On my “Shashtiabdapoorthy” day, a north Indian friend asked me whether that was the name of a south Indian Ayurvedic physician or his concoction. The word means 60th birthday — when one is declared retired hurt, socially denounced as a senior citizen and clinically certified as something short of “fit for nothing,” usually moron, morose and morbid or whatever it means to whoever is not a senior citizen. My NRI son asked me, flaunting his dollar, euro, pound and such other alien and undecipherable currency credit cards, what I would like to have as his memorable present. He was perhaps expecting that I might opt for a BlackBerry, if not a BMW or a Beethoven album. Everyone around turned towards me to hear my undying (?) wish. All were stunned at my distasteful indent when I said, “I need a simple bicycle.” Of all the things on earth, a bicycle? The two-wheeled, mechanical metal junk? Everyone tried to reason with me not to be childish on such an auspicious occasion and give up my idiotic pursuit at the beginning of the evening of my life.

I stood firm. I said what I meant, with a “go-to-hell” nonchalance. I was resolute, (like our PM who stood firm against every week’s demand for his resignation by the Opposition). “I need a bicycle, come what may,” I pronounced. Everyone thought there was no point in coaxing an incorrigible, old fox. The great cycle arrived, neatly gift-wrapped, with balloons and glittering colour strands tethered to it. (I saw from the end of my eyes, my better half hitting her forehead against the pillar of the hall, where the function was held, over my stupidity). She thought I might have asked for a trip to the Virgin Islands.

Why did I opt for this eccentric boon that turned everyone around me epileptic? Recently, I read an article on the positives of cycling at an Internet website. It promised me heavenly health on earth, almost immortalilty. It said: “Thou shall not fall sick.” It was the all-in-one cure that I was desperately looking for. I instantly fell for it.

I researched on my new-found love. There were only more pluses pouring in. All western countries have dedicated cycle lanes. The bicycle is eco-friendly and user-friendly. Its use has no side-effects, like neighbour’s envy or stealing the attention of vehicle-lifters. It has no road rage. Even a buffalo could overtake it. It does not need huge parking space. It was love at first sight, at the age of 60. (I had only forgettable memories of a second-hand bicycle that I pedalled when I was a lad. I discarded it after I got injured while doing acrobatics on it in the middle of the road.)

Now, the dream had to be lived. I bought premium branded sports shoes and shorts. A cyclist needed to look modern, after all. A cycle might be a humble vehicle. Its rider need not be. I prided myself, after peeping into the mirror, on looking half my original age. I even entertained the dream of a faint proposal coming my way, mistaking me for a bubbling youth, from any equally ignorant passer-by from the other gender. You do not know when lady luck would knock (you down).

Before ascending the cycle, I called for a mini ceremony. You had to respect your vehicle. My wife grudgingly lit camphor in front of the machine and a bouquet of flowers was displayed over the handle bar. A lemon was cut into two and positioned near the two wheels on the point where they met the ground.

Now I was ready to pedal my way into the heart of my suburban township. I did not care when ‘my fair lady’ asked me suspiciously whether I had ever cycled in my life. I threw a damn “you-don’t-know-who-I-am” look. After all, a swimmer needed no lesson again. A driver needed no test-drive again for honing his skills. Once a cyclist, always a cyclist. I zoomed off.

The whole street looked anew. I was on cloud nine. I am an achiever, I told myself. I was on top of the world not until I just hazily spotted my neighbour coming opposite with a basket load of items shopped. For a moment, I forgot what I was expected to do to stop my speeding bicycle. I knew not how the wired-brakes operated. I rammed my bicycle into the poor lady, the contents of her bag flying in all directions. She lost her balance, poise and gait at the unexpected hit from a friendly soul. I fell on my side with a thud, bruising my knees and elbows badly. The only moment I remembered next was waking up from the bed moaning and murmuring, aches and pains all over my body. My wife was comforting my neighbour, the victim of my maiden ride, near our entry door. The doctor advised me “strict bed rest” for the next two months as I had torn a tendon or two.

Who said cycling is good for health? And whose health by the way? The cycle mischievously looked at me. Maybe, it was saying ‘a poor workman blames his tools.’

(The writer’s email: pushpasaran@yahoo.co.in)

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