By Malangba Bangormayum
There are many cycle stories and cycle related incidents. I can relate some. The latest story was told to me by Mr. C. According to his story, a group of cycle enthusiasts approached one very powerful man with the idea for a cycle-way in and around Imphal. This group of enthusiasts, enthused by the deity of cycles, if there ever was one, felt that Imphal could become a cycle friendly city, if such an idea ever comes to materialize. This is a story, I reiterate. According to this story, the very powerful person in question after hearing them out expressed his surprise that these bright, sensible, well-educated persons should desire to ride bicycles. Time has gone when cycle was a status symbol. There might have been a time when you ride your bicycle, get down and lift it across a muddy puddle lest it dirties the wheels. Why have these people come together to ride bicycles, when everyone is toiling to drive cars, the big wheels… these are sons and daughter of well-to-do, respectable families. He might have thought in these lines. This line of thinking explains what he told them. As an elderly, guardian of the state, he advised the group through a rhetorical question – why ride bicycles when you can ride the latest cars? Stories work well when you know that though they are just stories, they could very well have been true. When this happens the story somehow gets a life of its own.
The other cycle-related incident was regarding the stealing of cycles. I don’t know whether cycles are still stolen. I say this because the cycle workshops from my localities have shut down to give way to new buildings and shops. They are going out of business. If I read it to be dwindling cycle-ridership, then cycle thievery cannot be also very profitable anymore. I saw once, while waiting for my bus a long time ago, the fastest cyclist ever. He was riding a stolen cycle. And a group of people were after him for his blood. He met with an accident. It was bound to happen considering the speed he was clocking. What followed afterwards was too gory for any re-telling. There was this famous Italian film on a bicycle thief. We also have our own a classic, with the scene in which the cycle thief is beaten to death.
My brother got a new bicycle, when he completed his tenth standard. My uncle took it to bazaar and it got stolen. The cycle was stolen brand new. My uncle stood at the marketplace every day with the hope of finding the cycle. He saw the cycle on one of these waits. Though defaced, he could recognized it as my brother’s cycle. He caught hold of the rider. The rider happened to be the brother of the thief. Anyway he was brought home, given some physical treatment by my uncle and his tough friends. I witnessed this as a kid. The mother to the thief and of the one, who was caught, came and cried her heart out. That ended the fiasco.
But the best story comes from Ukhrul. Mr. R, a gentleman from Ukhrul, and who happened to be my junior in University told me a wonderful story about a man and a cycle. The incident happened long time ago. He didn’t witness it. His father witnessed it as a boy. So, the incident does have the uncertainty that historical distance can sometimes give. The distance also conjures up a picture of really bad roads connecting Imphal and Ukhrul. This man from Ukhrul came to Imphal. I don’t know how the transportation must be at that time. He came; he got a cycle and went home. Then, the interesting part comes. He learnt to ride it on the church yard, the only cycle-worthy place, then, in his village. He had no place to ride except for that little area. The jibes of the city dwellers and village dwellers, he bore on every turn of the wheels. He must have left muddy trails labouring the cycle on his back on the mud hill-roads leading to his village. He did all this knowing well that, that patch of cycle-able flat ground would be all that he would be riding on. I instantly liked him. Why? I leave the analysis to you.
The little that I know of Ukhrul comes from a one-time visit and that too quite some time ago as a boy of seven years old. I accompanied my parents. My father had some project there. We stayed at a guest house, overlooking the Siroi hills. I heard ghost stories about the guest house. I played at the children’s park, where I could not see even a single child except for myself in that one month stay. I remember the place as all ups and downs – hardly a cycle-able place, atleast, with the kind of cycles that must be at that time.
I had a Humber cycle once. I got it from a cycle workshop. It was lying unclaimed. So, the cycle mechanic sold it on my expressed interest. It was in pretty bad shape. I got it painted and got the works done. I had to get the head lamp and the dynamo: the thing fascinated me, when I was a kid. I was now old enough to have it. Then my would-be wife came along. She didn’t say a word as long as we were friends. When our friendship transformed into a promise of a lifetime together, then the first thing that she demanded of me was to get rid of the bicycle. As if the poor cycle was a competition, it was her or the cycle. Read the “or” as exclusive disjunction, not inclusive. She gave an ultimatum. She did not want to know the many good sides of cycling a Humber in our land. Though, marital prospects might not be bright if you are cycling it, frisking by personnel wielding AK rifles, is drastically reduced. Believe me.
I had to concede to her: neither can the bicycle speak, nor blackmail you, emotionally.