Dear Reader: Here is my column published in The Punekar magazine today
(If you are A Punekar then you must read The Punekar)
A Punekar Cycles Down Memory Lane
CYCLE TOWN PUNE
As a child, I remember cycling all around Pune. Pune was a Cycle-Town then and was known as the Cycle Capital of India. Pune had the maximum number of cycles but with the advent and proliferation of scooters, this honour was taken over by Delhi and Pune became the Scooter Capital of India.
Let’s hark back to the 1960s and talk about Cycle Town Pune. In those days 90 percent of the vehicles on the roads were bicycles with just few scooters, an ambassador or fiat car zipping by once in a while. Auto-rickshaws were beginning to make their appearance and a rare PMT bus could be seen once in a while. If you do not believe me, take a look at the scene in Sangam movie, (1964) where Raj Kapoor is seen merrily cycling down Jangali Maharaj Road (known as 80 Feet Road – then the widest road in Pune).
Cycling in those days was fun, easy and convenient. However, today I dare not try to cycle on the roads of Pune, unless I want to land up in a hospital with my bones broken or worse still in the morgue with my body crushed to pulp. There is just no place for the poor cyclist in the murderous traffic. In fact, the only place you can cycle are on the cycle-lanes on those small stretches of the BRTS routes, which thankfully have still not been encroached upon (of course, even here you risk being knocked down by a motorcyclist) or you can pedal away on those obscure cycle-tracks, which take you nowhere.
Now-a-days, for most youngsters, cycling is a hobby, a sport, a recreation, a passion or an environment friendly thing to do, unlike the days when cycling was primary means of transportation. Today, you will get a variety of fancy bikes offered at exorbitant rates, which most people buy only as a status symbol. The market is full of variety of bicycles like terrain, sports, BMX, racing, and all sorts of hybrid bikes, which look good but are equally uncomfortable to ride. The other day I took a long ride on a youngster’s MTB; I landed up with a severe pain in the you know where, that I thought I had got hernia.
In my younger days, it was not snob appeal but utility value that governed the design of bicycles. The predominant cycle those days was what is called the “Roadster” in bicycle parlance. The Roadster was a utility bicycle designed for practical transportation unlike the fancy bikes of today, which are primarily designed for recreation and showing-off.
I never cycled to burn calories but to commute from one place to another. Of course, fitness was a by-product, as in my college days I used to cycle about 20 kilometres every day breathing fresh unpolluted air and this was healthy exercise. I cycled in my normal clothes and not in “biking wear” and that’s why the Roadster had proper mud guards and chain guards to keep it clean.
In addition to comfort, the qualities looked for were sturdiness, durability and endurance – a cycle was a permanent long term acquisition, not a ‘use and throw’ item. Well, today you may not find the humble roadster displayed along with those fancy bikes in one of those high-falutin cycle malls in Pune but have a look on the roads and you will see that the redoubtable roadster is still going strong and if you care to go to the mofussil you will see that this humble bike is still the predominant mode of transportation. Also if you go down to the cycle marts in Budhwar Peth you will see that these unpretentious bikes are still selling in plenty.
In our days, there were no kiddie or children’s bikes to pamper us.I learnt how to cycle the hard way on the hardy adult roadster bikes, which entailed many falls and bruises, including one on my forehead, the scar of which is prominently visible even today. I learnt how to cycle when I was seven or eight but I got my first cycle in 1968, on my 12th Birthday. It was an Atlas cycle for the amount of Rs 180. I fitted my bike with a dynamo and light (for night riding), a bell, a carrier and a sleek stand. I felt on top of the world as I rode my brand new shining black Atlas cycle.
I used my rugged Atlas Cycle for over fifteen years and it was still going strong when I gave it away to a needy student (this redoubtable bike was fully operational when I last saw it in the year 1998). Soon I bought a brand new Hero cycle for around three hundred bucks, which I used for cycling all around town whenever I came to Pune on my weekend trips or holidays from Mumbai where my ship was based. Though I had a scooter by then, which I used for family outings, I still rode my bike for my solitary travels in Pune. Unfortunately my newlywed wife refused to ride double-seat with me (à la Dev Anand and Mumtaz in Tere Mere Sapne) though she rode a ladies cycle herself in college. By the way, riding double-seat and without a light at night were traffic offences and if caught the cops deflated your tyres as punishment.
There were cycle-stands all over, in cinemas, at railway stations and till the 1980s, the bicycle was still the most popular mode of transportation in Pune since distances were not that much and then the traffic was not that heavy. But by now, scooters were slowly taking over as people were increasingly in a hurry to get wherever they wanted to go.
I quit cycling in Pune sometime in the end 1980s. The traffic situation in Pune had become quite bad, heavy vehicles, buses, cars and scooters ruled and after a few close shaves in the dangerous traffic, my wife prohibited me from cycling on the streets of Pune.
Cycling kept me healthy. Those days, as I cycled to college or work, the physical effort while cycling helped remove my stress, unlike driving a car or scooter in the chaotic traffic of Pune which drives you crazy. Almost everyone cycled to school and college and to work and back, all the way from the heart of Pune city even to far-off places like the factories in Khadki and beyond. Cycling was a healthy affordable way of commuting.
Sometimes as I watch the serpentine evening traffic moving at snail’s pace from Hinjewadi to Wakad, I wonder how things would have been different, if everyone rode bicycle to work just like the yesteryear Pune.
As I write this blog, I have decided to relive those good old days. So I am going to get myself a cycle – yes, an old-style standard roadster bike. Maybe I’ll try a Hercules this time. Only thing is that I will have to find a road to cycle on, besides the BRTS track nearby.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
Did you like this article? I am sure you will like the stories in my recently published book COCKTAIL comprising twenty seven short stories about relationships. To know more please click the links below:
Do try out this delicious, heady and exciting COCKTAIL
About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
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