The village & a Bicycle man: An amalgamation of memory and imagination – in 3 parts.
Another one was even harder since it made him to struggle a lot. There was no finesse in that act actually. It was a mere physical struggle. The act was, to pass through a cycle tube, which was folded into a circled-half, again into a half and again into another half …like this till the point the folded rubber became so strong and pulling inwards that it was very difficult to pass even the bicycle-man’s hand through the narrow gap, let alone the bicycle-man himself! Clearly, passing oneself through the folded cycle tube in reverse direction (which means from toes to head) required great effort. The villagers looked at each other, with an expression of disbelief clearly wrought on their faces.
He appeared utterly tired by this time and as a final trick or performance, he embarked on this act of passing through this narrow cycle tube. He started from below and with some effort pushed his feet through the tube and from there to the point of his knee caps it was a somewhat easier effort. The real thing started from there onwards since the rubber tube with all its material strength remained stuck around his knee caps so hard that, the bicycle man had to struggle to stretch it and pull it upwards, making room however little he could make out by stretching the rubber tube, bit by bit. By this time, it was evident to the villagers that there was no trick in it but only a struggle, a physical act which required brutal physical strength, determination and resolve to make it happen and the bicycle-man was doing the same.
Struggling hard, the bicycle-man pulled up the rubber tube upwards till it reached his waist and let it remain there stuck to his waist with all its reinforced material strength. There was a risk in pulling it upwards beyond that point, up above waist it was his stomach, already weak and appearing shrunk because of the ordeal he was undergoing during the past six days. The loose muscles would make the rubber tube stick to the skin and shrink the stomach even more in and from that kind of situation it would be very difficult to even get a hold of the rubber tube to pull it upwards. The bicycle-man looked already in a miserable condition and the villagers gathered there and watching the act started to feel great pity towards him. However, one side sitting at a distance from the place of the act, the bicycle-man’s wife and daughter were watching the proceedings without showing much concern on their faces. But no one looked at them at that moment; all eyes were fixed on the bicycle-man.
As the villagers looked on, the bicycle-man pulled the rubber tube upwards and now it was around his stomach and as expected it shrunk his stomach so deep that it made the bicycle-man was writhe in pain. The only good thing he did was, he kept on holding the rubber tube with his hands and did not leave it. His hands were now in between the rubber of the tube and skin of his stomach. But to pull it upwards from there he appeared devoid of strength and started perspiring. There was a pathetic look on his face, the look of a man who was about to die. The villagers started to look at him with concern and a bit of worry showing on their faces. At this stage, the bicycle-man looked at his wife and beckoned. She knew the meaning of that. In a few moments the gramophone was playing a record, a devotional song from an old movie. It meant ‘you are the mother, you are the father and you are the God who save us from all miseries; there is no one greater than You for us, there is no one on whom we can depend; oh…Lord! Come now and save, your disciple is in the midst of great pain and sorrow!’ The song was blowing in full volume. The wife and daughter of the bicycle-man started to pray with folded hands and closed eyes. The bicycle-man also looked praying with a great devotion, remaining motionless for a few moments. The villagers gathered there also prayed that the bicycle-man should come out of this misery and come off victorious at the end.
Those were the moments, the moments of great emotion, the hard earned moments of seven days toil for the bicycle-man and his family. As the moments ticked on, the emotion grew to the level of great pity. Women amongst the group of villagers gathered there even wept silently and dabbed their cheeks with the loose ends of their sarees (a six yards length of cotton or silk garment worn by women as dress to cover their body).
As the song was about to end, the bicycle-man pulled up the rubber tube with all the strength he freshly gathered from the emotion and concern apparent on the faces of the villagers gathered there, gave a final, strong pull grunting aloud. And to the relief of all present there the rubber tube moved up and up and up, till it reached his shoulders. And from the shoulders it was pushed out quite easily.
The bicycle-man threw open his hands as a sign of victory and all the villagers gathered there clapped…clapped and went on clapping for a long time. He looked victorious and made himself seated on his bicycle feeling for himself the success of the deed well done. The villagers looked into each others’ faces and murmured amongst themselves in praise of the bicycle-man, his achievements, the pains he had taken and the ordeals he had suffered during all these days to stand on his word. Thereafter, the elders and important personalities of the village made him to descend from the bicycle and touch the ground with his feet as the seven days’ period was over, which the bicycle-man did with all humility.
There was emotion all around, the emotion of a carnival coming to an end. The villagers showered gifts on them very liberally in the form of money, clothes, grains and eatables.
On that night, in the village none talked about anything except the bicycle-man.
On that night, as 7-8 years old boy, I too remember carrying the same emotion many villagers carried to their homes. I was thinking nothing except the bicycle-man and the praise, the love and great affection he earned from the villagers with his deeds.
While we were about to go to sleep, I asked my father, “Father would you please buy me a bicycle?”
My father thought a while, frowned and said, “Bicycle? Why? Why this sudden desire now? You are still seven years old. There is still time.”
“No, I want to practice from now! It requires a lot of practice!” I remember saying with all innocence.
This puzzled my father to great extent. His eyes grew to large circles. There was a hint of anger in them too. He said to his wife, my mother, in a tone that sounded a bit rough, “eh…what happened to this fellow? Has he gone mad?”
My mother tried to pacify him, “Why you get angry so quickly? He is a small kid. Let me know what is in his mind!”
She turned towards me and asked what the matter was. I said with all my innocence that what I just told to father was a fact, and that it would take a lot of practice to become as proficient and efficient as the bicycle-man who performed and gained so much fame and money, unless I immediately started practicing from then on!
This answer made my mother too feel a bit puzzled and she said in a moan-like voice, “What …do…you mean?” I now realize that she was also thinking at that same moment how to protect me from my father.
“And you want to go begging like the bicycle-man from village to village?” there was fury in my father’s voice and I knew it was the signal that a blow would follow. I now realize that it was from this blow that my mother was thinking of protecting me. How intuitive and foreseeing mothers are!
The blow I was expecting did somehow not follow that time. Instead a furious threat emanated from my father’s mouth and that was “if ever I dared to talk even a word about bicycle in all the years that come after that moment, I would be torn to pieces…I would better remember this!”
“Ok…ok…leave him for now!” my mother said, dragging me away from the reach of my father’s hand and towards her side.
The result of this threat was I really did not dare to talk about a bicycle till I started earning my own salary and I had to directly learn riding a two-wheeler, which turned out to be a hell of an affair balancing myself on that two-wheeler, which at one stage looked like a giant to my eyes. Those days, in a kind of fatigue, I used to brood a lot during nights, before I went to sleep, and to my mind, it somehow meant that I lost the balance I was then searching for and trying to seek, in my childhood itself. As I further brooded on, it also meant that, if searched properly, there might be the possibility of finding the basis for most imbalances in life, in the memories of one’s own childhood.