‘My Raleigh was truly character-building and all that jazz’

Author Anuja Chandramouli recalls mystery-laced memories around a bright red Raleigh bicycle which fed her creativity

November 20, 2018 04:27 pm | Updated November 21, 2018 10:47 am IST

Nobody forgets their first wheels even if it isn’t particularly sexy or ever likely to adorn fancy billboards with John Abraham straddling it. I was about four when it came into my possession. A beautiful red Raleigh bicycle which had been gifted to my dad by my grandfather in the ’60s. The pater is a hoarder, if there ever was one, and had guarded it with his life. So it was a proud day, when he bequeathed it to his first-born.

Learning to ride a bicycle can be a traumatic experience, especially if you are averse to falling. But I carry no scars or emotional baggage thanks to Dad’s foresight in hanging on to the training wheels as well. They made the learning process a beautiful, bruise-free one. I am happy to report that my four-year-old self mastered the art fairly quickly. Soon I was spending every waking moment on my lovely bicycle, fancying myself an intrepid explorer like Magellan. Of course, in reality, Mum, who had this irrational fear that her daughter would get hit by a truck, expressly forbade me from riding outside our ancestral home. She even had paid enforcers to execute her rules — not that it stopped me from embarking on daring adventures.

One involved an expedition to verify if there were ghouls suspended from the hidden branches of the large mango tree in Grandmum’s garden (I had it on good authority from our cook who may or may not have been trying to get rid of a pesky child). In hair-raising ventures of a blood-curdling nature, one finds that self-confidence is boosted if a quick getaway vehicle is available. Thanks to my trusty steed, I felt brave enough to undertake many perilous missions in search of buried treasure and fabled monsters. We never returned empty handed — our cup runneth over with discarded marbles, the odd chocolate wrapper, dead frogs and on one magnificent occasion; lizard eggs in a forgotten switch board.

The thrills were too many to be described and the dangers were real. On that terror-fraught day, I was cycling along briskly, when my unusually sharp eyes caught sight of a tiny beehive in the making. Convinced it was a fairy’s cottage, I abandoned my customary caution and blundered in for a closer look, only to see the winged monster, a heartbeat before it stung me on the nose. In my haste to get away from the abomination, I fell off my faithful cycle for the very first time. It was painful, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

Besides, my horrific accident prepared me for what happens when obnoxious adults overrule the protests of your mother and make you lose the training wheels. What followed is too heart-rending to relate, but it did teach me the importance of never allowing your fears to get the better of you. My first wheels were truly character-building and all that jazz!

My Raleigh bike had a glorious reign, but succumbed to extreme old age. I now own a pink BSA Ladybird cycle with a basket plus bell, and have taken the kids and puppies for many awesome rides. Then and now, I believe in eco-friendly ways to see the world. The fact that I flunked my driving exam on account of getting panicked behind the wheel and feeling like I was going to crash into the sound barrier while doing 15mph has nothing at all to do with it.

— As told to Divya Kala Bhavani

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