Learning to ride a bicycle

It started on a bitter note.

“This one is for girls,” said my sister, about her old Ladybird cycle we found in the storeroom. Despite the saliva gathering in my mouth, I kept silent and declined to comment on how it does not matter to me. I want to learn how to ride that bicycle. I do.

We brought it down from the second floor to everyone’s surprise. We got it repaired because I kept on with my desire.

I want to learn how to ride the bicycle. I used to ride one while growing up, with training wheels attached to it. Everyone thought that I would eventually find my balance and manage without that support. I did not. As in life, I shelved the plan when I could not succeed. I did not try hard enough. No one complained as they did not want me to get hurt, even though I was hurting enough.

The same thing happened with my car driving lessons. I knew what was what, how to change gears and when to release the clutch, the foot pressure required for the accelerator, the simple demands of the steering, and the much-dreaded brake. But I let it go when my father or sister would create a clamour even at a tiny mistake. They said they were protecting me.

They were protecting me. I let it all go, I gave up too easily, too soon, too much that I did not know what it meant to let it go.

I want to ride a bicycle. My sister accompanied me to the dusty unlevelled ground near my home. It is the go-to place for all the major events and occasions here — the Ramlila and the Dussehra, the many fairs and festivals before the pandemic, the Parents’ Devotion Day (a “cultural” offering instead of Valentine’s) as well as storage space for the stray cows captured by the municipality and a dumping ground for mud water drained from the easily-flooded streets during monsoons.

So, it began. The bike looked almost new through my foggy glasses. The rust glistened in the late afternoon sun, and the black dotted seat seemed repulsive. I took it, tried to lift myself from the ground for the first time since forever, and let my right foot on the pedal. I tried, but it did not budge.

“Put more pressure,” she said. I did. It moved a little, but my left foot could not hold on to the other pedal. I tried again. The handle became slick with my palm sweat, and the pointed seat kept on jabbing me in the groin.

I tried it again. She grabbed onto the rear seat to create the balance that I did not know would ever be mine. I needed to focus on pedalling so that I can at least learn to move again, tread this patch of land and transfer my weight to carry me onward. I managed to cover about 100 meters with the cycle swerving left and right and my wrists totally out of control of the situation. Finally, I rested my feet on the ground.

My sister was heaving behind me. She had to run to keep pace with me, never letting go of the fucking bicycle.

I was disappointed. Before we came, I had a theory in mind that I just need to get on it, feel it beneath me and with me to be able to ride it — no practice, no sweat, no balance, no support. “I will do it just like that,” I had told myself.

I let go of the bike. It was my turn to support her. She had not ridden it in many years, and she was somewhat afraid. She fumbled the first couple of times, not moving even when I kept ahold from behind. I kept on motivating her to let go (the opposite of mine), reach out and grab it from her memory and leave the rest to me.

It worked. I held on to it for a little distance and then stepped back. She kept on cycling without realising that no one was behind her for long. That is what I needed to do, I told myself. Use the support as a leeway to begin until I can find my balance within.

I copied her. I did what she asked me to do. Another half an hour and I was reeling with the effort with nothing much to show for it. The pedals stilled whenever my calves failed to function, and my shoulders became numb to this exercise. We left for the day.

“You need to do it at least for a week to make it work,” she said. I followed her advice and so, we went the next day. I was, if anything, worse. I tried to lift myself off the ground by keeping one foot on the pedal and sprinting with the other leg. Alas! I could not find that moment of release. My body was working against me. I blamed it on my lack of flexibility since I stopped practising yoga.

I let go. Not deliberately. It just got sidelined with other things taking precedence. I let go when I already had nothing, and fell into my careless routine. The job applications and story pitches gathered dust with no reply or a short reply or a half reply in my mail. My friends’ messages seemed unfamiliar, their voices unrecognisable, the names of the cities where I found them (along with some of my parts) disappearing from my lips. I could not bother, as I fled to the other universes of books and TV series.

A character I identified with learned to ride a bike in the matter of a minute on my laptop screen. Their life took a turn in other ways. I felt my failure growing stronger. My room and body turned into a small cage, chiding me and making me question myself.

After ten days, I hesitantly asked my sister if she would go back with me. We repeated the same things, similar protocols and guidelines and balancing strategies. After a quarter of an hour passed, I asked her to stop holding on to me, to give me space, to leave me even if I fall. I won’t get hurt with the brake on my command and my long legs to place me on the ground, if not above it. She came in the way; she was hesitant and did not let go.

I always had trouble to be myself, being the third child and the only son (assigned male at birth). Everyone wanted to cushion me from all the hurt, protect me from life and death, save me from the world. Unfortunately, they could not shield me from themselves. I rebelled, I made some strange decisions. I found my space outside when I did, never trusting them to understand what I need. They have been there with their somnolent arms to cushion me when I fall. I fall too often.

I needed to fall on my terms. I needed to let go.

There was no epiphany. Nothing remarkable happened. I stayed stubborn and kept on trying and trying for long, and I managed to carry myself forth on the cycle. I realised it suddenly, which made me come to an abrupt stop. But I managed to cover some distance on my own.

Another half an hour of halting and starting, pedalling and sweating, and I did it again. I found some balance. We came back the next day and the day after that. Three days, many stumbling blocks and I took my first round of the entire ground, albeit with some sudden stops in between.

The balance was within me like I always thought, but I was the one keeping myself from attaining it. I learned to ride a bicycle. I am learning to be better so that I can move out and cycle away. Away.

Sometimes, I lose my mind and end up hitting the stones that the kids use to make wickets for their cricket matches. I get tired soon, the gravity works against me, and I end up getting stuck in sand and mud. I swerve too much at times, here and there, left and right, almost falling but my legs save me. I end up erect by placing myself on the ground when I can not go on anymore.

I am where I am supposed to be. It is only here that I can keep finding the balance till I am ready to take my stand and leave.

While cycling here, I am letting go in a new way. It is a different time. I am learning what it means to me while hoping that I will reach somewhere.

This is the fourth in my #Trash essay series. You can check out the previous essays under #Trash: A Series of Essays. This is a different kind as compared to my previous pieces as it’s mostly internal with no references and quotes to make it more universal. I kept on procrastinating and therefore, I did not have a lot of time to edit the piece. It is quite raw and I’ll be making future edits and trimming it a bit. Let me know what you think about it, when you learned to ride a bicycle or your experience with attaining balance, as well as reading recommendations for personal essays and memoirs. I welcome your feedback and topic suggestions to continue this series.

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Not a Poet!

Who do I seek to comfort when I am writing a poem? Who can find some reprieve or succour in my written word?

My approach to poetry and writing as a whole has often been selfish. I am selfish. I begin with the urgency of thought or vulnerability of my heart when I pick up the pen or open a word editor. I design and modulate and raise my voice to find someone — an invisible spectator or a known or an unknown other — who can consume it all for me, digest, excrete, and display for my purpose, to exterminate my words till their remains are indistinguishable. Such an inexorable marriage of poet and poetry and reader.

I am hungry for any reader, as I seek to consume so to be consumed, without parenthesis or any context. I do not care who the reader is. I do not comfort. I do not create an experience where we can both meet and touch each other and walk through our shared emptiness.

I want to devour so to be devoured. I want to become the other so that I can know myself better, even if I provide only a limited scope for that understanding to emerge.

“Poetry is an intimate act”: The adage is mentioned in the first chapter of my handy Poet’s Companion, which further goes on to define how a poem is sharing knowledge, which seems to be another way of universalising this experience. It seems anyone who creates, gives birth, evokes the miasma of the human truth or situation is expected to display it in a way as if it belongs (to more than one).

As a reader of poetry and other things, I know of my need to relate and be a part of the verse and the punctuation — to belong in a line-break or hide in a plot device.

When I read some of the so-called poems that came from me, I recoil at the arrogance, at the self-entitled diatribe of a diminutive of who or what we call a poet in popular understanding or literary parlance.

A poet friend once said, “Anyone who writes even a single poem is a poet.” I find this quote attributed to Kierkegaard even more exemplary: “What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music… and men crowd about the poet and say to him: “Sing for us soon again”; that is as much to say: May new sufferings torment your soul.”

They never said who is to define what a poem is. If the decision is left to the one who writes it, it would be a futile exercise to discuss it any further. Still, I agree with a self-construed definition of such words and the meanings attained, far away from the capitalist mores of publication, reach, and popularity.

Let’s say everyone is a poet, as in everyone is capable of writing or thinking or sensing or living a poem. That should definitely upend the fallacy of a singular or multiple strands of a definition.

A song of Emilie Autumn that helped me through some bitter nights says, “The world is full of poets, We don’t need anymore.”

So, I have decided that I shall not be deemed a poet anymore. It’s yet another act of selfishness to take up a word, make it mine, live through it, use it, mutilate it, and then leave it be. But I am selfish. All my creative endeavours are built on the basis of the mythos where comfort only lies in destruction or pain. I turn it to favour me, to suffer, to pick at my gangrenous pen so to be seen or noticed or analysed and thus found.

Let us go back a little now. The day I started writing this exposition, I received a kind rejection from an editor of a digital magazine, who suggested that my work is not of a ‘snug fit‘ for them. This is something I already knew because I often revelled in being too small or too big. Too short in my much-cherished individuality, too big in the failure of my years. Like a rat that can fit into the tightest of spaces and still be the purveyor of ghastly death (mostly blamed for the black death as if death can be anything but black). A study suggested that the rat’s case may be blown out of proportions. Its complicated mathematical model pointed out the human-parasite link to be the primary cause of mortality in many affected cities.

It is for me an acceptance that what is apparent to my mind and heart is not often the whole truth. Facts change, so do emotions. So, take everything I write as a self-questioning enterprise or my agency to mould and expand my thought process.

I will be writing poems, whenever it happens. Sometimes out of habit, at other times deliberately carving words from the carcass of language to make them palatable. As history goes, I am not good with fine dining. I will also keep learning through reading and doing the unspeakable things to any poem I come to love, and perhaps go through a bit more of that companion text.

I do not know if any poem I will write can cause what I want it to release into my small world, where a comment or two can cause such a surge of pride and/or repulsion in me. Only for some time. This is the only way I have known because it is a release, and not something that I have nourished and built and kept safe. I do not think I ever had a chance.

I always sought to be comforted when that was not possible. I wanted reprieve when it could never last.

“Why live a lie,” sings Autumn as a refrain through the song. I am not going to bother with it. It is just a beginning to overcome some internalised delusions, and it has to be symbolic like everything else, to be of any significance.

This is the first in a series of essays envisaged by me called #Trash. Please bear with me as I had to get this self-indulgent piece out first; I have something sexy planned for next week. Share your opinion and topic suggestions (however trashy) in the comments. You can keep up with me on my Instagram or Twitter as well.

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