Today, I rode a bicycle.
The moment I got on it, I remembered that the last time I rode one was almost 18 years ago. It had been a long time.
In my school days, I used to own a Hercules AXN. During the time, it was the latest and the most expensive one around. My bicycle was crimson red, with perforated handles in deep black that stood out like the horns of a bull.
I remember getting my bicycle when I was in the 6th standard. I was eleven. My dad bought me many things, but my bicycle held a special place among all the things I owned. It was my most cherished possession, an intimate friend with whom I shared a great relationship.
Owning a cycle meant a lot of things— it indicated my coming of age, that my parents trusted me to take care of myself, and, more importantly, it signalled status among my peers.
It was privy to the paths I travelled, races I contested, school gossip, and the deepest secrets. No one could use it without my permission, whether it was my sibling or parent.
I guarded it with zeal; cared for it with empathy. A scratch here or there, and I would buy things to mend it myself. A tire puncture meant I would walk 4 km to take it to the best Cycle Tex in town.
And I would watch intently at the repair process.
First, identification of the puncture spot. With a crowbar, he would remove the tube from the tyre. Then the tube is inflated to its brim and dipped into water for the trace of bubbles. He would start from one end and then circle back all the way to find all spots where the tube was damaged. The entire investigative process was thrilling, with your hopes and anticipation rising and falling in synchrony with each dip. Once the spot was identified, he would then carefully patch it with a solid industrial adhesive.
There were times when I spent my entire Sundays just getting my bicycle repaired. Never for a moment did I think I was wasting my holiday. Caring for it provided me with purpose and meaning. In a world filled with chaos, my bicycle offered me peace; in a world of speed, it taught me patience.
A new bicycle on the block meant inspecting the parts, taking it out on a trial run and ultimately passing an objective judgement on ways it’s inferior to mine. The moment I got on someone else’s cycle, the smallest of differences became apparent. Somehow I’d feel that their breaks were a little too hard. Or the tyres had more air than necessary, making it bumpier. No other bicycle was good as mine. Like a perfectly tailored shirt, each detail on my cycle was honed to suit my fit and taste.
Adorning one’s bicycle was all the rage. The handles were fitted with rubber for a firmer grip. The rear side plate was decorated with radium stickers. I had my name ‘Anu’ written in a stylish, calligraphic font in yellow that shone brightly in the dark.
The cycle was at the centre of my school life. Holidays were reserved for drag races with friends. The skill of riding the bicycle hands-free was the ultimate symbol of showmanship. When we played cricket, its rear tyre doubled up as stumps and for football, two bicycles placed one meter apart were our goalposts. Parking the bicycle next to a Ladybird meant expressing your interest in the girl. In so many ways, the cycle became an extension of our identity.
With my bicycle in my hand, no place was too far. We just had to decide. That rustic piece of metal and rubber made me feel like I owned the streets of my town. Through bumps and bends, through joys and tears, my bicycle remained my steadfast companion.
Being such an important part of my childhood, I feel terrible for not caring for it after I finished school. After my Xth, I moved to a residential institution in Hyderabad. I’d come home only during holidays and haven’t found much need to take the bicycle out. It rusted, sat in a corner, and never once complained about my ungratefulness.
Life happened, and I got onto bigger things, and the idea of my bicycle hadn’t come to my notice. I moved on to bikes, official cars and stuff.
In life, no matter how many times we do a thing, there will come a day when we will do it for the last time. And so it was for me and my cycle. I moved on without realising that was the day I would be riding my bicycle for the last time. It was an uneventful farewell.
And one day, it gave up. Rusted and neglected, my cycle was beyond repair. It was sold to a scrap merchant for the weight it stood. I wasn’t home when it was sold, but I was told it fetched 500 rupees, higher than any regular bicycle would. Even in departure, it served me well.
I forgot about it for all these years. Until this morning.
Today when I finally rode a bicycle for the first time after 18 years, all the memories came rushing by. The feeling of going downhill, the wind caressing my face, the freshness of the air and the aroma of the surroundings made me recollect all the good things from my childhood.
My beautiful Hercules. I terribly miss it.
Today I rode for 10 km before coming home.
I parked it and kept staring at it.
My assistant, curious, posed a question:
“Is something missing, sir?”
I just had one request.
“Can we get a radium sticker?”