For me, language education was more about the interesting stories that were part of the curriculum rather than the language itself. That’s the case with both English and Hindi. There are certain stories and certain lines in those stories that I still remember and relate to. I remember the Hindi textbook in CBSE (at least in classes VII, VIII and IX) used to be quite a bore really as most stories were more of ‘Jeevanis’ (biographies of authors/poets, mainly consisting of mundane professional facts) rather than being anecdotal in nature. Maybe that’s why the few anecdotal ones really stuck in my memory. A really funny story in the Hindi textbook of CBSE class VIII (I think) was (loosely translated to bicycle ride). It had the main character (written in first person) rather scared of riding a bicycle if I remember correctly. One fine day, he did muster enough courage to get on with it and his fears became reality. He fell down and broke his spectacles (without which he was almost blind) along with probably some other parts of his body. I may be mixing it up with another story. I don’t remember much of it except that it struck as pretty funny and well written then and full of rather wry humour. I remember his apprehension and his admission that it was unfounded and his still not being able to do anything about it and the amused style in which the narrator saw things. The term ‘cykil kee sawaari’ became synonymous with that feeling.
One may wonder what I am really arriving at. It so happens that I really and desperately wanted to try out cycling in this beautiful country where it is not a hazard unlike in India. There was just one hitch. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since about 12-13 years now. The apprehension that crowded my mind now was much more than I had ever experienced earlier when as a beginner I had learnt it in about 2 days. But along with the apprehension was my powerful desire to experience a ‘cykil kee sawaari’ once again and get nostalgic about the days gone by when I used to rather flaunt my ‘slow cycling’ (being able to balance a bicycle with the minimum possible speed) skills. To add to it, the only bicycle I had access to was the one that my landlord owns and I can use, by virtue of using his fully furnished apartment. The fact that it is a gent’s cycle and has its handle like a racing bike at that, only made it worse. In my desperation, I tried getting onto it one night and checking whether I managed some success at least as far as getting onto it is concerned. I miserably failed. My feet weren’t reaching the ground even with the seat at the lowest possible level. I had to tilt the cycle a lot in order to feel the ground under me i.e. with my feet. Each time I tried standing and straightening the cycle, the damned ‘top tube’ was getting err.. rather uncomfortable to handle. More important issues like maintaining balance had not even been addressed yet. So once I had tried it, I let it be. I never could fathom the reason for the top tube being there in a gents cycle. It would have perhaps had good practical reasons to be there in the 60’s and 70’s when men would take their beloveds with them on a bicycle, seat them on the handle bar (ouch) and utter sweet nothings into their ears. But now? Zilch.
After some time again, desperation and nostalgic memories of thrill, wafted to the ‘controlling’ section in my brain. So I thought I would give it a try again. This time I finally gathered the courage to take it out on the road and try it. So far I had tried the getting-onto-it bit, in the bicycle shed which had very less space. I decided to try it in the dark, for avoiding embarassment and also potential victims into whom I might collide. Ultimately I went out at 11:40pm which was still quite early. I took out the cycle, and voila!!!! I couldn’t believe it. I could actually balance it again after some about-to-fall-off-badly sessions. Theoretically it’s true that one doesn’t forget cycling/swimming but I wasn’t so sure, esp with this cycle which was a gent’s and had those race bike handles and what not. I succeeded in not only getting onto the bicycle but also in not falling off and maintaining my balance. But I was unable to control the handle very well. It just kept going in any randonm direction and felt rather sensitively calibrated! After some time I got the hang of it but my wrists were paining badly because suddenly the pressure of maintaining balance and direction was on them. Even for applying the brakes I had to make weird angles and it was quite difficult. I noticed a ‘thing’ on the front handle, which had 3 settings. I wondered what that was, but didn’t fiddle with it as I suspected that to be something to do with gears (I had never seen a bicycle with gears so far). In some time, I got a little confidence boost by riding in my own colony and then I decided to take the risk of taking it on the road, since it was already midnight and I didn’t expect traffic (there isn’t any, anyway). So out on the road I went. The ride was smooth and exhilerating! It was great, esp when the incline wasn’t much. I realised that when the incline wasn’t much or it was downhill, the cycle went *too* fast for me to handle as if it didn’t have any brakes and when even slight uphill came, I was TOTALLY unable to pedal it up. No it’s not because I wasn’t able to. It’s due to tubeless tires which have much more friction. Suddenly the friction was *too* much when going even slightly uphill. At least my own cycle back home wasn’t like this. So I wondered whether it was something to do with the ‘thing’ with the 3 settings. I switched it to a different position and then tried the cycle again. When uphill came, I couldn’t do anything again. So I got off and changed the setting back to normal. This time when I tried it again during normal incline, I suddenly realised that the pedals were totally ‘free’ or disengaged and then gradually realised that that was because the chain had come off! The pathetic cycle doesnt even have a stand (am thankful it has brakes, most cycles here don’t even have those and you are supposed to pedal backwards to stop!!) So I trudged back home along with the cycle. I got it into the shed, so that i could lean it against a wall, get good light at that unearthly hour and then try to fix it. I struggled with the chain for quite some time, realised that the chain wasn’t coming on at all and that all this was because of that ‘things’ setting that I had changed that somehow increased/decreased the diameter of the chain wheel (rear) and that tightened or loosened the chain. (Later I was to learn that it was indeed the gear mechanism I had fiddled with). So I got the setting to minimum, to lessen the diameter, and finally managed to get the damn chain onto the damn thing somehow, with my hands all grease filled and utterly black, and then changed the setting to the max diameter again. I have tackled grease ealier but never in my life had I had my hands so full of grease like this even after having owned and used a bicycle for such a long time. But as they say, all’s well that ends well and the main highlight of the day had been the fact that I was able to have my adventure without a precarious fall.