the wind in my face. My father used to drop me off at my bus stop on his cycle too, until my Granddad started using it to get around Bangalore, after he moved less than a kilometer away from us after his retirement.
By this time I had my own cycle, a shiny red “Wild Cat”, with plastic spokes and a bell, delivered from a store near Town Hall. I dutifully promised to ride it carefully. Within a month, I’d ripped off the training wheels in frustration, and started riding like I was possessed. This enthusiasm led to skinned elbows, multiple scars on my knees, and many failed stunts – barring the “no hands” trick. Maybe it was my impatience or the aforementioned shenanigans that finally got me on the wrong side of my mother, but I was quickly turned into a caged bird.
“No matter what, you can’t go beyond these 4 roads.”
My mother had drawn a Laxman Rekha consisting of the 4 main roads surrounding our house. I had a grand total of some nine roads to ride on, which I knew well enough to draw a map from memory. Same old roads, same old temple where you’d get sugar crystals if you pretended to pray, and same old Kadai, with my contraband of choice, iced lollies.
I was getting bored, watching the other kids in the neighbourhood cycle where they wanted, crossing the main road, which compared to the traffic now, seemed as deserted as a Darshini with bad coffee back then. Over time, we moved to another house two streets away, after an aborted relocation to Delhi. By then, I had also got my hands on another cycle.
I still remember quietly sticking my head in all of their suitcases, imagining that I was smelling America.
It was an old cycle I had taken from my mother’s cousin, one of those solid metal cycles with a seat for two and handlebars like a cruiser. His house had the cycle and a skateboard, amongst other goodies that our relatives who lived in the U.S must have brought. I still remember quietly sticking my head in all of their suitcases, imagining that I was smelling America. Only later did I realize that the smell was, in fact, fabric softener, but I digress.
By this time, I had begun to throw caution to the winds and cross over from the main roads onto new parts of my neighbourhood, taking care not to go in a direction where I may run into our Dhobi, or the gardener, so as to not get in trouble at home. I cycled to where some of the kids we played cricket with had moved, and to a bakery which, for a short period of time, had the best cream buns in JP Nagar.
I cycled back vowing to return like Rajnikanth often does when he’s thrown out of a palatial mansion.
This continued until once I cycled past a field which, because of the rain or a botched landscaping job, had a huge depression in the middle with cycle tracks running into it and large mounds of sand lying all over the place. The kids there weren’t playing Cricket, they were skidding in the sand, riding off improvised ramps and sailing through the air. This wasn’t a BDA ground; this was the Garden of Eden. Unfortunately, I had to go home just then. I cycled back vowing to return like Rajnikanth often does when he’s thrown out of a palatial mansion.
I lost track of the time because we had cousins visiting, all of whom I can still claim to be close to, because of the special bond that is built of constantly getting in each other’s hair for weeks on end, every year. One day, on a seemingly quiet evening in the house, I snuck out with my little cousin, who was 3 years younger than me and didn’t want to be left at home.
I grudgingly made him sit at the back of that cruiser seat, as I told him about the field I had found. He was going through the phase where he believed everything I said was gospel, and there was this aura around everything that I did or owned, especially what I owned. I was familiar with the feeling, having gone through it with my older brother, and it definitely had its attractions.
We got to the field and started watching the kids who were already there, elbows on handlebars with bored expressions. I didn’t know them at all and they were dismissive to us in the way that only a kid who pulls off a wheelie with regularity can be. I laughed it off and told my cousin to stay on the cycle, that we were going to start off with flying down that ramp, slaughter all the obstacles, and end with skidding in the sand. It was glorious. We flew over the first mound of mud, and I started pedalling faster as we got to a slope. We flew off and landed on the ground five feet away in a pile, cousin and all.
I had that stunned expression that you get when you almost swallow a cycle bell.
He began to cry. I had that stunned expression that you get when you almost swallow a cycle bell. And what about the cycle? That solid metal frame was fine except for the handlebar deciding to droop, and the brake wire that was wrapped around my slipper. I remember wheeling the cycle back with my cousin crying, hoping that a scene could somehow be averted if we could sneak back home discreetly.
I vaguely remember reaching the house with my cousin in tow, where my mother was waiting by the gate. I don’t remember the immediate consequences, which should convey the extent of trauma caused to me, but it was nothing compared to the long term consequences which included our driver tailing me on his scooter when I was eventually allowed to cycle to school.
But that’s an entirely different (and extremely embarrassing) story altogether.
Despite my many misadventures and my neighborhood and city changing beyond recognition into a place with neither the patience nor the good humour to tolerate cyclists, no matter where I am, all it takes is a jaunt on a cycle for it to feel like home.