Friday, March 13, 2015

Cycle memories.....

Vehicles, per se, are entities that enable you to go from point A to point B, faster, than you would, on two God-given legs.

And back then, more than half a century ago, in a city that is often referred to in Marathi as  विद्येचे माहेरघर or the "Maika of Education",  children wold learn cycling as soon as they started primary school.

The one big gents adult size cycle, would be used by folks from small kids to older adults.  Insufficient height never deterred anybody, as kids stuck their legs across through gaps below the horizontal bar near the seat, and pedalled away at an angle, for any amount of distance. Then there were kids who managed to sit on the cycle seat with someone's help, developed a pedalling style where the pedals lost contact with the foot 50% of the time, but you managed to go forward, and stopped only by braking  and having the bike tilt sideways, as you reached a desperate leg to the ground. 

Learning to ride a bike was a family thing with brothers and sisters running alongside, holding your bike from behind, and beseeching you to fast-pedal, as you looked ahead, along the small road in your colony.  The fast pedalling took your mind off the anxiety , triggered by thoughts of someone letting go of their bike support, and by and by you realized that you created balance when you concentrated on the work in hand.  Several bushes were banged into in desperation to make the bike stop, till the existence of front and back (left and right) brakes was noted.  You never ever made a fuss about scraped knees, thorn pricks, bumps on the head etc. 

There would be cycle shops at almost every corner, renting bikes by the hour and day, handling punctures, and pumping air into tyres and tubes.  There were ladies bikes, with the missing central bar, and standard handle bars, in the sense that you did a sedate ride to school/college etc, and never gave the impression that you were racing, even if it was only against time.

Raleigh was a big name and it was a big day when I got my one and only bike.  Unlike today, vehicles then were lifetime purchases. For some reason , we all had to acquire a municipal badge to use a bike on the road, and this was affixed to the bike.  We also had small battery lamps which we would attach to the front of the handlebar when we rode in darkness.  Really posh folks would have something called a "dynamo lamps" which burned brighter the more you pedalled, thanks to some armature stuff attached somewhere near the rear wheel.

Riding miles and miles to school was very common, and one would often come across classmates on the road, and ride alongside discussing homeworks, teachers, rumors about where cops were checking cycle badges, etc.  When you were a bit early, there was an element of "cruising"  in your ride, as you  pedalled at a "comfort" pace. Cycle stands amidst trees in school compounds were very common, thanks to the easy availability of trees and compounds in those days.

There were often cycle trips to places of interest around Pune, carrying tiffin with us. And it was a very common site to see students and young kids, with badminton rackets fixed through the pillion carriers, cycling urgently to practice, early mornings and evenings.

Many of our schoolteachers also rode to school on their bikes, and it was common to see many many women using bicycles , some in uniforms, some in 6 yard sarees, and some , simply more at ease in 9 yard sarees.  No one gave them a second look.

It was , of course, customary for older folks to crib about random unruly cycle traffic around 10 am  in the morning and 5 pm in the evenings on weekdays, more so on the arterial popular roads.  
Of course , we had our share of those who did their version of eve teasing by letting off air in the bikes, and passing comments, but things were never as blatant as they are today. The words "cops" and "corruption" were then unrelated (to a young mind), and the most that happened when  they caught you without a municipal badge (then called billaa) on your bike, was they let off air from your bike wheels, and shouted at you, making you late for wherever you were going.

Going "double seat"  carrying friends either on the rod in front, or sitting pillion on the "carrier" was considered an advanced thing.  Small kids sat in an attachment to the handlebars in front, where there legs hung out over the front wheel, as they faced the traffic.

Cut to the time ,  in the last few decades of the last century, when my own kids were small,  and one remembers riding a cycle, doubleseat,  to the kindergaarten, to drop and pick up the child. Living on a wide institutional campus, it was common to see older male adults, giving doubleseat cycle rides to family adult females, proceeding to work/school etc.

 This was not in Pune, but in Mumbai, which, if you exclude our campus,  clearly, did not have the original bike culture described above. 

When the bicycles finally happened in Mumbai, it was with fancy gears, handlebars that made you bend in a permanently racing stance,  wearing some kind of skin tight unbreathable knee pants in wild colors, and  a helmet on the head to top it all. 

There was never a leisure element to these rides, it was almost always a fast dedicated kind of ride.

Today, in Mumbai, and possibly in Pune too,  motorized two wheelers with fancy names and powers have replaced bicycles. When kids get bicycles, they have training wheels, because no one has the time to run behind them , to teach them balance.
There  is a sense of obsolescence built in , given the bike sizes, clearly teaching today's kids, the theory of use and throw.

Buying a bicycle is no longer a big life event.  It is like buying a phone. There are constantly enhanced models.  We copy the west in the paraphernalia, but conveniently  ignore the road discipline, and the need for dedicated  cycle paths , for those , who still wish to commute, without petrol and diesel.   Cycle badges no longer exist, and cycles now cost more than a quarterly suburban first class railway pass.

People now buy stationary bikes, with no balance issues, and pedal away in place, withe the handle bars having laptop/notebook/cellphone attachments.  The only person you interact is with yourself, with your ears covered with some headphones, supposedly making music, while something else  simply records your distance in kilomteres as you pedal away , going nowhere.

And so it is with great delight that I present to you, folks in Mumbai, who are actually going somewhere useful, on their bicycle, possibly with all the gears missing, no fancy outfits, and just an amazing entrepreneurial streak.

Out in residential and shopping areas, there is sometimes a typical cycle bell that tinkles, indicating the arrival of the  Idli Wada bicycle  vendor.  Fresh Idlies offered for amazing prices, along with yummy accompaniments like saambar and chutney.  And yes, I see  dosa gridle too.... 

The bicycle and its attachments are a wonderful study , for , I think, students of management and design. 

The photo is courtesy Pushpa Moorjani , from her blogpost here.

Almost 27 years ago, my mother, then in her early 70's,  was visiting us , and my son, then in primary school, dragged her to see his new bike. It was something with  fancy easy rider handlebars, but was extendable to an adult size. Being on the taller side, he would drive it around confidently.

Grandchildren think grandmothers can do anything. This grandmother could cycle. 

He wanted to show off his bike, and cajoled my mother into riding on my own normal conservative ladies bike, with him on his fancy bike , for a short distance to the Devi Temple on campus.

On the return trip, fortified by prasad, the fellow insisted on exchanging bikes. His grandmother obliged. And folks on the Temple road were treated to a grandma on a easy rider style high handle bar cycle,  pedalling to the best of her ability, much in a Kakubai-meets-Peter-Fonda  style and trying to keep up with an excited grandchild.  

Much applause.

Today, the cycles are no more, the grandma is no more, and the children have grown up and moved on.

But the cycle memories remain......

1 comment:

  1. with the introduction of Equal Street in the suburbs, the cycle culture is coming back..every Sunday we see many children riding their bikes on the traffic free road while they spend week days learning to cycle...hope the kids enjpy as much as we used to....nice post :) Pushpee