It was one of the craziest activities I have ever taken part in. I cycled from Varanasi to Delhi by road. On a bicycle. In the middle of winter. A ride of about 750-odd kilometers. With hardly any support systems save for the few classmates as companions, a rudimentary first aid kit and some puncture repair paraphernalia. The plan was simple, simplistic really, on hindsight. This trip was undertaken in 1983-84 when we were engineering students in the fourth year of our five year course at IT-BHU, Varanasi. (Those days engineering was a five-year course in most places). There was a largish gap between our theory and practical exams and we decided to make good this opportunity by seeing the world a bit.
We had a classmate, Satish, who had done all the planning. We would leave Varanasi early morning on 29th Dec 1983 and reach Delhi on the evening of 3rd January 1984. Satish had not only done painstaking preparations for the trip but he had also gathered a bunch of seven of us. Six were to go all the way to Delhi from Varanasi while one would stay back in Kanpur, his home town. I was perhaps the only non-NCC guy in the group. With nothing to protect us but our youthful enthusiasm and those hastily acquired NCC kits. Those of us who were not members of the NCC enrolled as one, if not for anything else but to get the NCC standard issue gear; a blanket, a jersey, boots etc. And more importantly, a letter from the campus’ NCC commandant certifying us as bonafide NCC cadets and that others should help us in case we were in need.
We had decided that we will have one leader and who we would follow come what may. We instinctively knew that it would be chaos if we did not have a leader, a single person whose commands we needed to obey. Satish being the one who had planned the entire trip was the unanimous choice; and he was the “most-NCC” of us all! “C” certificate and all that. With a demeanour to boot.
We started our trip from BHU’s Vishwanath Mandir at 5.30 in the morning. We did have a couple of friends to see us off. Puja offered, photos taken, bye-byes done; we were off! The night before we left, some friends had come to wish me all the best. They all placed bets among themselves on whether I would complete this journey. I was not exactly the physically active types, and hardly the type to cycle all the way to Delhi from Varanasi. Most of my friends were pretty sure that on day two I would be on way back to Varanasi, probably via a hitch-hiked return trip on a truck or worse still a dehydrated and fatigued apparition of skull-and-bones in an ambulance. I am sure some would have even replaced the ambulance in their imagination for a hearse. Since you are reading this post some 27 years afterwards, you know that I have survived to tell the tale.
The plan- our leader Satish’ plan- was to cycle about 125 kms a day and halt for the night at a police station. Our Day one ended at Allahabad. A government guest house was made available to us thanks to the influence of a friend’s father who was a senior government officer. So the lodging and boarding was well taken care of. But when we reached the destination we discovered that our bodies are made of the elements, lead being a prominent one. Yes, our legs were leaden! Most of us barely had the energy to park our cycles and we all collapsed onto the nearest horizontal space available. Satish went out to enquire about the dinner etc. When he returned, he announced the meal arrangements and also the time of departure for the next morning. Six am, he pronounced. A collective groan all round, but we had no choice. We had all agreed to follow our leader.
So Six am it was that biting cold morning of 30th December 1983. Seven idiots, with aching calf muscles donned in their NCC gear setting off for day two of the expedition. Destination for the night: Kalyanpur police station.
The first hour was a torture. All the muscles were groaning in unison. Head was telling me, go back you idiot. What are you doing here this winter morning on the highways of UP? You ought to be in your hostel bed in Varanasi curled up with a book on mechanical metallurgy, or thermodynamics, or whatever seizes your fancy. (I refrain from admitting here what really seized my fancy at that age). The heart rebelled: “You twit, you want to get back and prove all those stupid hostel-mates right by returning after 24 hours in the wilderness?” “No way, my heart told me, “no way”, as I continued to peddle on my old hand-me-down Avon cycle. I am sure the others had similar introspective chats with themselves. None surrendered.
After an hour or so, my body settled to the rhythm of peddling, my muscles found their strange abuse familiar. I was singing as I cycled along the highway. I still remember the song I would sing aloud to myself often during the trip: “Zaroorat hai, zaroorat hai, zaroorat hai; ek srimati ki, kalavati ki..”. That old song of Kishore Kumar from the 1962 movie Manmauji. Maybe it was the simple words, maybe it was the simple tune, that was the song I had used whenever I was asked by my seniors to sing a romantic Hindi song during my ragging days some three-and-a-half years earlier. Or maybe it was the song’s following line which- in those conditions- made me peppy. The line goes: “sewa karey jo pati ki..” I was far from having a patni, but the whole thought of a nubile woman massaging my calf-muscles at that time of the day was enticing. And it is this thought which made me brave on.
Another motivation was to have an hourly stop at the road-side dhaba to gorge on some sweets and some water. Mostly pedas or jalebis. Washed down with liters of water from whatever receptacle the water was held in at the dhaba. Amrit. Pure!
(To be continued)