I missed cycling.
When I was in first standard, I got my first cycle. A ‘Hero’, painted in bright metallic blue, the coolest cycle ever. My legs wouldn’t reach the ground and I had trainer wheels on the sides of my cycle. But soon, I learnt how to balance after falling several times and still remember how proud I was when the mechanic removed the trainer wheels.
We were seven noisy girls and boys in our neighbourhood, who cycled daily. We screamed when we played lock and key, spoke in whispers when we played hide and seek and fought when we played cricket. But when we cycled, we were unanimously on cloud nine. It was an unexplainable, magical feeling, which only the pits and bumps of the corporation laid roads would know. We had impromptu cycle races, high jump competitions on speed-breakers, slow cycling races, circled round and round in the Mahatma Gandhi stadium, even made a few bird formations. We were always in awe when some random kid got a brand new cycle but loved ours like it was our atlantis treasure.
I drifted every time I stopped, because rubbing my chappals on the road and screeching to a stop was much cooler than applying the brakes! And I was really proud when the boys complimented how cool it was to see a girl do that. I just said, “Anyone can do this. No boy girl and all”.
Then I reached sixth standard. I had obviously outgrown my cycle. So I asked my parents for a new one. I told my Amma that I wanted to go to school by cycle. I loved my Hero bike and wanted another Hero. But there came these Ads on TV – BSA Ladybird for girls. And my Amma said, “Soon, you’ll be a big girl. This new Ladybird cycle does not have a bar in the middle. See how this is bent? This will be more comfortable since your school uniform is a skirt.”
I continued to fight, “No. But I want the other one. The one with the gear! This only has two colours and is boring! And I don’t want to sit on a ‘just-for-girls’ cycle.”My Amma replied, “Not a ‘girls’ cycle. This is a ‘Lady’bird. For confident ‘Ladies’. You shall soon become one”. My Amma put all her Masters in English education to good use in managing her troublesome daughter. She spoke patiently and convinced me somehow. Must’ve been really tough to raise me!
And true, during my initial menstrual months, when I came back home from school on my Ladybird, I had to take breaks because of my period pain. Ladybird was my friend because it allowed me to stand comfortably. I understood what Amma meant (Now I understand it even better as Gender sensibility).
BUT then, my friends, the boys, saw that all girls now owned Ladybirds and wouldn’t cycle with us anymore. Their view – our cycles were weak! And by ‘weak’ – The bar had gone, the spikes on the tyres had gone and were replaced with slender ones, and ours had huge baskets. And worse was the fact that the Ladybird Ads showed the cycle baskets with flowers! I didn’t use the basket for keeping flowers. It had my lunch bag and long-size composition notebooks!
According to them, ‘Hero meant Hero, masculine, so it is for boys. And Ladybird – means lady, feminine, so it is for girls’. It took the same art of balancing, the same act of pedalling, to cycle. Whether it was a Hero or a Ladybird. But the boys didn’t understand that.
Cycling gave me and my girl friends a sense of liberation – dressed up smartly in neatly ironed uniforms, happily riding with friends to school. And no wonder the CM of TN presented girls in govt. high school with cycles – (I strongly agree with this freebie!) to go happily to school.
The Hero cycles did look really cool, very bold. After I grew bigger and became the boss of my menstrual blood, I bought a new Hero cycle; a new model which had a lower bar (but still was sold for boys). Spiked tyres, no basket, fluid design, a comfortable cycle ride. A strange sense of liberation.
Now, after ten years, my friends and I (a squad of eight girls) went cycling in Solang valley. I was ecstatic to get a Mountain bike with gears (figured out how to use gears in the last few kms).
Same spiked tyres, no basket, fluid design, comfortable cycle ride. Again, a strange sense of liberation!
Image Credits: Prashant Bionic R., Bric-a-Brac Creations.