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G V Dasarathi | June 08, 2004 13:25 IST



"Man," I thought, "that's new!"

I was familiar with the first one, but the second was brand new.

I was in my free daily class, learning stuff that cannot be repeated in polite company. These classes take place when I am cycling to office and back home -- a distance of 15 km -- every day

If you have ever seen a picture of ocean life in an encyclopaedia, you'll know a bottom feeder is a rather sorry-looking creature of nondescript colour that hides under the sand at the bottom of the ocean to avoid getting eaten by larger predators. When it occasionally ventures out for food or maybe the ocean's equivalent of fresh air, it risks becoming the lead actor in one of the gory scenes you see in a television wildlife movie.

As a cyclist, you are the road equivalent of a bottom feeder. The big predators are motorbikes and scooters, cars, buses and trucks.

You hug the footpath on the extreme left of the road. You're left alone as long as you stick to this equivalent of sand at the bottom of the ocean. However, you do occasionally have to venture towards mainstream traffic because of a pothole or because some pedestrian is walking on the road instead of on the footpath.

You also need to veer towards the centre of the road when you come to a traffic intersection and want to turn right (while the predators want to turn left).

This is when the lessons in language take place.

Like everyone else, I used to cycle a lot till the age of 14. I rediscovered its joys a year ago at the age of 43, prompted by a friend who started Air, an association that promotes the use of bicycles in Bangalore.

I initially cycled to my gym in the morning or to shops near my home in the evening and on weekends. After a few months of riding around the neighbourhood, I began cycling to office a couple of days a week. Soon, I was doing it every day.

Have you noticed children on bicycles in the streets near your home? Cycling, to them, does not seem like a means to getting anywhere; it is an end in itself.

I notice the same thing is in myself now. There are many times when I cycle not because I want to get from point A to point B but because the sheer act of cycling gives me such pleasure.

When I initially bought the cycle and was nervous about venturing onto the main roads, I used to get back from office every day looking for an excuse to get on my bicycle and would ask my wife if there was anything to bought from a nearby shop.

I'm now so addicted to cycling to office that I dread the days when I have to use the car, to maybe cart a load of paperwork home or to visit a customer from the office. I use the car about once in 10 days. On other days, I cycle to work for the pleasure it gives me, for the physical exercise and because I don't want to contribute to the air pollution and traffic congestion that is reaching alarming levels in Bangalore.

You can recognise me on the road by my bright coloured cycling helmet and fluorescent green jacket with reflector strips. They are designed to make me very visible to predators and prevent me from getting squashed.

The typical ocean bottom feeder would be horrified at these accessories and would strongly advise against them. I guess this is the one difference between bottom feeders in the ocean and on the road -- they need to hide while we need to be extra visible. The other is that the ocean bottom feeder does not have to deal with pedestrians, cattle and pushcart vendors using its space.

If you cycle to work these days, people think you are either too poor to buy an automobile or you are mad. Since I'm not the former, I guess I must conclude I'm the latter.

On the other hand, wasn't it H G Wells who said, 'When I see an adult riding a bicycle, I have hope for the human race'?

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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