Looking at an eagle soaring in the sky, I wish I could one day walk right off the edge of the roof, and instead of being sucked by earth’s gravity, I could fly.
Looking at a shark cruising in the open ocean, its fin leaving behind a trail of foam, I wish I could jump into the water and start swimming just like that, my instincts guiding me.
But, alas! We humans, have to learn everything on our own. Such a bore for the creatures who are said to possess the most developed brains on the planet! If the brain didn’t come preloaded with all these skills, I wish we just had a port at the back of our head wherein we could import the desired skills to our brain using a smart chip just like Neo did in the movie Matrix.
Okay, enough with my rambling and fantasies. Forget flying high in the sky, when I was growing up, I was always amazed by the biggest invention of humankind – the wheel! I saw my elder cousins and boys older than me, riding on their bicycles. What amazed me was how on Earth something with just two wheels could move like that without falling down sideways. At that age, it was quite magical! I remember sitting on the verandah whenever I visited my mother’s home during the summer vacations. With nothing better to do, I would watch the bicycles on the road, spokes of some new bicycle’s running wheels shining in the morning sunlight; imagining myself riding a bicycle someday.
But with my age, my amazement for the magic on two wheels, turned into fear. Lying in a corner, gathering dust was my father’s bicycle and I was big enough to ride it then. I was already in 6th class and most of my friends had already started coming to schools with their bicycles. But I was busy coming up with new excuses every day because I was afraid of the F-word – Falling. My mother who knew exactly what was going on in my mind, asked my cousin who was visiting our house at that time to take me to a nearby field and make me learn cycling.
So, the next evening I was with my cousin in the field with my father’s bicycle. Though it was not a big bicycle, still my feet didn’t reach the ground when I sat on it. Bhai held the carrier from the back and asked me to pedal, the cycle moved forward ever so slowly and there I was taking my first ride on the two wheels I had dreamed since childhood. I remember the exact feeling I had at that moment. Cold winds blowing at my face, it felt like flying. I looked back to check on bhai (I could hear his footsteps behind me) and saw that he was not even holding the carrier anymore. He was just running after the bicycle. I was frantic and almost fell down when bhai caught hold of me on time.
In a couple of days, I was able to ride on my own. But here is a catch, I still didn’t know how to take off and land. With my feet not able to perform touchdown, my landing site was a big heap of sand which was on one side of the field. Whenever I wanted my ride to end, I would go near it, slow down and just let the cycle fall sideways down, making it crash in the sand. This went on for some days, but then I had to learn to get up and get down the cycle like normal people do. And in trying to learn that, I fell for the first time, a bruised ankle and elbow to show for my numerous tries. Bhai scolded and I cried. It was humiliating as well as frightening. With the fear still gnawing my mind, I called it a day. But sometimes in life when things are not going your way, a break does wonders. And human mind is such a hidden treasure and so fragile at the same time. A meagre thought that originates out of some random neuron, can bring about a change that any other body part consisting of numerous cells won’t be able to perform even after putting in a lot of efforts. And just like that, the next morning, with a touch of luck I was on the road all alone. I almost banged into a rickshaw but seems I had the beginner’s luck with me and I escaped unhurt.
Soon, I started going for evening cycling rides every day from my home to school. The road had curves all along passing underneath a dense foliage and therefore was always in the shade. Wild flowers grew on each side and looking up one could see huge cobwebs and in their centers would be their creators, the big spiders. I enjoyed cycling along these roads, ringing my bell whenever I came across a sharp turn. On one such evening, I had an accident. Going parallel with a rickshaw, I came too close and my cycle got entangled with the rickshaw. Seeing an approaching bike coming from the opposite direction, I jumped from the cycle. The cycle went into a drain and I slid across the road like one sees fielders do so near the boundary lines in cricket these days. But this was no field. Bruised and injured, I got up, dusted myself while a group of teenagers complimented me sarcastically for the dive I had just put in. I was angry but I didn’t show it. I checked my cycle and it looked fine. With a bloody nose and a badly bruised knee, I cycled my way back to home which was around a couple of miles away. All along, the injuries didn’t worry me that much as did the thought of facing my mother. Papa was home when I arrived and he was cool with it, but Ma’s reaction was just as I had anticipated.
This was just a minor glitch in my cycling days, as soon I got a brand new bicycle! Embarrassed to take Papa’s old bicycle to tuitions, it was the first thing I had asked of my parents. I had one more accident, just two months before completing my school, thanks to an ox and a dog. While returning from school, the ox charged at the dog; the dog came in front of my cycle all of a sudden; I applied the brakes and I was on the road resulting in a bent handle and torn pants. My friends escorted me to my home while the same fear of Ma’s reaction returned once again.
The transition from bicycle to a gearless bike was not that difficult. Though, I was apprehensive initially, but one of my friends threatened to avoid talking to me if I didn’t start riding it and so started riding it. When I rode it for the first time, it didn’t feel as great as the first time I rode the bicycle. But still, it was good to have it against uphill roads. And gone were those days, when the chain of the bicycle would disengage midway leaving my palms with grease, or a flat tire leaving me walking quite some distance before getting it patched up.
Riding a bike remained an elusive experience for me, though. We didn’t have a bike at home and I was not the one to borrow a friend’s bike. I tried riding my uncle’s bike for the first time that too at my mother’s insistence. I was mocked whenever I went to my mother’s home as kids half my age could ride bikes there. When I rode it, it felt like holding a mad bull on a rampage by its horn. After riding it with comparative ease initially, I faltered with ‘release the clutch and accelerate simultaneously’ mechanism. The front wheel went up in the air like a stuntmen’s bike would. Next moment, I was tasting the tarmac yet again. My uncle got me to the nearby dispensary; I had a tetanus injection and had my bruises bandaged. I had to ride in this condition in a field lest the fear of falling invade my mind. The news of my falling was kept as a secret from Ma. It took me around a month and a load of antibiotics to recover from that fully.
I didn’t touch any bike after that for around six years. I got enrolled in an engineering college, completed it, and got a job in the meantime. I had to learn it on my own bike. Because I felt I needed to have a connection with the machine to conquer over my fear and that would be possible only if the bike belonged to me. So, one year into job, I decided to have a bike of my own. I wanted something not too heavy and intimidating, but still sporty. Initially, interested in the Honda Stunner, I finally went for a black Bajaj Pulsar. As luck would have it, the bike was registered with the Bond number of 007! I purchased the bike from Bhubaneswar and Papa rode it with me as the pillion rider to Berhampur where I was supposed to learn riding it during my visits in the weekends. It remained there for four months and I didn’t learn much, but I was getting impatient travelling in autos, so again Papa and I rode it back to Bhubaneswar. I lived in a treacherous place, with roads having steep slopes and the next morning when I started the bike for my office, I was really nervous. I carried on anyway. Each day presented a new challenge but when I thought I had it all under control, I fell from my bike twice in quick succession. Lost a tooth in the process, but today I ride it as easily as anybody can. I never liked bikes, but with times, it changed and I enjoy riding it now. It taught me a valuable lesson in life. Persist with anything for long and you won’t even realize when the same thing which seemed next to impossible sometime back is a piece of cake now. With the two wheelers done, I have switched to a four-wheeler now, Papa’s Volkswagen Polo. Unlike bikes, cars had always caught my imagination and this made learning to drive it easier. This time around, Papa has to learn the tricks from me.
Thanks to the theory of evolution, at least I didn’t have to learn walking at a conscious level.