Just a girl and her bike
|All Words: 2348
I'm in my balcony, and it's the first sunny day after almost a week of cloudy skies. The ideal day to begin writing my Sunny Saga.
Digressing to begin with, I must admit Sunny wasn't my first moped (love). That honour goes to a bottle green Luna, on whom I learned to ride, had my first spill, and on whom I failed my first driving test. Hey, I couldn't help it. Koramangala didn't have an RTO in those days, and I had to go to Jayanagar for my test. You can't expect me to know all the one-ways in Jayanagar, can you? The driving examiner did. Board? What board? It was also on Luna that I was stranded once at night, driving back from office (Domlur) to Koramangala. I was rescued by a plainclothes policeman, and got a lecture on being out alone after dark. I didn't argue that that's how it was when one was an advertising copywriter.
Luna and I shared a happy, intense relationship for two years, and then it was time for me to move on.
Enter Sunny, into my life.
Ah, Sunny, with whom I spent twelve happy years, roaming the streets of Bangalore. She took me to work, she took me to play, she took me to homes and offices and shops and restaurants. On one occasion, she took me, with a colleague, to a hospital to visit another colleague who was having surgery. Sunny took me everywhere, and soon grew to know me as well as I knew her.
She knew my favourite authors, for example. And, before the owner of Select -- that quaint second-hand bookshop on Brigade Road Cross -- could call and say there was a Paul Gallico book available, Sunny would've taken me there. Really. I'd be on my way someplace else, and Sunny would veer off, and before I knew it I'd be at Select, with Mr. Murthy saying, "Ah, I've kept this one for you."
But I mustn't call her 'Sunny' any more. Because she had a name of her own, and I must call her by that name. 'Bajaj Sunny' was a brand name, they don't make that type any more, I've been told, but my friend had a given name.
It came about thus. I was working at a school in Hebbal in those days, twenty-four kilimetres away from my home in Bangalore. On only-staff days, when the school-bus didn't ply, I'd go to school on Sunny. Bangalore being relatively traffic-free in that bygone era, and it being early morning, I'd ride full throttle on the Windsor Manor Road. Sixty km/h, a princely speed for me.
In those days, I had a colleague who came to school on a bicycle. The name of the bicycle was Rani of Jhansi. Thinking Sunny would be jealous without being similarly named, I said, "Okay, I'll call mine Kittur Chenamma."
"Bah," my colleague scoffed. "I ride Rani of Jhansi with my own muscle power. It's my sweat that makes her move. You just have to sit there and move your wrist. Name her Hema Malini."
I protested, but the name stuck. Sunny wouldn't start up for the day after that, unless I said, "Good morning, Hema."
So Hema she was, and Hema she remained for twelve glorious years.
At a friend's place for lunch, I'd parked her outside the gate. But you know how it is when you start talking. Or, if you know me, you know how it is when I start talking. Extended lunch, tea, dinner. Too dark to ride back. "Stay the night," my hostess said.
"Shall do. Hema's outside the gate, shall I bring her in, or is she going to be okay there all night?"
"Bring her in, bring her in!" a shocked voice exclaimed from behind me. My friend's colleague, dismayed that we'd leave a poor soul out for hours and contemplate leaving 'her' out all night. It took her a while to understand it was a bike we were talking about. "You made her sound like a real person!"
Hema was real enough to me, and to those who knew what she meant to me.
When play-rehearsals at Mahesh Dattani's studio went beyond schedule and I had to call my parents to pick me up from there, Hema would spend the night in his amphitheatre. Mahesh always assured me, as I climbed into my parents' car, that Hema slept well on such occasions, and that he'd call out and comfort her if he heard her crying at night.
I seldom let anyone else handle Hema, except Dad. So, it was especially heartbreaking for me when she was towed away a couple of times - once from opposite Safina Plaza and once from below Mahalaxmi Chambers on MG Road. Both times, the board saying either '4-wheelers only' or 'No Parking' was far away and small, and there was a cluster of bikes where I'd parked her. To return and find her gone -- wrenched away from me and taken to a strange police station with unknown bikes, was painful. Let us not speak of those moments.
Let us, however, speak of moments when I voluntarily let strangers handle her. I had a job at Diamond District, where bikes are to be parked in the basement. Except that it frightened me to ride the steep ramp to get to the parking lot. Upon reaching office, I'd wait on the side, till another biker came to park her / his bike. I'd then request them to park mine as well. Everyone readily obliged, parking theirs, walking back up the ramp and parking mine for me.
Speaking of parked bikes ... beware of freshly-tarred roads and bike-stands. The two don't mix. Especially if your bike stand is a bit pointy. The point cuts into the fresh tar and the bike topples. On someone else's. In fact, let us not speak of this, either. We did send a 'sorry' card with Snoopy on it to the other bike's human.
The biggest advantage Hema had over Luna was that she allowed me to have pillion riders. Those bravehearts, who sat at the back with me riding. We'd go out for jaunts at lunch time sometimes, to get a change of scene from our desks.
There was this trainee copywriter who had shifted to Bangalore from Baroda. In Baroda, she rode pillion with her classmate, who, apparently, could not steer. So she'd only drive the bike straight. (Hey, don't ask me. This is someone in Baroda whom I've never even met!) Anyway, if they saw a pothole coming, rider and pillion-rider chorused, 'Aaaaaaaaaa'. And, being unable to steer away, they'd hit the pothole and chorus, "Dooodhuuum".
So when this young lady rode pillion with me, if she happened to spy a pothole, she'd dutifully say, 'Aaaaaaaaa'. Then, I'd avoid the pothole. I knew how to steer -- reasonably well, anyway. So she'd scold me for not letting her complete the sentence with a 'Dooodhuum'. I had to go into the pothole for her to feel complete, she said. I wasn't going to deliberately bump Hema for anyone else to feel complete on her, let me tell you. (However naughty that might sound to you.)
Oh, yes, Hema had her moments with my friends. One crisp morning, I was riding from MG Road to Koramangala with someone from the playwrights' workshop. Sitting astride on the pillion seat, this friend kept asking me if it was a very hot morning. I assured her it wasn't too hot for my liking.
Now don't freak out. Hema wasn't hurt at all. Nor, by the way, was my friend. Only my friend's shoe. Please don't freak out. Hema's silencer-cover was missing, and this friend had her foot directly on the silencer. It was no wonder she was feeling the heat. Her high-heel had burned, and was sticking to Hema. Hema carried this symbol of her love for my friends for years. My friend now had an odd pair of shoes, one with high-heel, one flat. The latest in fashion, I'm told.
Then there was my cousin, visiting from Mumbai. She was delighted with Hema. Especially the horn. "I love the beep beep," she'd say, every time we went on a jaunt. "Let me beep-beep." So, each time, she'd lean over from the pillion seat and beep-beep.
After a few days, in which we packed several jaunts on Hema, and beep-beeped a lot, she left to stay with an aunt-in-law in Jayanagar. She travelled light, so had carried one small suitcase for her trip. "Hema can manage it," I said, when my mother asked how she was getting there. And indeed, even my mother had to admit we were a snug fit. Me, suitcase, cousin, nicely in a row on Hema. What's more, my cousin managed to put her hand around the suitcase, to beep-beep. She wasn't going to give up the privilege of beep-beeping on that farewell ride!
Much as I enjoyed having pillion riders, there were times when I was glad (nay, relieved) be be solo on Hema. You see, Hema never, ever laughed at me. No matter what I did, she kept a straight face.
Take the time I wrote the clues for the office treasure hunt. I was sending teams of four-in-a-car or two-on-a-bike across Bangalore, to collect information from various venues to prove that they had solved the clue and reached the right place. The treasure hunt was flagged off at Kanteerva Stadium, and we were to wind up with lunch at office (Domlur). I had to head directly to office, to welcome the teams and check their answers.
It was very fortunate that there were two others who shared this responsibility.
You see, I got lost on my way back to office. Each and every one of the twenty teams had completed the course around the city and gotten back to office before I made it there. Nobody asked where I'd gone. If they suspected, they kept it to themselves. They probably assumed I'd gone home for a nap. Only Hema knew the truth, and she didn't tell on me.
But I've left the best for the last.
The anecdote to follow is the one for which this piece was written. I was narrating it to my friend Asha on an FB chat, and she insisted that this was something that had never happened before (or would happen since) and had to be penned down.
So here goes.
The day I rode Hema, my Bajaj Sunny, within an auto-riksha.
Yes, yes. You read right. I rode Hema inside an auto. Here's what happened.
We had this lovely group, called Culture Cafe, which met on Museum Road on Sunday evenings. We spent two delightful hours reading poetry or prose on various themes, and discussing literature.
Hema took me for each of these meetings, and waited patiently outside. One Sunday, I was the absolute last to leave the venue. I started her up and made it to the end of Museum Road, when she decided she was too tired to go all the way to Koramangala. No amount of coaxing worked, so I wheeled her back to the venue and told the owners that I'd be leaving her there overnight.
Flagging down an auto at the gate, I was about to climb in when the auto guy asked, "Didn't I see you on a bike a few minutes ago?"
"The bike conked," I replied.
"Where is it?"
"I've parked her back there."
"You'll have to make another trip from Koramangala just to fetch it. Let's put it in the auto."
He gestured. I disembarked. He folded the seat down, ran in to the venue, ran back carrying Hema, and, in five minutes, Hema was safely on the folded auto seat.
"Excellent," I said. "Let me tell the owners I'm taking her back, and we'll get another auto for me to ride in."
The owner, incredulous, accompanied me back and chuckled at the sight of the bike in the auto. "Now let's hail another auto," I said.
"No," replied the auto guy. "If you ride another auto and a cop stops me, hell think I'm stealing your bike. You'll have to get in."
I laughed. I honestly thought he was joking. He wasn't.
"But the bike occupies the whole space."
"There's space on top," he replied, deftly demonstrating. He put one foot on the side step, flung the other across the bike, and crouched there.
"Listen," I protested. "There's a fundamental difference between us. YOU are thin."
He was back out by then. "Madam," he remarked. "Thin or fat, you can do whatever you like. Just try. There's enough space."
I looked at the owner of the venue. He shrugged. "I'll help if you like," he offered.
I called my Dad on the mobile, and told him what I was about to do. "Go directly to the mechanic," Dad said. "I'll call and tell him you're coming, he should wait for you."
I'm not quite sure how we did it, but in six or seven minutes, I was on top of Hema, within an auto, my face squashed down against her seat. I couldn't see anything except bike-seat.
"Are you comfortable?" chorused two voices.
"As comfortable as I can be under the circumstances," I managed to gasp.
"Now, Ma'am," the auto guy said, "please listen. When we're at the signal, I'll tell you, because if policeman comes, we'll have to say this is your bike."
We got started. I'm imagining the owner of the venue waving at us, but I couldn't see. I couldn't move. I could just crouch there, listening to the auto guy's occasional alert, "Madam, signal." Fortunately, no cop came. Somehow, we reached the mechanic's.
I won't say much about how I was extricated, but it was actually quite smooth. Then, the two men lifted Hema out. (She was repaired and as good as new by Tuesday.)
The auto guy grinned at me. "See, Ma'am? I told you."
Yes, he had told me. And he had given me something to tell you. I hope you enjoyed my Sunny Saga!
Luna - from 1989 to 1991
Sunny - from 1991 to 2003
In response to a question - where is Hema now?
Sold her to a Bengali food vendor in 2003.
She delivered Bengali food for some weeks, then was found to be too old to ride.
I think she was finally taken apart and now individual bits of her are in other bikes!