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Smile, for you’re on a soaring kite 

141116 - Open Page - Soaring high

141116 - Open Page - Soaring high

From childhood I have associated cycling with freedom. I long for those days when we rode crazily down the slopes, eyes tight-shut, hands flying to the sides and nostrils taking in fresh air. We were like soaring kites, and with every gush of wind our spirits rose higher and higher. The fun continued in college too; riding my black Street-Cat, I was Asha Parekh in my own reverie.

Upon marriage, my bicycle, which had witnessed those carefree days, was given away to the helper, on which he brought vegetables and eggs. And I learnt the most essential ‘virtue’ needed for the survival of any fauji wife, in fact any wife — to demand. So I demanded a vehicle when I needed to go anywhere. I demanded when there was a ladies’ club meeting, I demanded when I had to pick up a matching churidar for my kurta from the market. And on days these demands were not met, I asked my ever-busy husband to ferry me to the place and back. So that is the story behind how wives became demanding.

But in reality I was reduced to a person on a wheel-chair. Tasks which earlier I used to fulfil so effortlessly with just a few pushes of the paddle, now required cycles of demand and wait. Yes, there was the option of a car. But as everyone knows, a man may trust his new wife, but he can never trust his new wife with his car. I am not at all exaggerating. For the first two years of our marriage, whenever I used to open the passenger side door to get down from the car, he would say, ‘Be careful!’

When it happened the first time, my heart was overwhelmed, but before I could get the chance to blush with sentiment, he added, ‘don’t bang it on pavement’. And I tell you, there is no fun in it, it is like riding in a cage, windows all rolled up to block the pollution, and somebody else wheeling the steering. You are literally taken for a ride. You don’t feel the air in your hair, enjoy the rhythm of your limbs as they move with the momentum or feel that elation of spirit as you smile as if kissing the air.

It is not that I don’t get to ride a bicycle. I do, but my point here is to extend cycling from recreational activity to a utilitarian activity. I know it is a wishful thinking, but imagine the big difference it will make if we start doing our day-to-day chores on a cycle, at least within a manageable radius of distance. In an average middle-class family, daily fuel consumption is so high.

First, the man’s up-down to office, then the kids up-down to school, market, friend’s place and then the lady’s visits to office, parlour, tailor, mall, and so on.

Believe me, there is a huge market conspiracy. First they give fat cheques to people and then they open fast and fatty food eating joints because the poor fellow has no time to cook for himself. And when he gets fat like his pay-cheque, they open the health spas, gyms. So whatever one earns, one spends it then and there.

All these problems have only one solution … yes, a bicycle. It will be our personal gym. Minimum maintenance, maximum benefits. I know, to many this may sound utopian. But this is quite possible. There is a prejudice that in the well-off classes only the young people, preferably the males, ride bicycles, and that too for sports activity. No, it is not so.

In advanced societies as in The Netherlands, it is a common sight to see a middle-aged woman going for her regular grocery shopping with her kid strapped in the front of her cycle and another kid trailing in a cozy buggy attached to the cycle. And that’s why many people there don’t own cars, not because they can’t afford it but because they don’t feel the need for it.

Yes, we are way behind that level. For that we need integration of cycling with public transport, and government policies that favour cycling. And frankly, the only visible support I have seen from political parties till date is from the Samajwadi Party which has the bicycle as its election symbol. But we can at least take the first steps, such as making the use of the cycle mandatory on certain tracks, or offices taking the initiative to encourage employees to cycle to work at least on certain days of the week.

In Pune, at the College of Military Engineering it is mandatory for everyone to use the cycle on two particular days in a week. It is so refreshing to see the cycle not only as a means of recreational activity but also as a mode of transport there, irrespective of class, rank, age and gender.

Rahagiri Day is another great initiative that has given wings to our fantasies, given us hope that, yes, it is possible to give the motors a break and let the child inside you be free and happy. I am sure the day is not far when we will actually have dedicated lanes for cyclists, with measures in place to ensure their safety.

Honestly, for me cycling is not a mere health activity or hobby. For me, it is a symbol of empowerment, a faith that yes, our society is progressing in a better way. There are many issues involved with women cyclists in India; I will not dwell on them. The day I get that courage to ride my bicycle on any road in our country, be it busy or lonely, in a group or solo, will be the day I will truly become a carefree and empowered woman on Indian roads.

And for that to happen we need more and more people on the roads on bicycles, a silent revolution to boycott the fuel-barons and make the administration see the need to make roads cycle-friendly. So people! Take out your cycles, go shopping, go for long rides. Enough of caged-rides, be a soaring kite, and feel the wind beneath your wings. And as the TV advertisement asks, ‘Why should boys have all the fun?’  

neovartika@yahoo.com


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Printable version | Jul 1, 2022 11:36:04 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/open-page-smile-for-youre-on-a-soaring-kite/article6603363.ece