I am a bicycle living in Mumbai. I believe my ancestors once ruled the roads in this city and everywhere else in the world. But today we are an endangered species and I am lucky to be alive and get around in this busy city.
I am a bicycle that goes on recreational sporting trips and so far I have only seen places in this one city. For a long time since I came to my new home from the store where I was purchased, I only went on solo outings. More recently I have found a group and I have been on some group rides. When in a group, I get to see so many other kinds- some are skinny, some are rough and some are shiny with fancy lights. Some look like they need a bath and some look well maintained. I love to hear their stories, the places they have seen and the roads they have traveled. But we get very little time to sit around and chat.
I discovered there are male and female cycles. I don’t understand why having a rod sticking out can make one male. We ride the same roads, we climb the same hills, manage the same distance and race each other. We both do the same things, then why this difference? Here is another thing that I don’t understand. When male cycles see a female one like me riding solo, they at once have to overtake me. Not just the male cycles, even the big bus will try to bully me to the edge of the road. That surely is no way to show machismo!
As a bicycle I am invisible on the road. I seem to wear a magical coat, that no auto-rickshaw can see me on the road. Just as I am about to pass one by, it will suddenly turn in my direction trying to throw me off. The motorcycle thinks that I am an ancient past that shouldn’t exist and will try to whiz past so close to me, as to make me fall. The cars don’t see me at all, they think they own the road and honk loudly to shoo me off. Even a stationary car will suddenly open its door out to threaten me and humans on foot ignore me. Whether you are a male or a female bicycle it doesn’t matter, on the road we are invisible!
But I love being out on the road. Places which seem far are not so when I pedal to them. I get to see so many facets of the city, some of them can only be seen in the early hours. One day I saw a lady in a beautiful long orange dress running towards me near the Gateway of India. I was so excited thinking she was going to hug me, but she suddenly stopped and hugged a pole instead. Surprised, I turned to see that she was posing for a photograph. I wish she took a photo with me. Alas, I realised I am invisible. On one of the rides I got to see beautiful flamingos in the Sewri mudflats. These birds I believe travel 1000s of kilometers each year. I wish I had wings like them.
I also see some things that make me sad. In the mornings, I see many human males walking with a “lota” – this can be a small bucket made from old paint boxes or an old plastic bottle that has pepsi or coke written on them, or a metal container that has many dents. These human males go into the so called “fields” to fertilise them and water with the “lota”. But I have never seen human females. I wonder, what fields do they visit and when do they go? I worry about them. I also see a lot of humans lying on the roadside, homeless. I at least have a garage that I share with some nice mannered cars, so I am protected from the sun and rain, but these humans, I don’t know why they are homeless and how they manage.I hope the little human kids playing around have a better future than their parents.
I also have to endure weird smells in this city. I can mark each suburb with a smell based on the places I have visited. Each distinct and unique. While Juhu smells of garbage mixed with glamourous smells of the celebrities who live there, Marine Drive smells of the salty sea and sweat of the humans running there. Thane and Trombay have a brief air of freshness in the mornings, while one can get a waft of sambar and jasmine in Chembur and Matunga.
I would love to be on the road all times of the day. I am so small and take up so little space, yet I cannot find any space to move on the city roads during the day. I have to find early hours of the mornings or unearthly hours of the night to go out. I would love to go around for errands during the day, visit vegetable and fruit market, fetch groceries or visit kids at the school. But I can rarely do this for the fear of being knocked down or of being kidnapped when I try to park myself in a busy area. I wish it wasn’t so.
I know I could do many of these things if I were in a different city or different part of the world where bicycles are not invisible. Where we are valued for keeping the world green and noise free. I don’t know if I will ever be able to go there and get to do the many things I long for. However, I am thankful that I can go out sometimes at least- feel the fresh air on my nose, feel the wind pushing against me, see the rising sun and hear the birds chirping. I am grateful to have these experiences.