Wednesday, August 31, 2005

And yet another stolen bicycle....

If Harry Potter series can be stretched over seven episodes and Star Wars over six ( if I haven’t got the figure wrong), won’t you permit me to publish my bicycle trilogy ? Here’s the third part.

This incident happened in the early seventies. We lived in one of those narrow lanes in Mylapore,Madras. Our neighbour was a policeman who had seven children of assorted shapes, sizes and age.

Kids of today are so used to seeing the full-panted cops of today on their gleaming mobikes and sporting their smart caps. The policemen of the seventies were positively comical to look at. They were dressed in sharply creased, bell-bottomed shorts, had pointed funny-looking topis on their heads and carried wooden lathis in their hands. They rode bicycles..

Back to our neighbour. I don’t know how good he was as a policeman, but he was a terror at home. His seven kids used to shake and shiver in his presence and hardly utter a word. Discipline was enforced strictly in the house and the slightest sign of rebellion crushed mercilessly. There was a set routine, which had to be followed unquestioningly. Deviations would simply not be tolerated, not that they were ever attempted.

We never got to see the policeman leave his house as he probably got out very early in the morning. But my sister and I would be waiting on the balcony at 6 pm everyday, to watch the “ritual” next door, as the policeman returned home.

The grand ceremony that took place everyday, with clockwork precision, similar to the Change of Guards at the Buckingham Palace, went like this.. The policeman would ride his bicycle home. A few metres ahead, he would ring the cycle bell, to sound a general alert to his family. On this Pavlovian cue, all the seven kids, would come running out of the house. The eldest would collect the bicycle from the father and park it in the small verandah. The second would pick up his topi and hang it on the nail near the entrance. The third would take the lathi and keep it on the bench, next to the parked bicycle. The fourth would help him remove his shirt and gently hang it on the coat-stand. The fifth would collect the shorts carefully (as the sharp crease could cut the fingers), the sixth would hold out a lungi to him and help him wrap it around too and the seventh would stand at attention with a glass of water and give it to him, as soon as he had put on his lungi.

So, a quick recap of the story so far. Mylapore. Narrow lane. Sis and I. Neighbour, a cop. Cop’s seven kids. Cop strict. Home 6 pm sharp. On bicycle. Seven kids in same sequence collect bike, topi, lathi, shirt, pointed shorts and hand over lungi, water. Same routine every day. All right, all right.You got the plot.

So, this ritual went on, every single day, for many, many years. Boys became adults and girls metamorphosed, as only girls can, into lovely women. Yet this routine never changed at the policeman’s house…

One day, disaster struck the family.

The policeman’s bicycle was stolen. He had to come home walking !

The family had never seen this sight before. As it always happens to people who are used to rigid schedules, they found themselves completely disoriented and lost at these changed circumstances.

The eldest, robbed off his first-born rights of taking over the bicycle, insisted on collecting the topi instead. This was strongly resisted by the second-born, who in a desperate maneuver tried to reach for the father’s lathi. In the pandemonium that ensued, the third and the fourth-born found themselves fighting over the shorts and shirt with the fifth and sixth-born. The policeman realized that he had handed over his shorts but the lungi was nowhere in sight. Nor his customary glass of water. He was simply caught underwears and water-less.

At this stage, I regret that, in the interest of veracity, I must break the news that this was the beginning of the split-up of the cop’s family. Having tasted the joy of indiscipline for the first time in their lives, the seven kids wouldn’t have enough of the newfound freedom. The family broke up and the seven kids went off in different directions and settled down, each clinging to his or her core-competence. The first to start a cycle-hire shop, the second to sell hats, the third to make walking-sticks of the ornate variety, the fourth and fifth to set up a tailoring unit specializing in shorts and shirts, the sixth to join the firm that did the wholesale marketing of Sangu-mark lungis and the seventh to peddle Bisleri water bottles at the Central Station. The policeman has retired from active service, has joined a Security agency and is a watchman in one of the ancient buildings that abound in Mylapore.

So, boys and girls, the summary . Cop has bicycle. Family remains united. Cop loses bicycle. Family disintegrates.

The stolen bicycle made all the difference.

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