Everyday when you take out the car, you see your motorbike lying in the basement, slanted, stooping in shame and embarrassment, in abject deprivation of the master’s attention. It gathers dust and pity, its body almost leaning against the basement pier, its headlight fuzzy and seats unwillingly bearing claw marks of an occasional trespassing cat.
You are either too busy or scared to ride the unforgiving streets. You have always ended up summoning the car, finding little time or inclination to either attend to the emaciated beast or let go of the comforts of the quiet padded wheel for the pleasant vibration of the rod. You have chosen to keep legs joined instead of parted; to sit behind the engine instead of going astride it.
And one day, your seven-year old kid whose doesn’t know how the bike-wind feels on the face or how moving your body through sight and smell of the road is like jolts you out of your inaction; of your piously ignoring what was once a silent witness to your many memories — of your first romantic outing; of a hurried dinner before a movie or a nervous late night ride back home through deserted streets after a night show; a leisurely ride on meandering roads hemming the changing cityscapes; carrying with difficulty the very first items of your new home (a broom stick, a plastic bathroom shelf or even a bucket), getting a pleasant squeeze across your midriff from someone behind you; the wind occasionally deforming your cheeks; and the sweet smell of sweat off the helmet.
So, you wake up early and take your animal for a bath long overdue. The security guard looks on and probably wonders why a car owner would condescend to clean a dusty bike all by himself. You ignore the look on his face.
The spokes have started rusting (but they still look beautiful amid the current crop of alloy wheels). The fuel gauge is dead and doesn’t tell you what’s inside the belly. You shake the bike and hear the comforting sound of petrol splashing on the inner walls of the tank. The self-start makes the nervous sound of an old door and refuses to rev the engine. You get down, move to the wrong side and kick repeatedly. The beast finally wakes up. It’s forgotten metals rub against each other readying themselves for another tryst with the tarmac. Okay, no, dust, this time. The sound of the animal to throttle response takes you back to the old days. An astounding 11 years, to the streets of Bangalore. You smile and move your fingers on the bulging tank. It still looks so new.
With your wife still taking a siesta in the heated Sunday afternoon, you wink at your kid and steal him from the bed. The little boy jumps with joy, puts on his skating helmet in a flash (you will forever wish he showed this agility while getting ready for the school) and rushes out to call the elevator. His eyes have a different glow. You try to keep up with his barrage of questions, ignoring many of them because either you don’t have an answer or he moves on to another one.
“Will I sit on the tank, papa, ” he asks.
“No. On the seat, ” you reprimand smilingly.
While leaving, you take the society vehicle pass sticker lying unused in the drawer. You have never bothered to stick it to the bike. The kid snatches the sticker from your hand.
“I will stick it papa.”
You can’t align it properly on the headlight, you are inclined to say, but keep quiet. The kid neatly finishes the job and jumps on seat.
A few minutes later, you get off the concrete road and roll on the narrow dusty lanes, trying to make sense of the landscape that you so easily mapped from the sixth floor of your apartment. The lush green meadows at a distance from where fragrant wind enters your balcony doesn’t look as near. You run into dead-ends and circle the same lanes.
“Papa, how far is the hill?” the kid asks, impatient.
You realize that moving your sight across the landscape below while sipping on the afternoon coffee in the balcony, following the birds who fly off your neighbour’s balcony and glide towards the distant hill, isn’t the same thing as riding a bike on a ground where roads hardly exist.
The light starts to fall. You become desperate and turn into a field, following what seems like a cattle track. Past a few houses, you see a clearing separated from you by a long broken wall (probably a government protected area whose boundary wall is broken by villagers to graze their cattle). You clearly see the hill at a distance, one shade darker than the sky, in a wavy outline. A torn polyethylene bag stuck to a sapling and fluttering in the wind like a forgotten robot urges you on to explore more.
You ride past gigantic termite mounds with thorny plants jutting out of them. Whether the plant tore through the mound or the mound engulfed the plant, you don’t know. Tall blades of dry grass that your kid tries to break off and collect rub against your trousers. They make a sound you have never heard while riding the streets of Bangalore.
You stop at a mango tree and look for stick. Voila! You keep jumping and hitting, dropping small green mangoes for the kid to collect with sheer excitement. His little hands are smeared with stem sap and you suddenly remember the “mango rashes” of your childhood. You wipe his hand clean with your hand and keep the mangoes in the small crevice between the odometer dials and the windscreen. You break with great difficulty thorns from bushes on your kid’s command. The wind grows cooler. You take the little hands holding you from behind and put them to your lips. The undulating ground rocks you and the humming of the one hundred fifty cubic centimeters of engine sings lullaby.
And then you see what you haven’t seen in the intervening 25 years. Spinning fruit. A wild fruit that can be made into a spinning top! You turn into a kid and the two of you run to collect as many as possible. The cattle are now coming back home, shitting and talking. You make your way through them.
Riding back home, you keep listening to your kid about things that you didn’t see but he did. He asks you to take him back to the same place soon. May be a little further. A little closer to the hill. You say “yes” and turn the bike into the society compound. You distribute a few mangoes among his friends who are playing downstairs.
On a different day, the kid would have asked you to leave him there so that he can play with his friends.
“Let’s do spinning top competition papa. Let’s see who wins, ” he says.
“Ou Khey” you say with an odd conviction and lift the little bundle into the elevator. The doors pull themselves shut and take you back to the sixth floor.