The best ride – The Hindu

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Pedalling off on the trusted machine.

Pedalling off on the trusted machine.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

My dad used to have a bicycle. Back in the 1990s, those big cycles were like giants on the streets of India. For me, as a little child then, they seemed enormous, all shiny and sturdy. Dad would drop me off at school in a few mornings, especially when I missed the school bus. He would casually say, “Come on dear!”, while taking out the bicycle and kicking the stand with a satisfying clang, without a second thought. Being short, I would be lifted up to the seat. His hands, rough and big, wrapped around my soft waist as he lifted me up to seat me on the backseat. I could feel the toughness of his grip.

As we rode along, I would cling to him, a little scared to hold him. The seat was hard, and the roads were not great; every pothole made my back ache, and I eagerly awaited the end of the ride.

Talking about those cycles, the back seats were usually designed for carrying loads or stacks of grass. It’s not actually a seat, just a metallic frame. You would often see a little seat rigged up on the long rod between the main seat and the handle, a makeshift perch for carrying children. But strangely, my father’s cycle never had one of those extra seats; he mostly rode alone. Back then, it was always him and his bicycle. Honestly, I did not fancy the journey much, except for burying my face in my dad’s back and avoiding the surroundings.

As we neared the school gates, my father would say, “Get down, dear”. His hands squeezed the brakes, bringing the cycle to a gentle stop. Without a word, I would quickly hop off and run into the school, knowing I was already late. There was no time for goodbyes or anything like that; just a hurried exit, leaving behind the echoes of the fading hum of his voice. Yet, whenever I spot this cycle, memories flood back — the warm hug, my little hands, my dad’s back, and his neatly ironed white shirt. There’s a lingering truth about us Indian sons and fathers, especially down here in South India. Emotional distance is a silent norm.

My dad, much like many fathers around here, doesn’t readily let anyone, not even family members, touch him often. It’s a subtle trait, where love is felt but not always expressed physically. There’s an unspoken understanding that closeness may not always be visible, yet it exists in the unspoken moments, like this shared silence on that old cycle ride. He never forced strict discipline on me, but he always did what was right in the moment, something I didn’t appreciate then, being a bit wary of strictness. Looking at myself now, I realise he did a great job.

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