The progress of Cyclists Exnora is as slow as the vehicle it promotes. But that does not make it an unsuccessful initiative, finds out Prince Frederick
M. Chidambaram pedals from Mylapore to T. Nagar, finding fresh victories daily to exult over: every time he slips into a by-lane and circumvents a traffic jam, he quietly celebrates the achievement. Minor though they are, these triumphs help him stay optimistic about an initiative in which he is a key player.
For around four years now, Chidambaram is president of Cyclists Exnora, a unit formed to celebrate and promote the humble bicycle. Launched in 1995, it has however not grown in proportion to its age. Eighteen years down the road, its practising members are so few in number that a kindergartener can count them. “There are around 15 of us who have reduced our reliance on vehicles that run on fuels. But then, the effectiveness of this initiative cannot be measured by membership figures,” says the 53-year-old Chidambaram, who is also the general secretary of Exnora International.
Cycling clubs, whose members seek to derive fun and fitness from riding tours, may be assessed through a study of their membership registers. Their numbers swell due to the inviting bouquet of activities they offer year after year. Their events have enough elements to pump up participants before and after a cycle rally. In contrast, Cyclists Exnora thrives only on principles. Without the alluring package of fun and entertainment, few principles can be expected to have many takers. “When M.B. Nirmal (founder of Exnora International) instituted this programme, he had the principle of simplicity in mind. By choosing to use the cycle, one would choose simplicity of heart,” says Chidambaram.
He further explains that Cyclists Exnora primarily aims to raise awareness about how we benefit by allowing our roads to be overrun with cycles and engages in campaigns that could add weight to demands for dedicated tracks for cyclists on arterial stretches.
“However, in the absence of safety measures, it is not realistic to expect people to take to cycling in a big way,” says Chidambaram.
He is excited by the movement towards cycling facilities in recent months. With the Corporation keen on creating dedicated cycling tracks around the city, Chidambaram foresees a facilitator’s role for organisations such as Cyclists Exnora.
They can act as pressure groups and see these intentions through to reality, he says.
While pointing out that his organisation conducts rallies from time to time, largely to exhibit the bicycle as an option for exercise and an environment-friendly alternative to fuel-driven vehicles, Chidambaram thinks it makes its greatest contribution silently.
“Its members, thought a handful, are quietly influencing people and winning them over to the bicycle,” says Chidambaram and cites the “irresistible example” of N.V. Ranganayakulu, vice-president of Exnora International and a pedal-pushing member of Cyclists Exnora.
Ranganayakulu, a Kotturpuram resident, is an Exnora volunteer whose work is largely concentrated in South Chennai, but he also coordinates with groups active in Ayanavaram and Villivakkam, where he lived for around two decades. “Even now, I cycle from Kotturpuram to Aynavaram and Villivakkam. I also cycle regularly to Tambaram,” says Ranganayakulu.
“We do not expect people to abandon their bikes and cars for the cycle. Bikes and cars have their place: they facilitate fast travel and have their uses. If we could get people to use bicycles over short distances, that will do. Our job is done,” says Chidambaram, who pedals over short distances, often around Mylapore, Mandaveli and Abhiramapuram, where he shoulders responsibilities for Exnora.
And, of course, he takes his cycle out while leaving home for Exnora’s main office in T. Nagar.
This article has been corrected for an editing error.