I have always wondered how children in diapers already know how to cycle and those who have barely cut their milk teeth can zip by in scooters and bikes, not to speak of children in kindergarten driving four wheelers. I am surprised because I was almost into my twenties before I picked up enough courage to tackle the bicycle.
Now, learning to ride a cycle is not so simple when you are that old. For one, you can’t find anyone willing to teach you. The kids in the neighbourhood snickered when I expressed my wish to become mobile. “Didi, how can you learn now? You are so…o..o old!” they said, making me feel like a female Methuselah. Some were even more candid. “Our friends will laugh at us if we teach you!” they said.
And so my dream of riding a bike a la Nutan and Asha Parekh (in 50s and 60s, it was the most fashionable thing for heroines in movies to wobble along on a bicycle, while singing songs), remained a dream and I was well into my thirties before it was revived again — this time after seeing all those ad beauties and beasts riding all sorts of bikes and showing off their trim figures and trim legs. I had visions of becoming a svelte mom of my two boys by just riding one of those dream machines.
But when I expressed my secret desire, my family was decidedly cruel. “Ma, you’ll have to get a custom-made bicycle with tyres this thick,” said the younger fellow, holding his hands so far apart that they mimicked truck tyres. My heart sank to my feet because it couldn’t sink any further down).
“Why don’t you buy an exercise bike? You can get all the exercise you want and you won’t even need to learn to ride!” offered the L&M most ‘helpfully.’
“But I want to ride with the wind blowing in my face. I need the fresh air as much as the exercise,” I protested stopping just short of describing my fantasy of looking like film stars. “Besides, think of all the money I would save you by riding to the market and going grocery shopping,” I pointed out in the wiliest way knowing the L&M’s weak spot. And he did relent slightly.
“If you think I am going to teach you to ride, you have another think coming,” said the older one, quick enough to douse any hope I might have had.
Looking at my crestfallen face the younger one volunteered. “I can teach you,” he began, but before I could begin to show my glee, he held up his hand and continued, “provided you learn late at night.” Unwilling to lose sleep, even to fulfil a cherished dream, I hesitantly ventured, “Could you….could you, perhaps teach me early in the morning?”
“Perish the thought! Me, lose my sleep? Come on, ma!” he said. When the prospect of my learning to ride seemed to be still-born, I decided to forego make the supreme sacrifice and finally said, “Okay, then! Night, it will be!” like the latecomer making a desperate final bid at the auction.
The next step was buying a suitable bike. It was easier said than done. “Do you think we should risk buying one of those sports models? I doubt if it will hold her weight,” said the younger one to his brother.
“Better that. Because considering the number of times she is going to fall, a larger one would be more dangerous, don’t you think? I mean a heavier machine can really hurt her bad,” the latter said. I couldn’t make out if he was concerned or cruel.
“That’s precisely the point! How can a delicate bike take so much knocking, not to speak of carrying her weight?” the L&M chipped in, in defence of the sports bike.
I stared at them, turning my head this way and that, as if I were watching a tennis match. I might have not been there at all, the way they discussed me! But I dared not complain as I was completely at their mercy. I visualised the svelte figure that I would soon be sporting and how they would have to eat all their uncharitable words then. So I kept quiet and let them decide. It was finally decided that I should have a sports bike.
Getting it home was another matter altogether. Neither of them would be seen dead riding it. “A girl’s bike? What are you trying to do? Ruin my social life forever?” cried the older one.
“Don’t look at me! I will not ride it home for all the pizzas in the world!” declared the younger one.
I decided bitterly that children are the most callous creatures in this world! We had to pay a shop assistant to bring it home. “Deliver it after eight pm,” instructed the boys to the shopkeeper, to be on the safer side so that their friends would not see it being delivered.
And so began my nocturnal lessons. It was an elaborate affair. First, the younger boy went out to scout the neighbourhood for any of his friends who might be about. Then he wore a sweatshirt with a hood to hide his identity. “I will go ahead and wait for you at the end of the road. You come after me with your bike.” He instructed me like an undercover agent who was on the trail of a master criminal. I had no choice but to accede. Pushing the bike was the easy part. I happily walked it to the corner of the road, where my second-born was waiting impatiently. “I’m sorry. There was a phone call as I left and I got late,” I began.
“Sh….not so loud. That is Amit’s house; I don’t want him coming out now and catching me,” he hissed.
“But son, you are only teaching your old woman to ride a bike. Not doing something criminal!’ I protested weakly.
“The same thing!” he said laconically, walking quickly on to the playground round the corner.
“Get on to the bike,” he ordered peremptorily.
I stood my ground. Wouldn’t the damn thing fall if I did? What if I fell? He sighed impatiently and held the carrier of the bike. “Okay, go!”
“Don’t you think it would have been wiser to ask for trainer wheels?” I croaked, my heart in my mouth. From the seat, the ground looked very far off. There was no reply. I turned to look….and …..fell in one unholy heap. I was positive that I had broken at least one bone, if not several, but the boy was decidedly unsympathetic.
“Look at the big scratch on the cross bar!” he said unkindly, as he straightened the handlebar lovingly. I huffed and puffed my way to a standing position.
“This time, don’t look back. Look where you are going!” he said, setting me on my way again.
I wobbled ahead, secure in the knowledge that he was holding the bike. I kept chatting to feel confident. There was a big boulder a little ahead, maybe ten feet to my right. “Watch out for the rock; go straight,” he warned me. That did it. It was as if some extra-natural thing had taken over the control both of my feet and the handlebar, as it turned mysteriously towards the boulder and hurtled on.
“No! No!” yelled the boy, “turn to your left!” it was too late as I hit it smack on and fell in a heap all over again.
At the end of a week, the bike was a sorry mess and so was I. The muscles I didn’t even know existed ached and groaned. Even blinking was a painful process. The bike needed to be repaired.
The shopkeeper was aghast at the spectacle the bike presented, when it was taken for repairs.
“Are you sure, this wasn’t in a head on collision with a truck or something?” he asked suspiciously. “This is deliberate damage and the guarantee doesn’t cover the cost of repairing this…thing!” he said distastefully. My son looked away, whistling, as if he had nothing to do with me or the heap of metal.
The figure he quoted for the repair did it. The L&M sealed the issue. “Tell you what, you would look good behind the wheels of a car, wouldn’t she boys? And what do you say that I get you an exercise bike, so that you can ride too?”
And so there I was, hoping to be able to drive a car, coolly sliding behind the wheels, like one of those svelte beauties in the car ads……But that’s another story.