The bicycle of my dreams

Subodh Mathur


Subodh was born in Alwar, and educated in Jaipur, Delhi, and Cambridge, USA. He taught economics for one year at Rajasthan University, Jaipur, and now teaches at American University, Washington, D.C. He was an independent consultant for nearly two decades. He lives with his wife, Anuradha Deolalikar, and two children in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In his spare time, he is an avid gardener, and the editor of this website.

I got my first bicycle in 1960 when I was about 10 years old. More accurately, Ashok, my older brother, and I got our first shared bicycle at that time.

It's a story that sticks in my mind, and also of some other family members. Our other older brothers - Prakash, Kailash and Subhash - already had a cycle each. I don't know how much of a blessing it was for Subhash to have a bicycle, as he often had to lug his two younger brothers, Ashok and me, on his cycle all the way to our school (St. Xavier's, Jaipur) in the evenings for a swim!

Well, Ashok and I wanted our own ‘wheels' - with them would come freedom to roam and grown-up status.

The problem was money. My father, an IAS officer, was living in Ajmer as Member, Revenue Board, while the rest of the family was in Jaipur because the children liked the Jaipur schools and did not want to move Ajmer. One income, a large family (I have seven siblings), and two home establishments together with travel costs between Jaipur and Ajmer for Daddy - there just was not the spare money to buy another new bicycle, which I think used to cost over Rs. 100 at that time.

But we were in luck.

Abhijit Dasgupta, one of our friends at school and also a neighbour, had a bicycle, and he too had older brothers. As I remember it, the older brothers were moving up the cycle chain, and Abhijit would inherit one of their machines. Or maybe his parents were getting him a new one, as he was outgrowing his cycle, which had smaller wheels suitable for younger boys, who could not reach the pedals of a full-size bicycle. For us, the reason why Abhijit was getting a new cycle did not matter. What was important was that his parents were considering selling a used bicycle that we knew was in good working condition.

We wanted it very badly. But it was no sure deal. They were considering selling, and Mummy was considering buying. Price, of course, was important, but negotiations had to be undertaken delicately since we were dealing with friends and neighbours. I don't remember the details of this consideration process, but in the end, the deal went through. The price, I think, was Rs. 35.

Ashok and I had a to-be-shared used, small-sized bicycle.

The joy! The thrill! The excitement! It is hard to imagine it today but it was real, and not just for the two of us, but for the whole family. We had done it: our family was the proud owner of four bicycles! How many families could boast of that? And the fact that the family owned a car did not seem to matter. It certainly did not matter to Ashok and me because what good was a car for us if we wanted to go on our own meet our friends or for sports in the evening?

It was inevitable that we would outgrow that cycle. How long it could serve two growing boys? And, so we went on to get bigger, normal-sized cycles - one each. For the next ten years or so, cycles remained a key ingredient of our lives, but the thrill of that first cycle was never to be repeated.

We used our cycles extensively, and it seemed as if they were a part of us. We would go to school in the morning. Along the way, it was normal to meet and fall in rhythm with other boys who were also going to our school, and we would chat away all the way. Coming back, a group of boys living in the same direction would set out together, dropping off from the crowd one by one as their homes approached.

In the summer, it used to be so fiercely hot that we could not make it back home from school without stopping on the way to drink some cold water from a piao (small hut set up to provide water) and splash it on our faces and heads. The water was free as the piaos had been set up by some wealthy person or group other as a community service. And, to the water, they had added the essence of kewra (an extract from a locally grown flower) - delicious! The piaos, which still thrive in Jaipur today, had no tumblers or cups. Instead, to drink the water, you had to cup your hand, hold it close to your lips, and drink in the naturally cold, naturally flavoured water as the piao wali (lady tending the piao) poured it out to you from a metal lota.

Along with the pleasure came responsibility. When Satish, the youngest of the family, was old enough to enter school, it became my responsibility to take him to school as a passenger on my cycle. He used to sit ahead of me on the main frame of the cycle, so it was easy for us to keep talking to each other. Our school bags used to be either hung from the front or stacked behind us on the spring-loaded carrier, which used to hold things in place. In the evenings, particularly in the summers, Ashok often used his cycle to drop our older sister Manmohini where she wanted to go\; instead of returning home, he would wander off to a nearby friend's place, and pick her up later to return home together. Being older, she would sit behind him on the carrier, instead of the front main frame.


Today, my son, now about 17 years old, has a bicycle that is so much fancier than what we ever had in my youth. It has multiple gears and is very light ­- and costs a fortune compared to what we paid in 1960, even after you take account of price inflation over the years. Happily, he also goes farther with it than we ever did. Last year, with his friends, he went on a 100 km roundtrip in a day ­- much more than we could have even imagined in 1960. And, now my wife is also thinking of buying a bicycle. As for me, perhaps my bicycle dreams have already been fulfilled!

© Subodh Mathur 2011


Well captured...I could tangibly feel the thril.

wonderful, Subodh. I, especially, like the reordings of such memories that form the links between generations. Amit

Very interesting and absorbing. Reminded me of the first bicycle I had in 1936, when I too,like Subodh,was ten years old. India did not manufacture cycles then. Mine was 'Made in England' and the cost was Rs 35. Japanese ones were cheaper but they would not last. Any weakling those days was called 'a Japani babu' I was one of the four in a class of 32 who came to school(which was far away from the town)on a cycle;rest came on foot.If it was punctured due to some reason (including some one's mischief), which happened frequently, the trouble was unending. Apart from the cost of repair which was 2 paisa (i/32 of a rupee), which was a substantial amount then, the cycle became a curse. Those without one, looked far happier. I used the same cycle for six years till I went to another cty to join a college which was accross the road from the hostel in which I lived. My cycle was then used by my younger brothers, for many years. R C Mody

Reminded me of my childhood. Till I graduated from Engineering, cycle was the only way I could reach anywhere. Fond memories rekindled by Subodh's excellent article.

Delicious to imagine Anu on a bike, it should be red of course! Your memory serves you well, Subodh, loved reading the details about the 'piao lady'! Lovely piece of writing.

even if aai gets a bicycle...only two in the family!

I loved the article. The sunny streets of Jaipur, your home, your school, all seem to come alive in front of my eyes.

Lovely. I also got a do paiye ki cycle when I was ten. Special request to nanaji, who obliged. Also small wheels. Used it for years. Red, can still remember it.

Absolute fun! And so well written. I remember buying our first colored tv, my brother and I with all our savings of about Rs. 12,000 between the two of us in 1988 (in Pakistan). My mother still has the same tv with her. What absolute luxury that was for our family.

Lovely article... brings the days back to life! Thanks for sharing

Great reading! It instantly transported me to the lated 60's. I remember my first cycle too. We had a neighbor's daughter stay with us to finish her last semester at school.When her "fauji" parents got transferred out of Meerut, where we lived. When she left to join her parents, I inherited her bike. What joy! I was on top of the world, esctatic and finally mobile!!!!

I have an interesting "bike" story: I had a generic large black bike in IIT-Bombay that I used to chain to a bike-stand near the main gate on Fridays, before taking the bus/train back home in south Bombay for the weekend. One weekend, I came back to find that my bike had been stolen. I reported the theft to the police who figured out that I was the son of the General Manager of BEST (Bombay Electric Supply & Transport). So they took me to their warehouse that had many bikes - perhaps lost or confiscated - and told me to pick one. Somehow, I felt uncomfortable with that offer, and ended up not having a bike thereafter. Instead, I chose to move to a hostel that was closest to classes and main gate. When I came to USA, I bought a used fancy Peugeot that I still have in excellent condition after almost 30 years although I hardly use it. Perhaps my son might one day will take it on a long ride like Abhijai.

Very evocative of Jaipur as it once was. It reminds me of our travels around the town in 1972 with our young daughter on her 'baby seat'. Dodging the quarry trucks on the road past the university still sticks in my mind. So does the freedom of whistling down the streets in the evening in the university and revelling in the pockets of cool air among the trees.

Yes Subodh, a bicycle was very important to us. I had one in College, and was the envy of my peers.

very nicely written. enjoyed reading the piece, and brought back our own memories of going on a bike daily to school in 115 degree ahmedabad heat in the 1960s

excellent and very touching.

Good job. We all have our childhood bike stories however this one seems to be central point in your psyche since I remember you recounting this story to me when your father passed away and tears came to your eyes when you recounted your father?s sacrifice to get this shared bike for you. When we first moved to Baroda (June 1961), Bapu got a bike to commute to work. Our first bike stories are from Baroda (1965-67) when Anil and I used to rent bikes on an hourly basis from hut dwellers near our home on the road going to Sarabhai Chemicals Factory. Those huge black bikes were too big for us (age 11) so we rode them with our legs between the front bar since we were unable to sit on the bike seat! One day I slammed into a wall at high speed and was disabled from waist down for the rest of the day! Anu had her first fancy ladies red colored bike in 1968 when Anil and I too got our first Raleigh black bikes with dyno generators for our commute to St. Xavier?s.

Dear Subodh, Many thanks for posting your beautifully written memoir "The bicycle of my dreams". Reading it intently,I was nostalgic about my own first 'second hand' bicycle. I used to go to the Lucknow University campus in 1950s on foot - a distance of about 3 miles from my house but when I got the bicycle, it appeared I got wings flying the distance in no time.I wish bicycle days come back giving us a pollution free atmosphere and a healthy life style.

I can relate to the bicycle days. I had wanted a bicycle badly but my father bought a brand new bicycle for my cousin(my Father's sister's son) on his birthday ahead of me. I was shattered. A bicycle was the only mode of transport on IIT Mumbai's vast campus for most students. I had jaundice one year and no energy to walk and had to beg the various friends to give me a rideon their bicycles.

It is delectable to recall our cycling days for it was so much fun. Specially the travails of learning to ride when the teacher trying to push the cycle running along with you and trying to catch you if you showed signs of falling and some times even falling and scrapping your shin are such wonderful memories to recall. I also recall how in those days when elders wearing Dhoti tucked tightly around the thighs would mount the cycle pushing it behind and jumping on it made a wonderful sight Of course now we have cycles with gears and costing mind boggling figures. It is good to see that cycling is catching up and youngsters are taking to it in agret way. The only lacuna is there are no cycle tracks to talk of

Lovely read - almost inspires me to tell my own bicyle tales - my Hero cycle in India, and my old Raleigh bike in England

Great story. Hey you are lucky you got a bike eventually. Since I was the youngest of four, we only had three bikes, so I never went out for a bike ride and the end result, I never learnt how to ride a bike. When I turned 40 I thought I will try to learn on my daughter's bike, but fear of broken bones soon dispatched that faint attempt. Lovely reading everyone's stories too , thanks for sharing

Loved reading this story Subodh. We never get to talk about your youth. Me? I still fall off every bike I try to ride.

Lovely article. Professor Bhagwati

I enjoyed reading your piece. Please write and send some more.I cannot believe your son is 17!! Fond regards. Padma Desai Director, Center for Transition Economies, Department of Economics, Columbia University

Your article reminds me of the time when I was doing my Masters in Jaipur from 1959-61. I often used to go on a bicycle to to Mahrani's College from our home in Gandhi Nagar. It must have been a thrilling sight for the nasty eve-teasers of those days as I had several to-be-remembered experiences on my bike - including having the tires deflated while visiting the newly built university library. I would, then have to drag the heavy two-wheeler in the blazing sun while those who had caused the mischief would whizz past muttering some inanities under their breath and making fun. When I now see the confident young women riding their mo-peds in the same city I am reminded of my times half a century ago.

Great article Subodh! From Class VIII until the end of Engineering College I relied on a Hercules brand bicycle as my principle mode of transportation. Did over 100 km on one trip from Kharagpur to Digha and back in 1966. Waiting for pictures of Anu on her bike.

Lovely read. I can imagine a small Satish perched precariously on the metal rod of the bicycle and getting lots of gyan from elder brother! Pleasures of life were so simple in days gone by! Manju (Satish's wife)

What a fine story. I remember lugging, in the 1940s, my elder sister to school from Moghalpura to Lahore, a distance of about five miles each way and if she chattered too much, I could always throw her on the asphalt road. Of course, when we got home, she would throw me on to the carpet, put a big pillow over me and then beat me up. Ah, but to see her spread out on the asphalt road was worth all the beatings.

Your reference to 'piao' (wayside drinking water point)triggered thoughts of my New Delhi(50s)schooldays, when a friend I made daily visits to Irwin Rd Hanuman Mandir, after our evening game of cricket. On way, we stopped by at Rivoli cinema foyer, for a look-see of stills from films, and at a piao close to the temple, manned by a member of the family that ran the temple. The Rivoli and piao stop-over was as mandatary as our prayers in the temple. No piao, no prayer.

I am sponsoring two young sisters (ages 10 and 8) in Pushkar. Could you please tell me the approximate cost of a bike and where I might find one (or two)nearby? Thanks, Dan

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