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More than the sum of its parts

An 11-year-old tears down a cycle but is unable to put it back together

My father’s favourite Sunday activity was maintenance of his Ambassador car. I would watch in fascination as he effortlessly went about his hobby, happily whistling a tune. It convinced me that vehicle maintenance was the easiest thing to do.

When I turned 11 and learnt to ride a bicycle, my parents decided to buy me one. Sukhdevji, the proprietor of the cycle shop, addressed me directly, making me feel important. Then, he selected a machine for me and sweetened the deal with a free bell and a spongy seat cover.

Sukhdevji and Brijlal, the mechanic who put it all together, walked to the door and formally handed over the spanking new bicycle to me. Before I pedalled off, they advised me to come back after a fortnight for oiling and minor adjustments.

On my visit, Brijlal tightened a few nuts, oiled the chain and inflated the tyres. I was asked to return after a month.

But I decided to maintain the bicycle myself. Had I not observed Brijlal’s work closely? It was all so easy.

One Saturday, a half-day at school, Appa was away at work and Amma had gone to visit Aunty Mathur. I took the car’s tool-kit. Also other useful things such as Amma’s kitchen pincers and her can of sewing machine oil. I started whistling Appa’s tune and went about the work.

One hour later, as the bicycle was torn down, there was a knock on the door. It was Amma. I proudly led her to my workplace. She surveyed everything, but did not utter a word. She picked up her pincers and pulled my ears with it till I let out a cry in pain. Only then did I realise that something was wrong. Reluctantly, I began putting the parts back. But nothing seemed to be fitting. When Appa returned home, he looked at me sternly but did not say anything.

It’s a tradition

Though even today I am not too sure, I think I heard the suppressed laughter of Appa and Amma and words which translate to “family tradition of fixing things which ain’t broke”.

Soon, Appa helped me collect the parts in a gunny bag and sent me to Sukhdevji in a cycle-rickshaw.

Brijlal saw the gunny bag, the bicycle frame and the two wheels. A quick glance at me and my sheepish, disconcerted look told him everything. No explanations were required. He just yelled to inform Sukhdevji, “The work of yet another budding engineer has arrived.”

ktudupa@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 5:43:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/article30950556.ece

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