The bike was an everyday companion, one with whom I have probably spent more lonely evenings in little known neighborhoods, than with the best of friends. Small town “mophoswol” childhoods are blessed with a certain feeling of reassurance. Neighborhoods may be unknown, but were rarely unfriendly. I may drift far away, but down a few blocks, I will always know a “kaku” or “dada”, the kind who always knew how to set things right (or so it seemed back then). Long relaxing bike rides across winding alleys, the wayward slum off the township, or planned officer quarters with neatly trimmed gardens started becoming the time I looked forward to, through boring classes on moral science, geography and SUPW.
As dusk settled on blast furnaces and employee quarters, middle aged housewives peeked from their balconies, their eyes still heavy with contented “bhaat ghum”sand a cup of tea in their hands. The cacophony in the kitchen would announce “Kaajer mashi’s” hurry in doing the last utensils of the day, and a tea cup with a Mary’s biscuit at the corner of the plate, would sum up the Bengali idea of “bikelbela”. I would meanwhile, find an excuse to sneak out, carry my cycle downstairs, and away!
It was that time of life, when thinking of profound questions gave me a feeling of wisdom, a sudden heady feeling of being grown up. Big names crowded my head, and “reflection” had suddenly turned into an activity. It was also a time of guilty pleasures. It was in one of those bike rides, a few neighborhoods away, when I gathered up the courage to go and ask a middle aged shopkeeper “ekta filter wills”, feigning the offhand air of a regular. I still remember how I felt dizzy, after my first cigarette, and was almost falling off the cycle. But of all feelings, the sweetest was that of freedom. My protective Bengali childhood, the expectation of peers and parents, the stress of end semester, the pressure to conform to changing fashions of teenage, and most of all, the pressure of growing up, were all tossed by the wayside, as the bicycle whizzed past neighborhood houses.
Today, visions of neat, orderly, contented American life, with plasma Television sets flashing in the living room, and water raining down upon bushes trimmed with geometric precision pass me as I ride down the slopes of Pittsburgh’s hilly terrains. This land feels strange, the smell of the earth unknown, but I can feel the same bliss of freedom on a bicycle seat, that my younger self felt years, years ago.
P.S. The post is heavy on Bengali words. So, here is an appendix.
"mophoswol" :small town
"kaajer mashi": housemaid
"bhat ghum": En extended nap after a heavy lunch (which consists mainly of rice and curries)
"ekta filter wills": "One filter Wills please" ("Filter Wills" is a popular brand of cigarette)