I was in the seventh standard and beginning to lose interest in studies. Yes, that was the beginning of what’s now well realized. We had just moved into our new house, not big in itself, but twice the size of the hovel I lived in before. Excited initially by the possibility of spending time privately in this new house, away from the eyes of my parents, I had taken ardently to watching a lot of television shows that were forbidden, I knew, earlier, even though I was never explicitly told that they were forbidden. It wasn’t really this, either. What I had actually been putting most of my time into now, was daydreaming in a secluded corner about the girls in my school and around my new house: not the ones who were the most coveted since I’ve always kept away from crowded scenes, but the ones who were still cute, and, let’s face it, with whom I stood a chance. Was there any one girl I had grown particularly fond of? Yes, but mostly, it was just the idea of being boyfriend-girlfriend that fascinated pre-eminently. Now days would pass languorously in wondering about their likes and dislikes, and working out ways to mould myself into whatever they would like, and away from what they wouldn’t. Sometimes, I’d gather some aplomb and call up one of them, only to end up talking about assignments and projects and the eccentricities of our teachers, or bitching about this guy and that girl, and that guy’s fascist father, and this girl’s vain victorian mother. For six straight years I had been standing second in my class, but when the half-yearly results were declared that year, I found out that I was seventh, and from the bottom.
In my locality one lame, lanky boy had brought a really awesome bicycle, with gears and everything, and in those days, the concept of cycles that we children rode having gears was a little novel and somewhat awe-inducing. Everyone seemed impressed, even, sadly, the ones who mattered. Ever since this new bicycle had been got by Sudhanshu, for all the rest of us it was the cynosure, and he the eyesore. I went after my Dad to get me one. Not this, not really. It would be no special to get this one now that he already had it. I wanted one to trump this one. One of those days, I happened to visit a fair with my family where the cycle-makers Hercules happened to have a stall. I immediately rushed in to have a look at all of them, and closed in upon the best looking – Hercules Mongoose – yeah, this is what I am going to have, I decided. I told my Dad that I wanted it, but he said that I should take more time to explore other options elsewhere too, to find out which one I really want, and then go about it. It was really expensive, he said, and he wouldn't want that it be bought on an impulse, and then be forgotten about a few days later. That would never happen, I insisted. He stuck to his stand. Then all of us moved to a different corner in the fair where my family members all had ice-cream, but I didn’t want any. Mango Shake? No, no mango shake either, I want nothing.
The evening after, we were both on DTC route number 450, on our way to Jhandewalan, my father and I. Jhandewalan, I had just been told that morning, was the wholesale haunt of all bicycle manufacturers. What was I to understand from that, I asked them. Hundreds of shops, all cycles, cycles, cycles! Really? No! Really? Yay! The mere prospect that such a place existed and which I would be visiting was fairytailishly inspiring, plus, to be getting a bicycle too, that was just way too much for a day. I remember how I couldn’t even have my meal properly in the midst of all the excitement. Inside 450, both of us were talking about the popular types of snakes after we’d spotted a snake charmer on the roadside from our window: Rattle snakes, Venoms, Cobras.. ‘Is cobra and Ajgar the same thing, Papa’, I asked because I remembered a similar hype around Ajgar among the Hindi-folk as I remembered the one around Cobra within English leaning circles. No, said my dad, they’re different. No, said the old lady sitting behind us, they’re different. I didn’t ask you dear stranger, I went in my head, even as she gave her opinion of us father and son. ‘You’re a good father-and-son. You’re a good father’, she said looking at Dad, ‘and you’re a good soon’, she said turning to me. She must have been a school headmistress, I thought, but her pleasant comment had served to replace the intrusive impression she had left of herself on me moments earlier, with a polite 'Thanks Aunty'.
We reached. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. With every new cycle I looked at, my decision changed. ‘This one pucca, I’m not looking at any other cycle now Papa, I’ve closed my eyes and don’t ask me to open them please, I’ll get this’, I spoke aloud finally. I got it. Hero Hawk. Gears! Dad even rode it outside the shop for a while. It was an indescribable thrill to see him riding a cycle; if it were 2010, I would have taken loads of pictures of the same on my mobile, and spent the next few months looking at them every now and then and showing them to loved ones. But it was 1998, and I just kept smiling with my twenty-six teeth constantly visible, and then took an auto back, in which he, the bicycle and I were packed like carrots inside a pencil-box.
Two weeks later, the bicycle was stolen from where I used to park it, just inside the iron main-gate. I’ve been thinking of asking my Dad to buy me an Enfield for a while now.