Updated: Jul 5, 2021
I first fell head over heels in love at the delicate young age of ten years.
From that day, ironically, Mirza Ghalib’s poetry has always had a place in my life. I will explain how in this story.
You all must have heard lines from his famous poem at some point in your life:
हजारों ख्वाहिशें ऐसी कि हर ख्वाहिश पे दम निकले बहुत निकले मेरे अरमाँ, लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले
When means to sustain are limited, a brand-new cycle is a very big deal. And even more if that gleaming black beauty is standing in your home, shining and ever inviting. Believe me, it is difficult even for a disciplined child to resist the temptation to take it out for a ride.
That is how my love story began.
So, the story goes like this:
My brother Shyam, despite our mere and basic means of living, always found a way to live better than all of us, and in that spirit, brought home a new shining black bicycle.
When I first saw it, I understood what love must feel like. There it stood, the most magnificent piece of machinery I had ever seen. Majestic black in colour, shining unabashedly, it exuded a presence that I had only read in stories. My young mind went to all the travels I could go to, only if I could ride this beauty.
The thought did not leave my mind, through the day. The night was no different. In the spirit of true love, I decided to take it out for a spin, despite the grave dangers associated with my decision. The wrath of my elder brother, who had warned me many times to strictly stay away from the cycle, weighed on my mind many times, but I was bedazzled in the true sense.
Since I was small, I had a fascination for vehicles. I drove many kinds through my life. At the age of four, I was the proud owner of a tricycle and a solo hat, both gifts from my eldest brother Om bhai. One evening, he came back from office and took me to Central Park market in Lodhi Colony. He bought me a nice-looking tricycle. I told him, bhai, I would like a bell to put on my cycle and I also want a sola hat just like Bauji wears.
Om Bhai was highly amused at my request for the Sola hat at this age. However, he fulfilled both my wishes. I was the happiest child in the world, proudly peddling my tricycle in our block, with my sola hat on my head, repeatedly pressing the bell. It is one of my happiest memory.
Back to my love story with Shyam Bhai’s new Cycle: So, love triumphed in the end, as it usually is supposed to. I meticulously schemed and planned to take my brother’s new cycle, the black beauty out for a ride, when he was not at home.
The cycle had almost taken over my senses. I prayed to God every day to send Shyam away from home for some time. My brother would leave home in the morning, riding the black beauty and returned home late in the evening. The whole day, I waited for the black beauty to be back home.
Here, I am reminded of another couplet by Ghalib outlining the plight of a forlorn lover.
ये न थी हमारी क़िस्मत कि विसाल-ए-यार होता
अगर और जीते रहते यही इंतिज़ार होता
The adage that God listens when you pray selflessly is true. And if you are a ten-year-old child, I guess the Universe makes concessions too. My prayers were answered in a few days when Shyam had to leave the city for some urgent work.
My brother left the cycle home, securely positioned in his room. I sensed my chance and told myself, it was now or never.
Trembling with anticipation, I stood in front of Black Beauty, my eyes full of admiration and love. I ran my hand all over it, professing my true love.
Finally, I quietly sneaked out through the back door with black beauty. I rode it like a knight rides its horse just before a war. I truly felt like the king of the world!
Soon I was cycling at full speed in and around Lodhi Colony playing various courage-filled war scenarios in my mind. Sometimes, I was charging at full speed towards the enemy when on a straight road and at other times, I was dodging the army when turning in any direction. There were imaginary war cries and ruthless slaying of enemies too.
I was so happy driving the black beauty that even my lungs were filled with thrill. In a state of overjoyed ecstasy, my little feet paddled on and travelled through Khanna market, Central Park area and Mehar Chand market, also known as Refugee market.
My war saga was short lived.
This is how it happened. I took bicycle on the Seva Nagar Road that had a high incline. Heaving a deep breath, I cycled down the climb at full speed, taking my both hands off the handle.
Just as the enemy can strike from any direction in the war, a royal Enfield motorcycle came from the opposite direction, and hit my front wheel.
Like a true hero, I went down fighting bravely.
My black beauty fell, and its front wheel twisted from the middle. I also sustained minor bruises.
As sun hit my eyes, reality struck me hard. The cycle was damaged. I could already see Shyam Bhai hanging me upside down.
I started crying at the top of my voice. A small crowd gathered around me, blaming the motorcycle driver. Their sympathies were clearly with me, a small and frail ten-year-old child bruised in the accident.
Sensing mood of the crowd, the gentleman on the bike apologized profusely and offered me five rupees to get the bike repaired. Presence of mind stuck me and I refused to accept the five rupees saying, what if the cycle mechanic asked for more than five rupees. I also said that I had no money in my pocket.
The crowd, now self-appointed judges, and clearly on my side, completely agreed with me. The bike guy had no choice but to walk with me to the nearby cycle repair shop. The crowd even followed us right up to the shop.
The Sardar ji, owner of the shop, inspected the cycle like an expert and said that repairs will cost ten rupees. After some haggling, the bike guy and Sardar ji agreed on eight rupees for the cycle repair compensation.
The bike gentleman patted me on my back and left. The crowd, satisfied that justice had been done, dispersed too. The Sardar ji looked at me and asked, are you a friend of my son, Gurdial. I have seen you before.
Sensing that I was in a safe space, I said confidently, yes uncle, we are class fellows. Now more sympathetic than before, he asked me to narrate what had happened.
In true style of a war hero, I narrated my tale of woes adding some made up emotional spice to the story. But my main emphasis was on the forthcoming beating that awaited me at home in the hands of elder brother.
The Sardar ji, visibly moved by my story, asked me to come back after two hours. Like a true well-wisher, he promised that he would restore the bike to its original condition. He said, no one would be able to make out that it ever met with an accident.
My sinking heart lifted at his magical words. I thanked him, leaving the shop and made a beeline for Lodhi Garden. In my view, it was the safest place to hide from the enemy till I regained energy and restored the black beauty to its original glory.
I spent the next two hours hiding in the corner behind the tomb on the farthest side of the garden, in exile. At last the two hours were over and I presented myself at cycle repair shop.
Sardar ji uncle had done a great job and the black beauty stood tall, proud and magnificent as ever. I walked the cycle back home with utmost care and sneaked back again, using the back door. I kept
the cycle at its original resting place and slipped away to my room.
My brother came home late in the evening and did not go near the black beauty. Next morning, as he was getting ready to go for his shorthand & typing classes, I went to him and said humbly, Shyam bhai, should I take the cycle out and clean it?
He looked at me and said good boy, go ahead and clean the cycle. I took the black beauty out and cleaned it thoroughly, all the while speaking to it and apologizing for the injury it to withstand yesterday. My brother was quite impressed and gave me four Anna coins, now 25 paisa as reward with a big smile. I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked God for his mercy.
I felt redeemed.
Since black beauty could not be mine, I turned my attention to Shyam Bhai’s old tattered bike. He was intending to sell it to the kabaddi (the scrap dealer) to make some money.
I approached him putting my best charming smile and requested him to give his old cycle to me. He bluntly refused asking me to run away and concentrate on my studies.
I thought long and hard about what my next strategy should be. Then I used the mantra I knew was unbeatable.
My unconquerable strategy: Mata ji. I was the favourite child of my mother and I knew only she could persuade Shyam bhai. I went to her sobbing and told her that Shyam bhai was selling the old bike to the scrap dealer.
Then I said in a pleading tone that it was only a tattered cycle and I wanted it for myself. My mother saw reason in my pleading. She summoned Shyam bhai and asked him to give the cycle to me.
Shyam Bhai gave me dagger looks but he had no options. In our house, my Mati’s word was the rule. He tried to reason with Mati that it was a wrong decision. He proclaimed confidently that if I was given the bicycle, I would be loitering around the whole day and it would affect my studies.
Do not worry, leave that to me, my Mati said sternly to Shyam Bhai. Although Bhai had to give in, he decided to give me an earful. He took me aside and said beta, awaragardi karo, let studies go to hell.
His words had no impact for obvious reasons. The old tattered bicycle was mine. I had succeeded. I took the injured bicycle outside and examined it.
It had no pedals, no mud guards. One or more of its rims were broken, the chain was loose, brakes were not working, and its seat saddle was broken. It also had no back seat.
My mind was racing at 100 Kms per hour. I was again reminded of my friend Gurdial’s Sardar ji father. His cycle shop had once saved my life. The repair shop was in Khanna market, 100 yards away from our house.
Gurdial also used to work at the cycle repair shop after school hours. I rushed to their repair shop. Luckily for me, Gurdial was alone at the shop. He examined the cycle and asked me to leave the cycle with him for two hours. Without telling his father, he used some old cycle parts to repair the cycle as much as was possible. When I went back after two hours, the cycle was roadworthy, but he did not have any pedals to put on the cycle.
I did not have any money to pay him and he also refused to charge any money, saying anything for my friend. I gave him a tight hug and cycled my way back home.
Next day, when we met in school, I took Gurdial for a treat of kachori channa, a speciality, made by Pandit ji during recess. Every day during recess time, Pandit Ji set up his Khoncha (moving shop), at a fixed point on the parapet wall of the school.
The total cost of the treat was two annas, equal to twelve and half paisa today. His kachori channa had taste of its own. He would make a big hole in the middle of kachori and fill it with delicious channa and his special chatni. You could ask for extra helping of channa and Pandit ji would readily oblige. Gurdial was a little weak in studies as he was working at the cycle repair shop most of the time after school hours.
To pay him back and help a dear friend, I gladly helped him with studies. We studied in Government High School, Lodhi road.
With the cycle ready minus the pedals, I was now ready to play cycle polo, one of our favourite game. It would be difficult to drive the cycle without the pedals, but it was a small price to pay for the thrill of riding it and playing on it.
We used to play cycle polo in our school ground. I announced about my acquisition to my friends and they all assembled to have a look at my proud possession. One look at the cycle and they asked me to promise that I would be gentle on their bikes. This was because I had nothing to lose if my cycle got damaged, but their parents or elder brothers would knock the hell out of them. I chuckled devilishly and said God Promise touching my throat.
That is how we promised during those days. It was considered an unbreakable vow.
Our next step was to collect funds and locate a good carpenter. We needed him to make eight polo clubs and a round ball made from solid wooden block.
The game went like this: Riding our bicycles, we had to score goal in rival goal posts with our polo clubs. We kept huge stones six feet apart as goal posts. We charged towards rival goal posts with passion and war-cries. It was enthralling and a collaborative activity building camaraderie, and lifelong friendships.
At ten years of age, I often prayed hard to God to give me a gleaming cycle like black beauty. At that time, I did not know that I was going to ride many vehicles including air force planes and army vehicles. At different stages in my life, I have owned a bicycle, a scooter, a motorcycle, and many different brands of cars at different times. God has been very kind.
As poet Omar Khayyam beautifully puts it:
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
This quote expresses the notion that whatever one does in one's life is one's own responsibility and cannot be changed. So, give all your desires your complete attention and effort.
This is a story of my childhood. Incidents of young age are often indications of our perseverance and are character forming.
Which incidents from your childhood do you remember?