The Bicycle Diaries — I have never done a series here. With this post, I start to capture the extraordinary moments I experience while cycling.
When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.
— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I whined a bit on Instagram last week about how I am ridiculed when I ride a bicycle just because I am a huge person. In retrospect, I realised that I was not being fair to the Universe if I chose to complain when my rides are always, always, sprinkled with moments which make me smile and warm my heart. And then The Bicycle Diaries was born.
“Will it bear my weight?” I ask the bicycle mechanic as he checks the tyres. I bite my lips; why did I talk about my weight again? My self-condemnation ceases. A trans woman stands next to me. The trans women usually clap and coerce the shopkeepers into giving them money. This trans woman who smiles at me now is not that kind of a person. She simply stands there grinning.
She runs her fingers into her curly brown hair, adjusts her salwar kameez, and keeps smiling at me. After he pumps air into the tyres, the bicycle mechanic rushes into his shop to get some money for her. I am not sure if I should participate too. I shuffle my feet, scratch my head, with my gaze locked with hers all the time. She collects the money from the mechanic and leaves.
I love her smile. I do not know what amused her. It doesn’t matter for I am glad to have made her smile even if I can’t fathom the reason, for the trans women are robbed off their smiles here often.
My earphones don’t work and I am living on a shoe-string budget, so I am postponing purchasing a new pair. When I ride today, I am not locking up myself in my playlist. I am listening to the unassuming sounds of Chennai. A rooster crows. I look around to spot it; my efforts end in vain. I laugh because I am talking to the rooster, in my head. “Are you suffering from some sort of chemical imbalance? It is 4 PM and you are crowing now.” I am sorry the next moment because I judged the rooster. Rude.
I spot a beautiful raven. But that one doesn’t caw. The irony.
I listen to the cacophony of all the sounds the vehicles make. To my own surprise, I am not annoyed. I do not know why. And I don’t want to know.
I cross a lot of nurseries. The evening sun is ruthless to the little flowers there. I pity them. How am I sure that they find the sun ruthless? Who am I say that they find the sun ruthless? The flowers are there. The sun is there. Let them be.
“Till the tollgate? Maybe five more kilometres after that?” I ask myself. What is the distance I want to cover today? As I turn the question in my mind, I take the first left. The road leads to the sea. Till that moment, I was aimless. Now I take this road as though I had always wanted to ride here. Who got into my head? Who possessed my bicycle? Perhaps an adventurous spirit who is tired of my sobriety. I am thankful all the same.
The road is bordered by flowers. I don’t know their names and it doesn’t matter so long I think they are beautiful. I am reminded of my conversation I had with Soul Muser once. When I told her I had been to the UK, she asked me what I saw on my way to work every morning. I said I saw dogs, clouds, the sun, and smiling strangers. She asked me if I saw flowers. I said I didn’t remember seeing any beautiful flowers. “Aren’t all flowers beautiful, Deepika?” she asked.
I see more flowers now. I take my time photographing them. Their zest for life is contagious.
I ride further toward the sea. A man and a woman, both clad in pink, are standing in front of a car, holding and looking at each other. They are oblivious to this cyclist. Ah! I see a lens-man. He is capturing their PDA. Cute! Cliched. But cute!
A family gets down from a car. They are all sweating profusely. None of them are smiling. I know why. They are not sure who is going to change the baby’s diaper. What a conundrum!
I park my bicycle close to the shore, drink some water and stand there listening to the soul-nourishing sound of the waves. There is an icecream cart beside me. It’s looked after by a young girl who is wearing the brand’s uniform. She is listening to an old man; he is complaining about his wife. “She wants me to do the dishes. She wants me to wash my own clothes. I am working. And I am a man. Why should I do her work?” he asks rhetorically.
The girl hands an icecream to a couple who seem to have been affected by some sort of profound sadness. They look as though they are here look at the ocean and have an icecream for one last time. The sky is azure but a dark cloud hangs around them. They walk toward the ocean as slowly as they can.
“I don’t have time to wash my clothes,” continues the old man. The young girl smiles. I am sure she is sorry for the old man’s wife. But diplomacy and silence seem to be her response. She nods and listens intently. “I will not do her work,” the man declares and realises that I am listening to his monologue. He is now shy. But why!
I want to ask him what makes him think that his wife must wash his clothes. I want to ask him why he thinks a man shouldn’t wash his own clothes. I swallow the urge because I find it thrilling to not utter a word but simply be there. And I told Chimamanda Ngozhi Adichie that I couldn’t talk to the man about We Should All Be Feminists.
“It is April Fools’s Day and I haven’t fooled anybody,” confesses a young boy. His friends offer sympathy as they all play top. I stop riding and listen to their conversation. Bad manners. Of course. But I can’t resist. I listen. “Before I go to bed, I somehow want to pull a prank…” the boy’s glance falls on me. “All the best!” I wish him and pedal faster.
A dog is lying in mud. He is sleepy. I want to park my cycle and lie beside him. I gather myself. Phew!
The couple are still holding each other. It’s way too sweaty. But come on. Nothing can deter their spirits. However the photographer needs some rest.
“Hoof! Hoof!” a man exhales. He tries to walk fast. The walking is testing his endurance. I see that he can do with a smile. I offer one with a good-evening. He is confused. I like causing that sort of confusion in people. Whey they are so lost in their thoughts and when they encounter a surprise, they just don’t know how to respond. This man is not different. He is not sure if he must return the smile or continue to hoof. He gives back a lopsided smile. I am not complaining.
Cyclone Vardah uprooted thousands and thousands of trees in December 2016. Chennai misses its canopies. What amazes me is that how this colossal destruction has created space for another beginning.
I ride on the East Coast Road and I see many tiny plants which grow from the spots where the trees once were. The little warriors inspire me. Regardless of the enormity of what could drag me down, there is always space to grow, to start afresh.
I am on the last leg of my ride. I cross a tiny, quaint bicycle. Blinding neon colours. A nonchalant rider. The traffic signal is now red. I turn to the guy, “I love your cycle.” He is visibly embarrassed. I want to know more about that adorable thing. But I don’t want to put him in a tight spot. I move.
He follows me, manages to catch up and asks, “Are you a racer?” I want to close my mouth and guffaw. That would be an insult to the boy. I make my face impassive and say that I am not a racer. “I have seen you many times. I wondered if you are a racer,” he says. Now I am embarrassed. How the table has turned in no time!
I want to say something now, to fill this awkward silence. “Your bicycle is beautiful. May I click a picture?” I approach with caution. I don’t want to scare him. To my surprise, he immediately readies himself. He holds his cycle and looks into my camera. Click! Click!
“I made this cycle,” he declares without a tinge of pride in his tone. My surprise cannot be camouflaged. “Using the spare parts in the showroom where I work…” he explains. This boy is an inventor. “How old are you?” I succumb to my curiosity. He is 18.
I see a name-board under the seat. He turns the cycle for me. The board reads, “Deepak — 07!” I ask the obvious question. “Are you Deepak?” He nods. I am not sure if I can release the thought that is now jumping like an excited Labrador in my head. I allow it to take shape. “Deepak, I am Deepika.” He smiles. For the first time.
Light. Our names mean light.