I remember my first few pigtail attempts at riding the poor man's vehicle, the environment-friendly bicycle.
The one I learnt on belonged to my father's office. Every time the peon came home to deliver or pick up something, I would whisk the bicycle away.
In the beginning it was too big for me. Perched on the seat, my feet didn't quite make it to the ground. So I resorted to the kainchi or scissors-style. Which meant right elbow on the seat, hands on the handlebar, and legs across on the pedals, below the horizontal bar. I would like to believe I did 100km an hour in kainchi as I zip-zap-zoomed.
I was quite content doing kainchi till one day an uncle from dad's office saw the sibling nearest my age scissoring furiously. He helped her on to the seat, held her up for a couple of seconds, and whoooooooosh, she went hair flying, not realising uncle was no longer propping her up.
My pleas for similar help fell on deaf years as I was "too young" and my legs a bit short. Wait a couple of months and my feet would be on the ground, I was promised. Now, I don't quite remember at what point my feet did touch base, but with no one responding to my pleas I forgot all about graduating beyond kainchi --- till the day the moped made a grand entry in our town.
I don't recollect exactly how sis learnt to ride. But she did, and I settled for a piggy-ride. I never attempted anything beyond that as a then very-frail me could not even budge the moped off its stand.
To be very honest, I was saved a lot of ignominy once when I --- I still can't fathom how --- knocked a scooter off its stand during a visit to Jaipur, while shopping with a friend on a not-so-busy, very hot afternoon. With no help forthcoming, we decided to have the darned thing standing back on its feet.
"Sarita," I muttered, "ijjat khatrey mein hain [The pride is at stake]. There are women everywhere driving scooters."
Sarita flexed her muscles, sent a prayer to her lord above, and successfully had the two-wheeler on its stand. Pride salvaged!
To go back to my sister's moped, she was among the first to have a spanking new blue one of her own. She'd tear down the only mini-flyway the city boasted of and even managed to drop several colleagues bang on their not-so-pretty (or where they?) patooties while negotiating one particularly mean rumbler.
Now I couldn't even get the darned thing off its stand, remember? So one fine evening as the moped rested in the lawn, I got astride, pedal-started and did all the vroom-vroom, shouting to dad that hey, I could ride too.
The family rushed out to see the spectacle of Ashu riding a moped (!) and that too sans any lessons. Need I say it was a disgusted lot who went back in? I continued revving to the highest speed possible, thrilled with that stationary driving. In fact, all attempts at driving have remained static. I wonder why? Am I jinxed?
Take the example of me learning to drive a four-wheeler. With much fanfare and threats to all and sundry I enrolled myself at a driving school, where the first tip I received after being taught the ABC was aaraam aaraam sey --- or, roughly translated, take it easy.
Easy, driving a four-wheeler was. But what I had not bargained for early in the morning were dogs chasing my car, cows strolling on to the road, and children, old men and women deciding to walk bang in front.
If I shrieked, Yeh kutta meri gaadi kay pichhey kyoon? [Why is the dog chasing my car] my instructor would say, Marney do saaley ko [To hell with him].
And if I swerved to avoid the cow-who-walked-in-from-the blue, he'd say, Aaram aaram sey. Life couldn't have been getting easier.
A fortnight of lessons extended to another 15 days and ever since ABC changed all meaning from 'A' for apple to 'A' for Accelerator, 'B' for Brake, and 'C' for Clutch, I realised that 'I' stands for Indicator. But, there is little to indicate it is used for what it is meant to.
Drivers, like seasons, I have realised, come in all hues --- literate, illiterate, semi-literate, well-heeled, or no-heeled. The percentage that uses the indicator to good purpose is minuscule. I am sure any good driver anywhere in the country will vouch for that.
The reason why my drive ended in an irreversible cul-de-sac was because an impatient tempo driver rammed into my vehicle --- and that too when it was just beginning to crawl ahead as the red turned to green. I went all shades of purple as shock turned to anger and bounded out arms flailing, an unending diatribe at the cussed driver --- but to what avail?
That fella, I can bet my last precious 25-paisa-coin, is back to his driving and I now don't even dare to sit behind the wheel. It wasn't my fault, I know, but the 10k injury to my 15-day-new four-wheeler has dissuaded me.
Most of these multi-hued drivers think the road is mai-baap ka rajya. Didn't get this, I bet! Translated, it simply means the general feeling is they own the roads they travel on, forgetting it is a thoroughfare where the rights of all must be respected. And that to really respect the rights of all there are a few rules to be followed.
Tell me, how many of you dear readers use the rear-view or side mirrors? Vehicles that do have mirrors to their left and right have those folded in, ostensibly to avoid damage from other vehicles!!
What I write next is sure to raise the hackles of many a bra-burning feminist. Ahemmmm. Whenever I see a fellow-woman driver behind the wheel in front, back, or nearabouts my vehicle I always make it a point to mention it to hubby. For, they are invariably the most hazardous lot on the road.
Did I hear wails of protest? Aaah! Will write about that in some other diary!
Ashu, meanwhile, goes everywhere aaram-aaram sey, seated to the left of the steering wheel.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
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