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Humour

In Praise of the Bicycle

There was the bicycle before there was the auto. And there was the bicycle before there was “terrorism”. Yet now, if some lunatic carries a bomb on a bicycle, the bicycle becomes a terrorist.

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One of my favourite childhood poems was ‘Going Down Hill on a Bicycle’.

“Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat” 

It sang.

I recall the delicious times when a bunch of us in Srinagar would cycle down to the University at Hazratbal, singing old songs to the ringing bells in symphonic unison.

So, there was the bicycle before there was the auto.

And there was the bicycle before there was “terrorism”.

Yet now, if some lunatic carries a bomb on a bicycle, the bicycle becomes a terrorist.

But some other lunatic blows up a car bomb, the car does not become a terrorist.

And there is logic to this.

The lovely bicycle is the poor man’s vehicle. So, along with all poor people, it may be denounced and calumniated.

But imagine calumniating the limousine. That could bring down the predatory state.

And some of the sweetest faces who still visit many homes with the morning supplies of milk, bread, fruit and vegetable do so riding the lowly, companionable bicycle.

The bicycle needs no petrol or diesel, and causes no pollution.

That’s why so many enlightened European nations are spending wisely on bicycle tracks to bring down the emissions from car mufflers – even as we go with ever new autos, heading for the $5-trillion economy.

Walt Whitman memorably called the grass the “handkerchief of the lord”; it is everywhere, and denotes both people and democracy.

However you trample on it, grass will grow everywhere, even between the crevices of boulders.

Likewise, three fourths of the world still rolls on the bicycle.

Thus to have the bicycle for a poll sign is a stroke of genius; it is ubiquitous; it warms all hearts, it harms no one; cyclists sing together.

Truly, rebuking the bicycle is tantamount to rebuking people and democracy.

It will not work – this unimaginative and ill-thought rebuke.

The atomic bomb was dropped from an aircraft; yet who ever calls the aeroplane a terrorist?

When we use metaphors, they had better be fully thought out; or else they bounce back.

That may be truly happening in Uttar Pradesh. Reason why the bicycle is in for castigation?

If the earth is to be saved, make the bicycle mandatory, we say.

And let it be guided by gentle and loving hands.

Famous academics in Cambridge and Oxford, indeed, in most centres of learning, still famously ride the bicycle to the campus.

The doughty Cambridge don F.R. Leavis loved it, as did many others.

Go to any campus in America and Europe, and you will find beautiful bicycle sheds and bicycle tracks.

There is no Samajwadi Party there, but an eye-catching bevy of scholars on bicycles, taking in the fresh air as they ready for class.

Bombs are carried in the human skull, not in the lithe souls of bicycles. Nor in cars or aeroplanes or drones, which but are slaves to misbegotten men and women.

Bicycles are for the most part open and transparent; they hide little. Cars and planes can hide veritable oceans of perfidy.

Long live the bicycle; long live man’s tryst with its lean beauty and music in the bell.

Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.