On 26 June 1978, my father and my cousin Pradan annan bought a cycle for me. It was a Hero ladies cycle. In those days, it was a very common kind of cycle, but one rarely sees it on the road these days.
It was a tall cycle and I could not reach the ground if I were sitting on the seat. To get on, I used the technique of giving the cycle a push, with my left foot on the left pedal and my right foot on the road behind me and then jumping on. The ample space in front between the seat and the handle bars allowed me to swing my right leg over to the pedal on the other side even when wearing a pavadai, which is a long skirt. The bike did not have gears, and this made negotiating long stretches of uphill roads rather difficult. For three years in school and two years in college, I took the bike wherever I went. It became so much like a part of me, that I found it awkward to walk on the road without it, as if I did not know what to do with my hands.
Most high school kids in my school had bikes. I remember one time when almost the whole school biked over to Lalbagh for the annual flower show. It was a long distance from Richards Town but was good fun. We had asked for a holiday saying, “How could we ever get to see the flower show if we kept having school?” Mr. Flack, knowing that we were actually fishing for a holiday, told us to cycle up to Lalbagh and return to school. We had hoped that we would have the day off, and now, the only way we could avoid school was by actually biking the distance. I think we had some teachers biking with us as well.
After five years of cycling, I stopped almost completely because two of my friends lost their mothers in road accidents, and I found that I could not cope with the traffic. Cycles of this type have all but disappeared from the roads these days, but not from the memories of many young women of bygone years.
I can see myself whizzing downhill from Clarence High School towards Tannery road on my way home . . . in the rain . . . against the wind . . . soaked to the bone . . . shivering . . . but free . . .
[Apparently, these cycles are known as ‘Roadsters’ or Dutch Bicyles. You can find out more about them at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadster_(bicycle)]