The year was 2008. The winter had just started to set in. The days were becoming shorter and the breeze was becoming colder. All summer months I had been itching to get on my cycle and be able to drive just a little further than the confines of the neighbourhood streets. One beautiful sunny day, I just decided to cycle down to work about 6 kms away. Till that day, I had never seen anyone in Hyderabad, apart from contract labourers, cycling to work. But that did not deter me for a moment. After all, what could possibly go wrong. I knew the traffic rules to be followed by cyclists and I was sure people would respect someone trying something new.
I packed my laptop in my backpack and slinged my lunch bag on the handle bar of the cycle. I used to cycle long distances during my college days in the beautiful city of Chandigarh. I thought cycling in Hyderabad would be pretty much the same. Well, I guess I should have planned a bit more. For starters, me knowing the traffic rules was not adequate. I was just one lone entity amidst hundreds of motorists on the road. It was therefore more important for the motorists to know the rules of the road when they are driving alongside cyclists. Alas, this is something which was completely missing in the highly educated, upper middle class IT society of Hyderabad. To add to it, none of the roads in those days, had decent walking tracks (footpaths) leave alone cycling tracks. Hence, I was forced to ride my slim cycle alongside the motorists, quite a few of whom considered me a big nuisance factor on the road.
After a long, risky ride, I finally managed to reach office. I sighed in relief at the end of the debacle, only to realize that the worst was yet to come. The security guard scanned me and my cycle as if I was an alien riding a space ship straight from another galaxy. He told me to wait at the gate as he went inside to speak to his supervisor. Soon I saw three of them peeping from the window of the office trying to make up their mind about something. The security guard appeared back with someone who seemed like he was in charge. This man politely told me that I could not take my cycle inside. I would have to park my cycle on the road before I could enter the premises. I was dumbfounded. It was now my turn to checkout my cycle in close detail to ensure that it did not have any signs that indicated it was an alien space craft. I couldn’t find anything remotely similar so I questioned him on this comment. Why should I park it outside? We have a big enough parking for cars and scooters. Why not park a cycle inside? He explained in simple term, “Madam ji, cars are parked in car parking. Scooters are parked in scooter parking. There is no parking space for cycles in the office. You will have to park it on the road.” I was now shocked beyond words. I did not have the time to argue with them. I told them politely to please consider a cycle as a two wheeler and allow me to park it in the two wheeler parking space. Maybe I seemed senior enough, or serious enough for them to accept this offer reluctantly. The security guard sighed and warned me that I was parking my cycle in the two wheeler zone at my own risk. If something happened to it, he would not be responsible. I shrugged my shoulders, sighed and proceeded with the parking. I was already late for the morning meeting. I would have to discuss this issue with the Operations team sometime later.
As it turned out, the Operations team was more interested in talking to me than I was. Even before my meeting had finished, my phone rang. It was someone from the Operations team wanting to speak to me urgently. He requested me to step out my meeting so I could meet him in his office. In my short working experience, I have learnt never to disobey the call of HR, Finance and Operations. I excused myself from the meeting and went to meet him. He politely told me that my cycle had created problems for the Operations team. A Senior Operations Manager had spotted the cycle parked amidst the scooters and he had considered it a big safety hazard. I would have to move my cycle out from there. What could I possibly say? I apologized for the inconvinience and promised him to remove the cycle. He sent an escort with me back to my desk, who supervised me to make sure I went to the parking without any delay, removed my cycle from the scooter parking and moved it out of the office on to the road. As I left my dear cycle, standing out on the road alone, my eyes welled up with tears. What kind of a world do we live in?
Fast forward to 2015, I read about the initiative Car Free Thursdays and the whole emphasis on walking or cycling to work. I have long since moved away from my fat salaried IT job, so I do not stay amongst the IT world to witness their reactions to Car Free Thursday. Over the weeks I saw pictures pouring in of people actually walking and cycling to work. In my heart, I was immensly glad. We need to have cycling as a part of our road culture. There should be cycle tracks built for cyclists. Like all European countries, cyclists should be given the right of the way in India as well. While I am sure that GHMC is already working on these plans, I have a lingering question for the top notch Corporates. Do you, atleast now, have parking spaces for cycles in your offices? Can you provide the same, if not better status to this simple, yet powerful machine?
While it is so good to see the positive change happening around the city, it came a little too late for me and my dear BSA cycle. Years of no use and lack of attention, slowly lead to its demise a while ago. I had to literally donate it to a kabadi wala some time back. As I end my post for today, I pray for all the beautiful cycles who roam free on the streets of Hyderabad now. May you never be shackled into oblivion again. Unlike me, may your riders have the courage to stand up for you and provide you the right place in our society.
Happy Car Free Thursday to everyone!