When I was 8, all the Trivandrum bois (including brother) started to learn how to cycle. Not to be outdone, I persuaded a senior boi to hire me a rusty green rattletrap from the cycle shop for 25p a day. The chain would lock itself tight every 10 feet or so, and send me flying into random puddles. When I finally mastered the green bike, I yelled to mommie dearest to look out of the balcony. "Look ma, no hands", I said as I careened down the slope leading to our house, and crashed into a wall.
My brother's red BSA SLR (with pump) was the most beautiful thing I'd seen. Using it, you could go anywhere you wanted in the world. Even all the way up to Prashanth Nagar (3 km away). The bizarrely vertical hills in Trivandrum, however, were not the easiest to negotiate. You had to get off and push your bike up cliff like inclines, and clamp both breaks down hard as you free-wheeled down them. My first brake wire snapped when I was half way down the Prashant Nagar incline. "Ende ammachiyey!!" I screamed as I hurtled down the hill and crashed into a wall.
Sriharikota was the flattest piece of land I had ever seen. No hills, no valleys, nothing. Just a flat-as-a-board mass of windswept scrubby tropical evergreen forest stretching out in every direction. "Heaven", I thought, as I climbed onto the BSA SLR that my brother had discarded in favour of a TVS champ. Little did I realize that Sriharikota's gusty winds were craftier than Indra's celestial nymphs. The wind would be behind me as I cycled into school all fresh in the morning, carressing and pushing me gently forward. On the way back, it would hit me square in my face. I'd huff, puff, wheeze and collapse on the pedals, only to find myself red-faced and barely breathing, 10 feet away from the school gates.
One cyclonic day however, the wind changed direction. I hopped on as usual at school and pedalled away furiously, expecting to make slow but steadyish progress towards home. The wind however, swirled back around me, jettisoning me out of the cycle path faster than a GSLV D3. "Orrey babooo!!!" I screamed as I flew over the footpath and crashed into a wall.
My rusty red steed followed me to Bangalore, where my home of course had to be located on the steepest incline in Malleswaram. Anyone who has cycled up the precipitous sloped of Kodandaramapuram and 11th cross, knows that it is a near-impossible task. "Pooh", I said when I first saw it, and set off to conquer it immediately. Switching on Sriharikota-wind-in-my-face mode, I monkey-pedalled up the first 15 feet easily. Suddenly the slope became twice as steep, and my world, half as bright. Half way up the slope, the infallible bikerdude, err.. fell. No more breath. Infact, almost no more life. Cycle slid back. "Ayyayyo, hoythallappoww..", I screamed as the cycle capsized, jingled, slid and crashed into a wall.
Trusty steed was replaced by two-geared Hero-Puch, trendy student-carrier of the 90s. After two years of plodding through city market on my way to college in a BTS bus, I was convinced this was my ticket to coolville. I conjured up supercool images of slicing through the market lanes at breakneck speeds of 30kmph, and dazzling everyone with my beautiful white moulded wheels. My joy was short lived. A scooter pulled up next to me at a traffic signal. The kid on the pilion tugged his father's shirt and said "Appa appa, can we buy this bike? It's so small, I'm sure it's cheap." "Aye cheh!" said the father. "Puchchu gichchu ella huchchare odsodhu" (Aye cheh, Puchch, gichch and all only mad people will ride). "Whaaaat? Bu..but.. Waiiiit!" I screamed, chasing after them, and crashed into a wall.
With my first salary, I bought the only four stroke motorbike on the market that was semi-cool and affordable: a smooth, beautiful black Hero Honda Splendor. I got on it, never got off. My ample rearside moulded itself to the shape of its beautiful black seat. I would sing loudly as I drove in the rain, and curse just as loud when the first trickle of rainwater got into my chuddies. I would take off on long lovely bike trips down Kanakapura road friends and significant others. When my office moved to Hosur road, I would be the first to get home, squeezing through the monster traffic on it in record time, escaping the incessant mind-numbing squawk of RadioCity on the office bus.
We've had a strange love-hate relationship, my bike and I. It has always been my best friend, fixing me with a baleful stare through all my trials and tribulations through its single square eye. I'd park it outside cinemas, pubs, garbage bins, rock shows and friends' homes, and always find it waiting for me dourly when I returned. It's been towed away, bashed up, scratched, dented and scoured, but never left my side. Probably because I had the keys.
When it grew old and would stop in the rain, Id take it aside and curse it gently until it sputtered reluctantly back to life. When it had its customary flat-tyre at 11pm on a Sunday evening, I'd always kick the other wheel and abuse it in the most loving manner, while the impossible-to-find mechanic would smile evilly and say "tube hogbittide(gone) saar". And whenever I jammed its non-existent brakes, it would always oblige me with a hair-raising squeak and crash into a wall.
My relationship with my big beautiful black steed has probably been the longest (and perhaps least healthy) attachment I have had with any mode of transport in my life. It is no longer mine though, but I really hope it's happy wherever it is now. Somewhere nice, I hope. Leaking last year's monsoon water from its torn seat cover into the pants of someone nice, I hope.
I loved you, my little black beauty, though between all the screaming and singing, I don't think I told you that often enough.