Cycling Down the Memory Lane *

Homen Thangjam **

Manipur Cycle Club (MCC) 1st Foundation Day on 23rd january, 2012
Manipur Cycle Club (MCC) 1st Foundation Day on 23rd january, 2012 :: Pix by Tiken Thockchom

'Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.'
Kevin Arnold

The first time I had my "own" bi-cycle was in 1990. My parents had promised to buy me a Hero Ranger if I successfully clear my high school leaving examination. On my part, more than passing the examination, the desire to own one was inspired by a cycle-ride we had undertaken in the summer of 1989.

The cycle-ride was chiefly undertaken to settle a debt of Rs. 350. I had borrowed the money to buy an audio cassette of Motor Head (Peacock brand) at Calcutta en route home during the summer vacation. Our mission was to repay the debt to my school mate at Yairipok.

My idea to settle the debt was warmly welcomed by my friends in my leikai (Kongpal Chanam Leikai, Imphal). They were ready to give up a day's game of hockey in their show of comradeship. However, we faced three major difficulties. First, none of us had our own cycles; forget about Ind-Suzuki or Yamaha Rx 100 or Bajaj Kawasaki, which were the craze of the teenagers at that time.

Secondly, we were unsure of getting consent from our parents as the route we were supposed to take (Ngariyan Hills) was considered to be a site of armed conflict and thus unsafe. Finally, I did not exactly know Zakirrudin's home at Yairipok. In spite these challenges we decided to undertake the journey on borrowed cycles without revealing the distance to the owners and without seeking parental consent. The third challenge, we decided to resolve once we reached Yairipok.

Five of us (Amujao, Subada, Ingocha, Dineshwar and I) started on the journey one fateful rainy morning. The rain and for that matter the distance or other handicaps did not deter us. We were at an age when we thought anything was possible. It was a smooth ride up to the Irilbung Bridge.

By the time we crossed Sandrok, pedaling on the muddy terrain, and started climbing Ngariyan, we encountered our first mishap. We were struggling to remove the stuck-up red mud from our tyres as it had literally ceased the movement of our cycles, then we noticed that Amujao's rear tyre was punctured. We were in a fix. None of us had thought about taking a cycle kit with us.

In fact, it was a faraway idea. There was not any workshop or house nearby except for a hamlet at distance in a pineapple yard. Moreover, riding back up to Irilbung meant we not only had to waste our time but also energy. It was a dreadful situation. Amujao volunteered to stay back but we prevailed upon him and decided to leave the cycle at the hamlet for a night.

The "watchman" at the hamlet warmly offered us some pieces of pineapple. He agreed to our proposal to keep the cycle with him for a night but demanded Rs. 50 for keeping vigil. He said, 'Times are bad'. At least for me, the sweet and juicy pineapple we relished, tasted sour then at the mention of money.

If you ever thought riding uphill is strenuous and a difficult task, then dear fellow cyclist you are mistaken. The worst part of riding in a hill or mountain terrain is riding downward. It needs tact and determination if your cycle does not have a pair of good brakes. This we realized once we crossed the highest elevation of Ngariyan.

Slippery road and failed brakes, on numerous occasions we had to use our feet to change the course of direction or slow down and willfully bump against the walls of the hill to prevent ourselves from falling into the gorge on the other side of the road. This is what I mean by tact and determination. But such maneuvers can harm the rims of the wheels. We found it impossible to carry Amujao in any of our cycles during the downhill ride. He had to walk for more than two kilometres.

Reaching the foothill was a welcome relief. The Rain God had finally plugged the leakage in the sky but it could not do anything about the knee-deep potholes on the road. Wild lilies and lotuses on the roadside canals promised us of good fortune ahead. For a moment we thought we would pluck a few and offer to Lord Govindajee at Kaina, the deity who had helped our king Bhagyachandra tame a mad Takhel elephant and ascertain his identity as the king of Manipur.

But we decided to avoid the diversion and move forward as the sun was already overhead and we were hungry. After a stone's throw, Subada's chain broke into two. We agreed Lord Govindjee played this wicked trick for slighting him! Helpless, hungry and angry, we screamed expletives and let off our steam by pissing in the middle of the road. Two rugged youths on an Enfield Bullet wildly laughed and splashed water on us as they sped away. A black, fat bull tied by the roadside, too, mockingly mooed at us.

We poured our vengeance on the mighty bovine and removed its rope. At the tweak of his tail, the bull fled like a freight train, snorting and kicking, as if to explode his "heat" to a cow at a distance. Taking turns, we had pulled Subada using the bull's rope for a kilometer or two or so, when we were stopped by three burly thangjou-wielding youths on a Bajaj Chetak. If we had not returned the rope along with a fine of Rs. 200, I don't think I would be writing this memoir today.

We repaired our bi-cycles at the Yairipok Bazar. Ingocha and Dineshwar were resourceful. In addition to paying the balance amount of money for repairing, they procured some eatables from the girls who were waiting for their boyfriends at a Singju vendor. Through inquiries we could locate Zakirrudin's house. By that time, I had already exhausted the money meant to be repaid to him. We dropped in, instead, for a courtesy call. Call it divine providence, he was not at home. Their family had gone to Imphal.

We returned by the Indo-Burma Road via Thoubal as we dreaded the Ngariyan route, the tricky Govendajee and most importantly, the burly bull owner. At around 4 o'clock in the evening, we were stopped at the crowded Lilong Bazaar by the two rugged Enfield Bullet riders. They were not only amazed to encounter us again but also to listen to our woeful story of misadventure. They treated us to a delightful meal and advised us to be careful.

Back home our parents and the cycle owners gave us a cold welcome. They had already quarreled, blaming each other's son as the instigator of the trip. We were disciplined appropriately. Moreover, friends who were unaware of the trip accused us of treachery for not informing them. About the bi-cycle at the hamlet, my parents had to buy a new Humber Lady's cycle as the "watchman" had disappeared. We were informed that the pineapple yard never employed a watchman. Five of us were bed ridden for almost a week not from dehydration or exhaustion but on account of flu and asthma.

Cycling down the memory lane, I realize today the trip was possible not because we were strong or resourceful but we just believed in each other. Above all, we dared. We remain comrades with the exception of Dineshwar who has eloped with a mother of three children, leaving behind his wife and three children. Subada is a leading producer of Oyster Mushroom in Manipur.

I am glad he could join a cycle rally to Kalayamyo, Myanmar in April 2001 organised by the Bharat Scouts. He used my Hero Ranger for the rally after needful repairs. As for Ingocha (Rajesh), he died a brave soldier during the Kargil War in a special mission in Kashmir. He is survived by his son and wife. Amujao lived with HIV-AIDS for about two years and finally bade us adieu one rainy morning as we changed his diapers.

This is the misery of life; as one grows older and older, friends become fewer and fewer. But memories that bind the bond make us laugh or cry and give us company even in times of solitude. We are never left alone.

* This is the abridged version of "Cycling Down the Memory Lane", published in Cycle for Life, Vol. 1, January 23, 2012, Manipur Cycle Club.

** Homen Thangjam contributes regularly to
The writer can be contacted at homenth(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on February 24, 2012.

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