by Swatee Jog
This Sunday, I was at Khade Bazar and saw a heavy rush at the Karlekar stores that sells cycles for ages. Not an unusual sight, I thought, for Belgaum has been buying its wheelies from them, as did my father decades ago. What struck me was the profile of the buyers, almost all kids with parents in tow, especially mothers who were touching and feeling the cycle and the dads merely glancing from a distance. The kids were mostly interested in the color and the ringing of the bell. A cycle shop is not just a cycle shop, it sells dreams on two wheels. Come to think of it, buying a cycle is a cherished dream for every kid, even if he otherwise commutes in his dad’s expensive sedan.
What is so magical of riding and even owning a cycle in childhood? It all begins with envying the neighboring kid’s cycle- red, with attractive stickers, carriers and the stuff. He struggles with it at first and then whirls around on his treasured position. Most cycles are bought after that universal sentence is uttered “ I also want one”. The parents see you gawking at the cycles, sometimes bribing that other kid for a ride, falling down and then shedding those copious tears. At least middle class homes experience this rite of passage. Finally the dad picks the gauntlet thrown at him: “Learn to ride, then we’ll see”.
Now he thinks he’s bought some breathing time. But no! The kid has already started hopping onto any cycle that becomes available to him. Years ago, we all learnt to ride a cycle on grounds like the one at Chintaman High School, RPD college ground, Military Mahadev ground or even the one besides Triveni hotel would be the one. Practice was carried out on roads on cycles hired from Cycle Renting shops at Rs.2 per hour or so. Keeping log of time was fun. I’d ask the shop owner the time after every alternate round. It was not easy to hoist oneself on the seat after pedaling for a while since the cycles were almost always quite tall. Then came the BSA bicycles, red, with tyres that had white rims, silver logos stuck on the pipes. That and the tiny ones with thick tubeless tyres and if you were really lucky, then the tricycle. We have an old B/W picture at home of my eldest uncle ( now 82) riding what looks like a giant tricycle, specially made for him then. He sits on it like a king on a throne, yes it’s that huge. Then came those colourful ones with danglers on the handles, with a sweet little bell and cushion seats., some even with scope for a pillion rider.
What is so fascinating about a cycle, even a tricycle, is the sense of freedom. See, even kids love freedom. It gives wings. It enables the kid to move ahead with speed. It earns him envious glances from other kids. The cycle is his treasure. At his age, the kid experiences a sense of owning property, which is only his. He will clean it almost every day, rubbing the tyres with a toothbrush and scraping that imaginary speck of dirt. A nephew of mine, all of 8, has devised a way to fix LED light where the headlight is placed in bikes. The battery hides on the pipe. He whirrs along the street for hours and enjoys the glances that he gets from total strangers. It’s his own happiness. The cycle is his world and he cares for it as much as he cares for his older brother. With cycles as tall as 3 feet now coming with side wheels, kids today don’t need dads to hold them while they learn. They’ve perhaps robbed the dad of the joyous experience of letting the hands free and still assuring the child that he is holding. A cycle gives you these moments of joy.
A ride with your friend on his tiny cycle is heavenly fun. To be able to ride ‘double seat’ is proof that I’ve arrived! I am able to carry others. Is’nt this a great confidence booster? A cycle teaches independence, it has to be mastered. It needs care. Then it serves you for years. Having a flat tyre is an eventful happening. Tales of carrying the punctured cycle to the shop and observing the guy there searching the hole by dipping the tube in a bucket of water are told and retold. I always wondered what ‘Vulcanizing’ meant, and why was it spelt differently everywhere. It is a lesson in science and an experience of a lifetime.
Cycles speak a great deal about the personality of the owner. Stickers tell the owner’s taste. I changed the sticker on mine almost every week. Anything that looked shiny and colorful can be stuck. Even ‘Live Life Kingsize’! Ever seen a child performing ‘pooja’ of his cycle on Amavasya or Dasara? He will be an avid biker. A cycle to school is such a strong feeling. We rode over the bridge and struggled on the elevation, all of us weighing somewhere around 30 kgs. then. School parking lots are a treat to the eyes. Look at the riders with a pillion rider dangling his legs and the two talking. Look at the one who has his friend on the bar. Girls with bags perched on the carriers, daintily riding in their uniforms, chatting in groups. You can distinguish the ‘Just got this gift’ riders from the ‘I’m riding for fun’ ones and those who just love to whizz past lanes, not worrying about traffic rules.
Every child who has ever owned a cycle has tales of that treasure to be told to friends and children. Every family has photos of kids proudly posing on a cycle, as though it’s nothing short of a Harley. Some even keep these cycles as cherished memories. Bring out those albums. Relive those cycle days. Smile and wave at a kid who rides his dreams on wheels.
About the author:Swatee Jog is the Training and Placement Officer at Bharatesh Global Business School ( MBA Program). She has an experience of 6 years in the media and 4 years in academics. She has written extensively in the English and Marathi newspapers on Career, Technology and Management topics. She has spoken at various forums as a resource person and has published several research papers in management journals as well as 2 books.