Cycling to Vasanthapura
Benny was the first to come up with the idea that we should cycle to his village on the outskirts of Bangalore. It was August, and we eagerly awaited the 15th— Independence Day—which would be a great time to make the trip.
Karnesh, Benny, and I owned full-size bicycles, and Nishore rode a small BSA. The bigger cycles had carriers, so we could each take an additional person along. Benny’s sister, Jessie, and Susheela, Joseph’s sister, insisted on coming. We couldn’t refuse; they threatened to sabotage our plan by telling our parents that it was too dangerous for us to ride that far.
We needed to take water, snacks, and some cash in case of a puncture, so we saved our pocket money and collected ten rupees – a princely sum in those days! Ma and Daddy bought us biscuits and orange-colored, honey-filled sweets that we liked. Joseph and Susheela’s Aunty, Nimmi, also gave us cookies, while Benny’s dad promised us a hearty lunch at their village home afterward.
“How are we going to cycle that far with passengers?” Karnesh asked.
“We can take turns cycling, can’t we?” Chitti replied.
Benny looked thoughtful. “There are some roads where we would have to walk. They are very steep,” he commented.
I got a flash of inspiration. I ran to the Gulmohar tree near Joseph’s home and climbed up. “What’s up, da, Chandu? We have not finished our planning,” Benny commented crossly, as I broke off a long, straight branch as thick as my wrist.
After returning home, I borrowed my dad’s hacksaw and brought out my bicycle. I measured the pedal, marked twice that length on the branch, and began sawing.
“Move aside, Chandu,” Nishore said. “I will do it.” I gave up willingly; it was hard work. Nishore had a knack with tools, anyway, and he soon cut through the wood.
“Now, cut me one more, Nishore,” I asked.
While he did that, I ran to Karthick, the cycle shopman, and asked for an old rubber innertube. Nishore and I then cut the rubber into long strips and tied the wooden lengths to the pedals.
Lastly, I asked Joseph to sit on the rear carrier. I began pedaling and asked him to place his feet on the extensions, and we cycled together. We could go twice as fast! The entire gang clapped and whistled as we rode.
August 15th dawned. It was a beautiful day. The sun was just peeking over the railway tracks on the other side of the road while all of us ate a quick breakfast at my home. We had to patiently listen to our parents warn us that we should be careful and to behave ourselves in the village.
Soon after heading out, we cycled up the gentle slope toward Clarence High School and went beyond the ITC factory. Bangalore was resplendent with bougainvillea flowers, which bloomed on the trees and over the compounds of many bungalows. The varied colors—pink, orange, and white—dazzled in the sunlight.
Soon, we were crossing Maruti Seva Nagar with vineyards on both sides of the road, where we stopped to pick some grapes that were hanging over the wires. The juicy fruit tasted amazing. We waited at the Indian Oil railroad crossing as a goods train slowly chugged past. We waved at the driver, and he smiled at us and pulled the whistle. We covered our ears at the deafening sound. After it passed, the gateman slowly wound the lever, and the gate lifted, giving way.
Joseph and I, with our modified cycle, raced ahead. Benny, the poor guy, had to cycle at the pace that Jessie wanted him to. She threatened to twist his ears and pinch him if he did otherwise.
Karnesh labored with Chitti on the front bar and Susheela in the back. Joseph and I carried the snacks and water. We stopped near a big Peepal tree, where we ate the grapes we had plucked, and drank lots of water. We looked across the empty fields that had been plowed recently. The dry soil on top and the dark wet brown of the furrows lay neatly across the land.
In the distance, we could see many small villages with their red-tiled roofs. People were out in the fields, and flocks of sheep and goats nibbled on the grass. We coasted down to the ITI Township.
“Look!” Karnesh yelled as he stopped suddenly.
A mongoose was fighting a snake at the edge of the road. The grey beast and the black serpent fought furiously. We stood and watched, fascinated by the battle. Suddenly, the mongoose leaped into the air, landed on the snake’s back, and gripped its head in its fangs. It looked at us with its beady eyes and ran off with its prize still struggling.
Jessie wanted to cycle for a while. She was good at it. We crossed Krishnarajapuram road and made our way toward Vasanthapura. We slowly negotiated the bends and the curving, undulating road along the way, with dry, dusty fields on each side. We skirted around a deep granite quarry. Far below, we saw toy-yellow-and-red dump trucks slowly laboring up the road cut into the grey, solid granite walls.
The village was now barely a kilometer away, and Jessie, Chitti, and Benny’s ancestral house was right in the middle. We reached the large, tile-roofed house and collapsed onto the cold mud floor of the veranda. Their aunt Sarala walked out, holding wonderfully cold water straight from an earthen vessel.
After hydrating, we explored the vast compound and found a guava tree laden with fruit. Nishore climbed it and found some ripe ones and, at Jessie’s insistence, picked some raw ones. Benny’s aunt gave us a knife, some salt, and chili powder, and we enjoyed a mini feast.
Next, we rode to Benny and his siblings’ ancestral land. Right in the middle of it was an abandoned British tank from 1909. We sat in the large structure’s comforting shade, where we could see the vast lake bordering the village and decided to enjoy some swimming and crab fishing.
After cycling in the noonday sun, we ran and jumped into the cool waters of the lake. We paddled for a while, and then got out and went toward the shore. We looked for small bubbles in the wet mud – a sure sign of crabs hidden underneath. We broke off sticks from the trees on the bank and dug out the small, feisty crustaceans.
Susheela got her finger caught in the pincer of an unusually large crab, which caused her to yell out in pain, and in her typical way, she ripped off the crab’s claw. We knew by painful experience to not say anything—we didn’t want any of our limbs to go missing.
After filling up a tin bucket with crabs, we returned to the house and gave them to Aunt Sarala, who cooked them with a masala that had our mouths watering from the aroma. We were hungry, to say the least. Chicken curry, crab masala, and rice for lunch, with some delicious buffalo milk curd with sugar for dessert, was followed by an hour of sleeping in the shady veranda.
We still wanted to visit the enormous banyan tree that was another two kilometers from the village, so we said goodbye to our wonderful host aunt Sarala and rode out.
When we reached the verdant banyan tree, it looked like a small forest, so we sat down underneath and feasted on the snacks we had brought. We were almost finished eating when a brown and white rabbit shot out of a nearby burrow. We ran helter-skelter trying to catch it somehow, but we were no match to the wily and fast bunny, so we gave up the chase.
An hour later, Karnesh reminded everyone that it was time to go home. Compared to the ride out, the return journey was much slower, as the road was a torturously steep climb. More than once, we got off the bikes and pushed until we were breathless. Everyone except Joseph and me that is. Our innovation helped us climb the slope easily, causing the others to look at us with undisguised envy.
The sun was slowly setting in the west. Across the sky, we saw birds flying back home in a V formation. Clouds tinged with orange and gold floated lazily across.
Ma was waiting for us back home, sitting on the stone steps by our blue front door.
“You are just in time! How was the day?” she asked.
“It was a great day, Ma,” Nishore replied. We all agreed.
Slowly, the others pushed their bicycles home and went inside. I sat for a while, reminiscing. I only wished we could have caught that rabbit. “Maybe next time,” I thought as I stood slowly and shut the door behind me on that wonderful day of cycling.