The pic you see above is the only one surviving over the years. This was taken at Raghav Ranjan’s house in Kanpur (mentioned in Part 2)
It is usual for a group of cyclists to get separated on the road. You start at the same time and cycle together for half an hour or so. Then one in the group pedals a little quicker than the others and soon is seen as a dot in the horizon. Then another one takes off while yet another decides to stop for relieving himself. In a matter of an hour the group is spread wide apart, by some five to seven kilometers even. How the group members get together in case of an emergency or for a meal, you will wonder. Remember those were those days there were no mobile phones. No STD booths either, not that these would have really helped to establish communication within the group. In a strange land what would the group do?
The land could be strange, but the lay of the land was simple in our case. We were all cycling on National Highway number Two (NH 2), a long, straight road connecting India from East to West. Unless of course someone veered off the road and decided to take in the pastoral beauty by venturing into the villages; which in our case it rarely happened.
Whenever the group got splintered and someone felt the need to group together, the one who thought was ahead would park at a roadside dhaba and wait for the others to catch up. If he was of the more cautious variety, he would request a scooterist travelling in the opposite direction to convey the message to the other group members regarding his whereabouts. Like “stop at the dhaba just after milestone which says Mathura 65” or “look-out for the tea-stall next to Bunty’s garage on the right”. The one at the rear would do a similar request to another mechanized vehicle rider, but riding in the same direction. “Tell my friends to wait for me at the next petrol bunk.” You will wonder how the messenger would know who he had to deliver the message to. With our NCC dress, our black cycles with the placards announcing “Cycle trip: Varanasi to Delhi”, the kit slung on the cycle carriers and our general mismatch with the looks of the local populace, we were not difficult to spot. In fact we stood out quite starkly!
Sometimes this separation would create dramatic results! I remember this episode when we were proceeding from Shikohabad towards Mathura. The sun was setting and we still had some three hours of cycling to go before we parked for the night. We were hoping to have a night-halt beyond Mathura- we would then be within a kissing distance of our destination, New Delhi. Most of us were cycling in a bunch, there was one guy behind, but we were within sighting distance. There was one chap whom we had not seen for the last couple of hours and who we assumed was far behind us. Suddenly in the rapidly declining light, one of us saw a body sprawled on the roadside. A closer look revealed a body clothed in khakis, like ours. It was the chap who we always assumed was bringing up the rear! Sethi!
“Sethi! What happened?” we all exclaimed in unison.
“Leave me alone guys”, Sethi groaned. The chap was in agony.
“My lower back hurts bad, I can’t move, just leave me alone. Carry on guys, I will manage!”
It was getting darker, and colder. And there was no way we could leave him alone. And we were in the middle of nowhere. Well we were on NH 2, but there was not a soul in sight.
Then our Captain Satish took charge. He hoisted Sethi onto the cross bar of his cycle and began cycling after instructing us to bring along Sethi’s cycle. Those of you who have experience of cycling would know that it is possible to ride two cycle together. You sit astride your own cycle peddling normally. You hold your own bike handles with one hand while guiding the accompanying rider-less bike with the other. Not difficult, if you know the trick. And most of us were good at it and we took turns at this while Captain Satish was coasting along “double-ride” with Sethi.
I now think of it and shudder to imagine what would have happened if we had not spotted him!
(To be continued)