The village & a Bicycle-man: An amalgamation of memory and imagination – in 3 parts.
The first memory of my life was in that village. I was two and half years old then and the memory was – my walking beside my father, holding his right hand index finger with my little left hand. We were walking towards the higher secondary school of that village and it was an hour or so before sunset. My father worked as a teacher in that school and on transfer from some other place, we arrived in that village only on that day.
I was there in that village until I was thirteen years old. It was as good as that my life started with my memories in that village and that if at all I had any stories to tell, they should naturally have something to do with that village, since it is always memories of childhood that give some curious content, I suppose, to stories that men tell.
After a few days stay in that village, any person would understand that, that village appeared to have been divided into two distinct areas, which had a lot to do with the casts to which the villagers lived in those two distinct areas belonged. Those were the two main rich and authority wielding casts in power politics of the region and it was always that either of them retained the power to rule. There appeared no animosity amongst the villagers of the two different areas in general, but when there was a dispute, passions rose and things consequently went to the level of breaking of at least two or three skulls on each side before the dispute was resolved. In such instances, they behaved like born enemies and looked to fight with the only intention of breaking the skull of the opponent.
A big banyan tree in the center of the village divided the village into those two distinct areas. A dusty road that ran from its left led the passer-by to the main concrete road on which buses plied joining it to other villages. The same dusty road when taken from the right side of the banyan tree would lead the passer-by to the house of the village vendor, whose house I still remembered well, since I used to go there frequently to bring items of daily use, when I was sent to do so by my parents, after they thought I had sufficiently grown up to the level of performing such things. In that village, I enjoyed a special recognition since I happened to be the son of the schoolteacher who worked in their school.
A raised platform constructed around the base of the banyan tree used to be the adda (a common meeting- place in any village where elders gather, mostly in the evenings and discuss about the happenings of the day in general) for casual get-togethers in the evenings, community meetings of any importance and other interesting occurrences. Whenever a party of amusers visited the village, with the intent of entertaining and earning something for their livelihood in return, they were given shelter under the big banyan tree for as many days as they wanted. A distinct memory of one of such amusers’ party was a man and his family who came to that village to amuse the villagers with his oath of remaining for seven continuous days on his bicycle, only on his bicycle and not even once touching the soil of the earth with any part of his body during all those seven days. There were lengthy discussions amongst the villagers as to how a man could live continuously for seven consecutive days without alighting from the bicycle and how at all it would be possible for him to do his daily chores staying on the bicycle. The man who took the oath in front of a batch of curious villagers even went to the extent of inviting any number of them to be on his side and observe him all those seven days when he would lead his life remaining always on the bicycle and only on the bicycle. He even challenged that if ever any one of them could find him breaking his own oath, he told that he would accept his defeat and go away from the village after gladly undergoing the punishment they would inflict on him. Greatly amused, people of the village accepted the challenge since they were nothing to lose except little quantities of food grains from each of their household.
From the morning of the following day, it all began and the bicycle man was on performance of his oath. The paraphernalia he brought with him for the show consisted of an old model gramophone record player, which worked on a battery and of course a mike. Before embarking on the performance of the seven-day long exercise, he had bath in broad day light, as the small numbers of public gathered there watched, under the tree itself but at a small distance away from the place where he presently put up. He then robed himself in fresh clothes, ordered his wife to play a devotional song on the gramophone, which she did with dexterity of years’ long performance and practice. To the delight of the villagers, who very rarely had the occasion of listening to film songs from the mike of a gramophone record player, the song blared out. He then lit incense sticks, performed puja (an act of submission before the God of one’s belief, silently or chanting prayers within himself or herself) standing before the photo of Lord Venkateswara, the God of Seven Hills, and also to the bicycle, with folded hands and closed eyes, chanting prayers which were not audible. After doing all this, with an air of satisfaction and anticipation on his face, the bicycle man, looked straight into the eyes of the villagers gathered there and announced that from then on he would be found only on his bicycle till he completed the seven day period of his oath. He bowed before them in respect and in a flash of a moment jumped onto his bicycle. He then performed a small but an important feat, which made the bicycle look like a comfortable aasana (a seat), on which he could sit on it as long as he liked without falling on to the ground. The next moment he was on the bicycle, he made the front wheel to turn a ‘forty-five’ degrees angle to the right and made the wheel remain in that position so that the bicycle took the shape of ‘L’. In that position the bicycle would not fall to the right or the left since the front wheel gave it a broad base on which the entire bicycle could balance itself, somewhat comfortably.