Balancing on the wheel: Misadventures of a Strange Kind

Written by Roshni Bajaj

Five months into 1999 and the only resolution you haven't given up on is the one you haven't yet tried. Your June self simply isn't good enough for your January self. Let's not even get into September. Don't kid me -- that's my story too.

I haven't cycled for over seven years. I can't think of a reason why. Perhaps I outgrew the ones available at the 'bhaddewalla', our ubiquitous cycle-guy who lent us cycles at two bucks an hour (and now fleeces the little kids in the lane at five bucks). Maybe the scars on my legs from rusted spokes, chains and pedals lost their patience at me. The shorter skirts -- or more such newly acquired feminine attire didn't like the traces of cycle inflicted torture. Or perhaps it was the painful half-rump that protested after yet another tetanus shot. It could be that a stitch on the knee reminded me that ordinary objects turn into bloody & gruesome weapons when poised on a seat. The 13 year old 'person' suddenly turned into a 'girl' who wouldn't come down to play in the compound. Swimming and long runs took over from hide n seek, cycle-relays and dog-n-the-bone.

I promised myself I'd go back to it sometime. I realize it is easy to avoid injuring myself on a bike. It is possible to wear narrow pants and a small T-shirt and let go on a pair of wheels & pedals. I watch people cycle by. Milkmen, school kids, sports people early at dawn, delivery boys, the newspaper man, my environmentally conscious friend.

And I miss it.

I miss the speed. The wind in the face. The pushing one pedal to cover ten metres. The 'Look ma -- no hands!' high. The bump of the wheel on a speed-breaker. The consequent jolt that travels to the jawbone. The light contraption, so well designed -- all nutted & bolted into place. A tribute to the invention of the wheel. I guess you figure, I think that a cycle is a pretty fine thing.

So there. I promised myself that three years ago. Then in January 1999 I converted that into a resolution. (Most of us function like red-tapist, bureaucratic, self-destructive public sector organizations, most of our Indian lives.) It's three months now. Which brings me back to square one.

It is easy to re-learn cycling. In fact (everyone tells you that), it is one of the things -- once learnt -- you never forget. It sticks to you like a bad-debt. It doesn't go away, even if you lose interest. Or like Jack and Jill went up the Hill. You say it everyday when you are six years old.

Then you may not say it for the next sixty. But at sixty-six - your little grandniece stammers through your erudite rendition of the sad tale of Jack's broken cranium.

So why did I give it up? And why do I think it is so difficult to go back to? I walk by this cycle-guy. I smile at him and continue walking. Some unexplainable force surrounds his shop. A magnetic field which seems to surround every cycle I have the opportunity to get on to. It's a subconscious fear. Perhaps I should look for the answer in my dreams, or go to a New-Age Guru to answer this overwhelming mystery in my life.Perhaps it is locked away in the deeper recesses of my mind, unknown to me. The angst of the past month has been terrible. I looked for the answers myself last week.

My environmentally conscious (and therefore compassionate) buddy let's me have her bike. She promises to protect me from any demons that give chase too. It is my building compound. I get on. My toes barely touch the ground. A little shaky from all the adrenaline, I poise the ball of one foot on the pedal. Then I'm off.

The same old breeze in the face. The same old sense of power and speed. A few dozen laps later -- I decide to get off. So far so good. I start to slow down. Then I figure. The subconscious takes over from here.

The best cycling moments of life flash before my eyes. The end is near. In all the years of pedal pushing -- I do not know how to get off a cycle. I slow down to the point where gravity must take its course. Various body parts therefore make contact with the concrete at a more than merely mild momentum. The lower half of the form is ensconced in a cycle sandwich. The scars of years make themselves heard with "we told you so" s. The memory has been so painful that my psyche has blocked it out.

Perhaps it is time to ask my twelve year old bike-addict brother. Perhaps it is time to hang up those seven years of running shoes and put on some kneecaps.