Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bicycles and Bikes

The first vehicle I owned is the “Black beauty”- a Hercules Thriller bought during my IIT days. Before I became an IITian I had been riding either dad’s or my sister’s bicycle in Ponnur. Though I knew how to ride a scooter, I never borrowed my dad’s scooter fearing an accident. Ponnur is a small town, and one can find acquaintances on the road where ever he goes. That was one thing that prevented me from scooter riding, what if I hit some or the other friend of my dad accidentally. The other thing was that I wanted to earn {the money for} the petrol I used. So, I never used a scooter though my school friends have shifted over to bikes and scooters as soon as we passed our tenth class - this tenth class restriction being imposed by our tuition master. He never tolerated school children riding powered vehicles, for his own reasons.

The black beauty was a thing to cherish for me. Being “first” may be the reason why I used it carefully. IITM roads were good and ditch-free and enabled my bicycle to stay in shape for four full years. I never rode too fast, neither used rapid braking. Be it to class on weekdays or joy rides in the campus on weekends, it was there for me. Whenever I rode it over a speed-breaker or accidentally rode over a bump, I apologized to my black beauty and promised to be careful next time. It was cleaned and oiled every weekend. As always there will be contenders, Vamsi and Sriram also maintained their cycles well. I tried to stay ahead always in this funny competition but Sriram with his knowledge of Tam and Chennai outperformed me once. He was the first one to get his name written with radium stickers on the cycle. Of course I followed the next weekend.

I was so meticulous in maintaining my bicycle that by the end of my second year, I was the only source of bicycle to the ones in need. Most of my classmates’ cycles were either lost or rusted and gone out of use. While Ahak changed three cycles and Subbu bought two cycles, mine was almost new. The biggest moment of happiness was in my third year, when a second year guy tried ragging me, mistaking me for a freshie because of my “new” bicycle. In the first two years, I even hesitated to lend it to friends. Whenever some one came to borrow it from me, I either offered to give them a lift to the place or gave reasons and declined to lend. By third year friendship outweighed that fear and people like Prof made full use of it. Life was beautiful- paining Prof as he came to borrow it or re-scheduling things so that GT could go to his lab on my bicycle.

As I finished my engineering, I made it a point to get the black beauty transported to Ponnur carefully. After serving me faithfully for four years of college life, it now rests peacefully in the store room of my home. I didn’t want to give it off to my cousins or sell it. Though my dad points to the rusting rims or aging tires, I act deaf.

The second vehicle is the Honda Shine which I recently bought. I wasn’t confident of driving in city traffic, but the irregular office timings made it necessary to have a bike. All I did was to choose the color and stickering of a Honda Shine. A 125 cc engine appeared to be a good tradeoff between power and pick up. I took a small test ride in the lane beside the showroom and felt comfortable. For the first few days, I practiced driving in the mornings. But to drive during traffic time, that too Hyderabadi traffic is another thing! At first the new cylinders gave me some pain. The bike would stop whenever I slowed down and as my Mechanical Engineering background suggested, it needs to run it for at least a thousand kilometers before the piston ring wear brought the engine to a steady state. So I made use of every chance to put it to use and wear the piston rings.

I needn’t explain Hyderabadis how chaotic the traffic here is. But for people from other places, here is how it feels. Imagine a primary school with classes in the third and fourth floor. When the school bell rings at 4 in the evening, all the kids without even heeding teacher’s warnings rush to the stairs. They try to get into what ever space possible, even climbing on to the railings of the stair case and trying to get down. It’s almost the same here. Cyclists and bike riders get onto pavements too. They travel through the narrowest spaces, rubbing shoulders and rear view mirrors with other bikers and pedestrians. And if you want to ride like a Good Samaritan, waiting in line behind the cars at a traffic junction, it’s assured that the journey will definitely take an hour longer. Colleagues at office have expressed their utter disbelief at the way people here drove. It was this traffic that I ventured into, third day after I bought the bike. After a few near-misses with cars and a few more thud-thuds into deep holes on the road, I am a Hyderabadi driver now. The roads are worst too. As long as it is dry, the only concern is the man hole covers and telephone pits on the road. Traveling at 50-60kmph, not only is it difficult to sever aside, but also the risk of being hit by the guy behind is large. The shock absorbers get damaged, but all that I can do is feeling sorry for the bike.

By mid august, it started raining here. It was then I realized a basic funda: It’s easier to clean a bicycle than a bike. The roads become small cesspools, for the excellent shape they are in. Traveling on a bike, I used to get drenched both from the rain as well as the splashing of water on the road, thanks to four wheelers. Nature has its own way of doing justice to everybody and so is human design. When it comes to traffic jams or crossing signal lights, bikes are an absolute advantage. You can squeeze into the little space and race forward. But when it comes to rainy days, four wheelers are better. One can sit dry and comfortable and look at water splashing from under the wheels onto bikers beside you. I had this experience too. The helmet doesn’t let me see clearly during rain and one day I lifted the cover glass up for a better view. In no less than a minute, a car splashed the dirtiest water on the road onto my face. At that moment, I felt like killing myself. Bike getting dirty is another story. As I came back home, I could see dirt all over it, and it isn’t easy to clean it either. To wet clean, a high pressure jet of water is needed and to dry clean, 50% of the dirtiest parts are inaccessible. I gave up on maintaining it.

This is how my life changed after graduation, from a neat and clean bicycle to a dirty and ill maintained bike. GOD, grant me salvation.


Musings of a wanderer said...

Nice one....takes me back to the malgudi days ...

* And I am (GT), one of the people who pained vallabha to give his cycle back in IITM...

Rajeev said...

Babu you refused to lend your cycle , preferred giving lifts, even maintained your cycle :O . Pellam laga chusukunnavu kada ra :P

Anyways nice memories those. Really nostalgic post.

Raghava said...

So, finally you became a human being. Congratulations. By the way, this post made me chuckle at least twice as I went through it. Finally, the morals of the story are that you should not maintain bikes in Hyderabad and that wearing helmets is a must during rainy season for the fear of water splashes. Am I right, SriVallabha?