1966 to 1971 – Those Anecdotal Five Years …. – Commuting – to and from the college : The Cycling Perspective

Cycling mode of commuting had its own glory and glamour, apart from it being a conveniently available mode of intra-city transportation. Many of the contemporaries of our (government servant) parents used to cycle to and from commuting to the office. Primarily because it saved the ‘cost’ of bus travel, which was not that insignificant ‘saving’ in comparison to theirs the then take-home salaries. Moreover it saved the commuting time and was also useful aid for shopping other day-to-day domestic requirements.

On the other hand, during the years of my 10th and 11th standard years, at Gujarat Law Society High School (GLS), Ahmedabad, we had at least two classmates who were sons of millowners, one was son of a newspaper baron and two were son /daughter of the leading legal luminary, who easily could have used cars for commuting to the school, but they rather preferred the cycle option. Maybe it was the glamour factor of bicycle riding, even when the bicycles were simple vanilla design variants.

Purchase of a cycle, perhaps his/her first independent possession, as the son /daughter steps into the college life was certainly a moment of pride for the parents and the ward too. However, for the college going students it was a very convenient mode of maintaining communication link with their partners of budding love relation. Occasions to manage surreptitious double ‘sawari’ pillion ride had their own charms. Even the films of those days used cycle to depict developing love story between hero and heroine. In fact, the songs filmed with cycle as love-carriage do happen to be some of the most adorable romantic songs of Indian Cinema.

Apart from mine, the other two other very interesting variations in the way we got our first bicycle, by the way, are perhaps the classic case studies of acquisition of a cycle in the then middle-class family.

Vasant Pujara[1]  had one bicycle in the family. The priority over its use was obviously for his father, for commuting to the office as well as for other domestic purposes. Moreover, the shortest route from his home, near Sharda Mandir Bus Stand on the South-westerly corner of Gujarat College, those day was via Gulbai Tekra (Tekra is a small hill in Gujarati). He found it difficult to manage the uphill journey in that passage. So, he opted for commuting by bus. However, in spite of some the rare luxuries of those days, perhaps the difficulties – over-crowding during college timings and additional time in waiting for the bus to arrive – he “got tired of bus journey in two years, got company to go by bicycle and luckily father got transferred to Education Dept. at Gandhinagar. So, I switched over to bicycle journey. …. It was nice company of a two-years junior student of mechanical branch of our college, who wanted to learn engineering drawing. In three years of cycling my legs got stronger. Moreover, as an add-on bonus, I learnt complete dismantling and assembling the bicycle, especially to know the construction of freewheel.”

Aside trivia: One of our co-travellers of pedestrian mode of commuting to the college, and one of my other three chums friends, (now late) Mahesh Mankad, joined a factory at Naroda after completing his studies. Soon he purchased a Rajdoot motorcycle.  He had formed a practice to open up one or other assembly of his motorcycle every Sunday c during his self-service routine. Of course, most of the time, the motorcycle had to be taken to a mechanic to refit that opened-out component and put the motorcycle back to normal working condition!

However, his never accept any failure spirit led him to rise to the level of IAS cadre in his career. We always saluted him for his never-say-die spirit!

However, there were many families in our social strata those days where the cycle would a first major purchase as the son (to the best of my memory, not the daughter, normally those days,) would enter college study level. Even as it was considered a prized possession, the actual purchase was not that easy, as is so vividly narrated by Dilip Vyas:

“When I was in SSC, my parents had told me that if I get percentage over 70% and get into Xavier’s, they will get me a bicycle. Well, I did secure more than 70%, and I got admission to Xavier’s as well. Butt in those days, it was not easy to manage ‘huge’ payment of around Rs. 275 or so needed to buy a bicycle. So, when college started, I had to decide. I tried commuting by AMTS for the first couple of days but it did not make any sense because one had to walk to Sachivalaya bus stand, wait for bus and travel standing, and then walk from University to Xavier’s. So, I decided to walk and save 10 paisa as well to enjoy a packet of Chinai sing (salted ground nuts)! Walking was not much of a problem but since I had no one else to walk with, it was a drag. And then a miracle happened.

As you might remember, Bhavan’s college had opened that year. But for some reason that I can’t remember now, their science side got disapproved by the University just before commencement of the term. Therefore, to accommodate Bhavan’s batch of some 200 first year students, University approved four other existing science colleges in the city to add 50 students each over their limit. So, H-L Colony friend Girish Makwana luckily got in to Xavier’s with 55 %! Now I had company. More importantly, he had a bicycle. So, we commuted ‘double Sawari’ – two-seater ride on bicycle – for most of the year. Just before the end of the year, my parents finally managed to get a bicycle for me and then we commuted together for next year. When I got to LD, it was again just me commuting by myself but now on bike.

Just before BE, another miracle happened. My father had for some reason registered for a scooter under government quota (those good old quota days !! ) many years ago and his name came up. After debating what to do, he applied for a loan and we bought a Vespa! My father never even learned to drive but me being Prince of Wales in the family got the first dib on it. Commuting to college was not allowed because petrol was very expensive (I still remember Rs. 1.75 per litter. Including oil.) but I managed to sneak on to it, occasionally, to commute to the college”.

In my case, several other factors played the role of the final push for purchase of the bicycle.

We had opted for Gujarat Government’s loan scholarship scheme – Rs. 850 per year – to finance my engineering course education. During the first year,

I got my basic study instrument aids like drawing board, the drawing toolbox, the slide rule etc. from my uncle (husband of mother’s sister) and a few textbooks from the free-to-rent-study-books scheme being operated by the association of our community. So, halfway through the second term of the first year, we could see that there was some surplus from the first installment of the loan scholarship, and no major expense appeared in the horizon till the next installment would be received next year. So, one day, my parents decided to purchase a bicycle for me. And lo, that evening I was riding my own bicycle to home from Pankor Naka, the (only) market where goods like bicycles were available those days, through THE traffic of Ellis Bridge.

I started using the cycle in the normal course of commuting to the college only next year, because our preferred commuting mode was walking – which I will deal with a little later.

Apart from the benefits of commuting by cycle, there were a few more, fringe, benefits, at least, as far as I was concerned. But these will have to wait till I link them up later with the relevant main story

I would end with the present part with a very pertinent observation made by Ramesh Doshi – now settled in USA – while we were returning from our reunion luncheon of Ahmedabad-based LDCE71M batchmates in November 2011. Just  as we passed the present BRTS bus stand of ‘L D College’ he spontaneously recalled that those days this track was heavily laden with fin-dust, ground under the repeated crushing under the tyres of the AMTS buses. He then seemed to sleep into reverie of those days as he said: the movement buses had created two, relatively, clean tracks. It was a challenge to drive through that track as we used to continue talking among each other, in the company of others, while riding the cycles. It was not uncommon to get the wheel of the cycle stuck in the dust, get down, lift off the trapped wheel back on to the track, and commence the ride again, While the victim got his act together, the others had to ride on, for if they would stray off a look at what had happened, they also will be down to the dust.”

I do not recall if Professor Kellogg, of Machine Design, who would not tolerate getting late to the class – his was the first period of a day – unless supported by a reason, other than the time-worn excuses like bus got late or the cycle had a puncture etc., accepted this reason for the late coming!

Do You? If the reasons not accepted and reasons accepted could come up live presently, that itself would have been an episode in itself!

[1] Vasant Pujara is one of the key active links in reuniting the LDCE71M batch after a good 48+ years. It was his catalytic role that prompted Ashok Thakkar to prepare our “Selected Life Stories-LDCE Class of 1971-Mechanical”. That has further promoted me to collate the present memoir.