I was born in a small paradise in India. Clean, beautiful, small and self sufficient, it is a city which is the envy of most bustling capitals across the world. Chandigarh – one of the only two planned cities of the world is the capital city of both Haryana and Punjab. But that is not what makes it unique. That is not what I remember when I think of my days in Chandigarh. When I think of Chandigarh, I think of the long cycle tracks, hidden between thick, green, shady trees; running criss cross through the entire city. It is on these tracks that I have spent most of my teen evenings; cycling on an old dilapidated Mach-1 cycle.
Each evening, as the sun settled down, I used to take out the old machine and cycle around the whole city, whizzing past the traffic which was trying to head home. On roads which were devoid of traffic, I used to often let go of the handle bars, stretching my arms, palms turned out, and head lifted up towards the sky. I could see the green branches dancing in the breeze, the yellow flowers, the red leaves or just the open expanse of the sky floating around me. Yes! In those days I could fly! It was for this reason that I deliberately tried to stay on roads which had the minimum traffic.
Since I was a regular on the evening roads a lot of people expected to see me cycling around at a particular hour each evening. Needless to say, I used to be the object of attention sometimes, good and bad. I was young, brash, and couldn’t care less for either of them. My theory was pretty simple; most people would not be able to catch me in a cycle chase as I was simply faster than them. Those who were not on a cycle, but on a faster machine, could not catch me either. This was because I could anytime move to the other side of the road, by jumping a road divider, dragging my cycle behind me. They on the other hand could never do so on a scooter/bike/ or car. By the time they reached a U turn and crossed over, I would have long disappeared into another tree covered cycle lane. In my mind, I had the entire city mapped out. It was safe.
Once there was a typical teen Chandigarh boy, who approached me from behind, on his cycle. He gave me a toothy grin and said, “Hello there! Can I have your name please!?!” Usually, I would have sped off, leaving him to his name search, but some days, you just want to play along. I smiled back and said, “Sorry! I can’t give it to you! It is the only one I have!” With that I pushed off, switching tracks, getting lost at a traffic light.
Then, there was a day, when one friend decided to join me in my cycling expedition. She was soon tired and bored. I am sure she was wondering why I was so crazy about cycling, in the first place. She asked me but I couldn’t explain. I just loved it. I just loved flying through the streets with my feet balanced on the pedals of the cycle. There was nothing more to be said. Then she asked me another question, “Wasn’t I scared, riding through the entire city, ALONE in the evening. Hadn’t I heard what all can happen to girls my age, when we are alone?” Honestly speaking, I hadn’t thought about it. I had never felt scared on those roads. My only response was, “I never feel scared, when I know I am completely alone. I would be scared, only when I knew that there was someone around me.”
Till date, I maintain this philosophy to life. Cycling has been replaced with walking, owing to the terrain and traffic of the city that I live in. I never feel scared till I know there is no one around me. But the moment, I sense a vehicle or a person coming close to me, my body goes on self defense mode. I reduce the volume of the music in my headphones, move to the opposite side of the road, and be ready for attack, if someone tries something funny. As the vehicle passes on, and nothing happens, my breath evens out again and the music becomes louder.
How strange is the world that we live in! We being the most advanced of all species have conquered every other specie out there. We no longer live under fear from any other living form. What we need to fear now, is each other. I smile at the dogs, who sniff at my ankles and feet on the road. But I loathe the boys, who dare to even catch my smell. How dare they!?!
Toyna got a new cycle for her 10th birthday. It is what she wanted as her gift. She is happy riding it in the confines of our lane till now. But how long, can I keep her caged? One day, she will want to step out. One day, she will want to fly too. How will I explain the rules to her? This city is not Chandigarh! And this time is not the right time for teen girls to be out alone. How will I cut her wings even before she has unfolded them? I once used to fly and I just hope someday I will be able to help her fly too.