'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Monday, November 14, 2005

'St. Mary's Cycle Works'

Logically speaking, Pappachan must be somewhere near 50 years of age but he does not look it; indeed, he looks pretty much like when I first knew him - around a quarter of a century ago. For as long as I can remember he has owned and manned a shop called 'St. Mary's Cycle Works', in the town of Chalakudi, Kerala. The shop has not changed much over the years either (except for a small ad for cellphone cards which it now presumably sells along with its usual assortment of articles ranging from bananas and cigarettes to soda water - yes, the soda bottles too have changed; one does not see those very massive bottles with glass marbles for stoppers anymore). And,contrary to the name of his establishment, Pappachan never sold or seriously repaired bicycles. His cycle-related activities have been strictly limited to refilling tyres and providing cycles on rent. It is this last mentioned service that I avail of whenever I visit home - an event that happens on an average twice a year.

In early November, Kerala experiences a very unique weather regime called 'Tulavarsham' - the mornings are clear; by midday it gets very sultry and the afternoon sees a rapid and massive buildup of clouds followed by a thunderstorm, which clears up in a couple of hours. The evenings are usually clear and humid.

Last Friday was no different. By 5, the rain has stopped for the day and the sky is a clean blue. Knowing there is nearly an hour of sunshine left for the day I walk down to St. Marys' and ask the usual question: "Got cycle?" (although I can see a few of them lined up). With a deadpan expression (he has always been a man of very few words and btw, he knows me fairly well) Pappachan pulls over one of his cycles and hands it over to me and then looks at an ancient clock on the wall (to note the time somewhere). With no further talk, I check the brakes and bell and within seconds am off on a trip I have always enjoyed.

In a few minutes, I reach the railway crossing that marks the end of the town. What lies ahead is not real country but a swathe of suburbia - an almost continuous succession of houses set back from the road in green compounds which grow in area in proportion to the distance from the town. Occasionally, the road skirts or crosses vast rice fields and ponds choked with weeds and water lilies and fringed by stands of trees. Smokestacks of brick-kilns could be seen rising above the darkening tree-line and into the sky - a flood of twilight colors. The air is very still and very humid and misty vapors hang low over the waters. Even at normal pedaling speed, I am working up quite a bit of (very welcome) sweat.

By nightfall, I reluctantly turn back. A pale three-quarters-moon provides enough light to find one's way back to the more familiar town streets.

Pappachan is preparing to shut shop and looks relieved to see me - and his cycle - back. He checks the clock and his log and says matter of factly: "seven bucks" ('aint it cheap,' I muse, 'seven Indian rupees for over an hour and a half of cross-country biking?').

As I hand Pappachan the dough, he allows himself a question in the (now, to self) strangely musical local dialect: "'Ppevadeyaa?" (this means the whole of "Where are you based at present?". And this is the only 'extra-professional' thing I have heard from him over all these years). "Pooneylu" ("In Pune") I reply, trying awkwardly to achieve the same musical effect, an act that has become increasingly difficult with Time. And yes, unlike the sameness of Pappachan's query, the answer has changed over a dozen times, tracing out my erratic trajectory.

Note: Pappachan's tribe is dwindling, at least in Kerala. Now, even in villages, one hardly sees shops which rent out bicycles. Here is wishing 'St. Mary's' luck; and longevity.


  • At 10:03 AM, Blogger Myna said…

    The soul of India lies not in villages but in people like Pappachan who are content to live a life just enough to make it not too complicated but at the same time sufficient to move forward. To have a countryside to go on a bicycle ride, not to mention a shop that rents bicycles, where misty vapors on the fields wake up to the golden rays of evening sun after a heavy rain in November is something that only luckiest can enjoy. It makes me nostalgic.

  • At 10:38 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks suresh.

    and wish you many many long cycle rides whenever you visit mundathicode.

  • At 10:58 PM, Blogger Random Vandamme said…

    sub se pyaari subah teri, sub se rangeen teri shaam


    jis jaha paida huve, vus jaha hi nikle dam ...

  • At 12:08 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks vandamme.

    to be very honest, although i do enjoy these visits and the 'cocktail' of sensual and emotional experiences they provide, i often feel more liberated and even 'safer' in the anonymity of the life in a concrete-bound city like pune than among the (too) well-known faces in verdant kerala.

  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger Random Vandamme said…

    Let me fill in a bit of the "..." othe lyrics in my previous comment:


    chooD kar teri jamin ko door aa pahunche hai hum

    phir bhi hi ye hi tamanna teri jarron ke kasam

    jis jaha ...

    One can be nostalgic only when "door jaa pahunche". And the reason for going the distance from home can be because of a combination of various reasons: pastures (job wise)
    b.modern maedicine
    c.modern timepass (entertainment, etc.)
    d.Any other of the various similar things.

    But still, majority of the people long for their homeland; unlike the ulta-nostalgic kabooliwala, they might not want to breath, in blissful peace, their last there though. Instead they fight it out in their chosen places. I feel like breathing my rest (not just the last) in secluded Himalayan muntains; it (the last breath) may be very difficult though (more because of the low oxygen levels!). I am sure many of us have our own Lake Isles, or Chalakkudys or Mundathicodes.

    Mote later.
    Vandamme The Random


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