Monday, May 12, 2008

Iced tea and scorching sun

My most unforgettable summer was the one when I was 26 years old. My friends were planning a trip to Mahabalipuram (yeah, that perennial stand-by), hire bicycles there and ride around. Since I couldnt ride a cycle, I regretfully declined to be part of the trip. But my friend B, shocked at this appalling shortfall in my skills portfolio, decided that she would teach me to ride a cycle, and THEN we would go to Mahabs, me included.

This was in the middle of May, the hottest time of year in Madras, a city that is pretty much blazing hot throughout the year - except in December-January when it’s merely sweltering.

The first bicycle that B got for me was one that was apparently 6 feet high. At 5’8” I’m pretty tall, but when I got on to that cycle, my feet barely touched the ground. I couldn’t see myself ever managing to put both feet on the pedals at the same time (what, and leave the comfortingly solid floor?), so I balked at doing anything with that particular bicycle. With many muttered - yet audible – imprecations and some quite ineffective jeering (because I ignored it), B then sourced out a much smaller cycle from her little cousin (I think). Certainly it was from someone who was much shorter, as with this one I could keep my feet flat on the ground even when seated. It felt much safer.

And so my cycling lessons began. B would run alongside as I tottered my way up and down the road outside her house - it was a good place to learn, pretty much deserted at noon because all sensible people and animals were likely panting in whatever little shade they could find. So I could wobble all over the place without fear of getting run down by cars or buses.

Every so often we would have to retire to B’s house, sweating bullets, to down glass after glass of sweet, cold iced tea. There were days when it seemed like there simply wasn’t enough iced tea or cold water in the world to quench our thirst… we’d use up all the ice in B's house, all the cold water going, fill every bottle and shove them in the freezer so that they would cool quicker - and still be parched. And then we’d go back outside into the blazing sun... B to sometimes run alongside while I wobbled unerringly towards every visible tree and wall, and sometimes to just call encouragement from a safe distance away.

A few days, a few falls (including a quite spectacular one that left me unable to sit comfortably for a couple of weeks), a few near-misses and a few interested queries from the odd passing vegetable vendor woman (“Indha vayasula cycle ota edhukku ma katthukkarai?” – “Why do you bother to learn cycling at this advanced age?”) later, I triumphantly cycled all the way around B’s street to the next one and back, to be rewarded with a giant glass of iced tea.

I was ready for the trip to Mahabs - or was I? That is another story for another day. But the summer I learnt to ride a cycle is one of the most enduring hot-weather memories I have of Madras. Ahhh, that iced tea…

In response to this post on Ammani's blog


churningthewordmill said...

thats kinda how i learnt to ride a cycle too.. i learnt it at my grandparent's place during the summer vacations.. but there was no ice tea.. there was however a lot of lime water!

Crazy on Bollywood said...

Really nice!!:) Your blog is very cool!

brinda said...

oh, HOW i remember. first you refused to ride my precious cycle -- and i had to borrow my not-so-little cousin's street cat -- and THEN i had my neighbour's son asking if HE should help since you seemed to be falling off umpteen times with just me helping! and we DID go to Mahabs, didn't we?

Kamini said...

What evocative writing!
I was in Madras just a week ago, and the heat and humidity had to be experienced to be believed. But, I prefer that heat ANY day to the miserable cold of the winters here. The mangoes make it all bearable!