White Bicycle

Mr. Harin opened the backyard storeroom door, kicking in lots of dust in the air. Holding his breath, he poked his head inside. The room is dark but not enough to block Mr. Harin from seeing what is in there. “I did keep it here it seems”, Mr. Harin thought. But he cannot remember clearly neither about the location nor about the white bicycle. “Without the bicycle how can I go to the market?”

thought Mr. Harin. Walking in this warm day is not pleasant. Not at least for Mr. Harin. Even though he is looking for this white bicycle, but he cannot even remember when he last rode a bicycle! Mr. Harin loves riding bicycle from his childhood. He remembered his school days. He would ride about 5 kms every day for school. Though riding bicycle in hilly terrain is not that easy. Sometimes he will push his bicycle panting after the failed effort of riding uphill. Reaching home, he will have a good quantity of snacks. Change his school uniform to a light t-shirt, a track pant and canvas shoes. Then off he will go with his bicycle for a long relaxing ride. There is never any itinerary as such. He just turns whichever way he feels like. Entire place is remarkably interesting to travel around. There are many places of choice. Say the riverside through the jungle, where there is a small dam to hold water long after rainy season. Many locals fish in the dam and sell the catch in the nearby government colonies. A military cantonment is on the other bank of this river ‘Damodar’. Mr. Harin knows that it is restricted area and respects it. He will just ride on the bank following the narrow path. Sometimes it is more interesting to watch sunset sitting on a rock in shallow water with both the feet in running cool water. If not the river then maybe the single railway track partly elevated through the hilly terrain. Sometimes a diesel locomotive will show up hauling long train filled with coal. Mr. Harin loves to watch the train pass. He just stands next to the track keeping a safe distance and enjoy the sound of the metal wheels rolling on rails. Such melodious sound! Many times, he took his tape recorder along. He did record a few times, but it never sounds like the real thing. Other than goods train there is one passenger train at 6:30 PM. Steam engine pulls this train. Diesel engines are replacing the steam engine fast. So, a chance to watch steam train is a kind of luxury! But Mr. Harin cannot wait for that as he must be home by that time. But not that he never stayed late to watch that passenger train chugging away and disappear in the horizon leaving a trail of black smoke in the sky. He did once in a while but at the cost of scolding from his father! Other than this another most interesting place for Mr. Harin is where a small stream emerges from the bottom of a rock. A tiny temple protects the source of the stream. Local people call it ‘Tooti Jharnaa’, the ‘broken stream’. This steams flow for few kilometres and joins the river Damodar. Reaching the place Mr. Harin will first quench his thirst drinking cool water from the stream. It so refreshing. Sitting under that large baniyan tree he will forget everything. Cool breeze, sound of the flowing stream, the leaves, birds chirping, it is very enchanting! But those childhood days are gone.

All these daily adventures made Mr. Harin ride for 10 to 12 kms… on an average, well almost.

 

Mr. Harin closed the storeroom door which kicked some dust again in the air. He looked across the courtyard. Few healthy vegetable plants occupied the courtyard, his kitchen garden. Mr. Harin is fond of gardening. After his retirement he is completely into it. He has also planted one papaya, one mango and two coconut trees. Well, coconut tree is little exotic here in this small town in hilly terrains of Jharkhand. Most people passing by his house gives an admiring glance at those coconut trees. Fresh coconut may be a luxury in this town but not for Mr. Harin. Occasionally his friends and neighbours enjoy these fresh produces by his grace. He also has beds of flowers flaunting its beauty right by the entrance gate and patches around his two-storey building. Mr. Harin has collected these flower plant from various sources. Some came from his friend’s garden, some from the gardener at the government hospital and few bought at the market. Sometimes he will enter stranger’s garden without any hesitation and get some plants for his garden. In return he will often offer some from his garden. Lalan, a local milkman brings milk for Mr. Harin’s family and also occasionally some cart load of manure for the garden. In return, Lalan enjoys coconut as it is sort of luxury here. Fresh vegetable is in abundance in his backyard kitchen garden. Mr. Harin looked across his botanical garden in satisfaction. His eyes caught the sight of few tomatoes, ready to pluck. Mr. Harin just cannot wait. He plucks all the red tomatoes and some thick green chillies. Walking towards his house Mr. Harrin admires the produces he is cuddling. Suddenly Lattoo appears and picks a juicy tomato from Mr. Harin and runs away. “Wash it before eating” shouts Mr. Harin in vain. Lattoo is his only grandson, 8 years old, always spinning like a top around the house. Hence the nickname ‘Lattoo’, which means top. The boy is soft spoken but inquisitive. Often, he will ask questions no one at home can answer. “If humans did not have any tools before than with what they made their first one?” Mr. Harin was like “What?”. Obviously, Mr. Harin had no answer for this. Another time he asked, “Why there is so big gap between the planets or the galaxies?” Mr. Harin is enormously proud of his grandson. Often, he would bring gifts for him, books mostly, sometimes puzzle or some electronic DIY (Do It Yourself) kits. A month ago, in July, Mr. Harin gifted Lattoo a red bicycle as a birthday present. Suddenly Mr. Harin remembers he was looking for his white bicycle!

Mr. Harin puts all his fresh produces in the kitchen sink and opens the tap. “I think, I should be looking in the garage” thought Mr. Harin. Gently rubbing the vegetables under running water, he felt some tremors. At first, he could not understand the source. No, he did not feel like the earth is trembling. He stood still for a while. There again it goes. Oh! His stomach is growling! He is hungry! Oops! He is yet to have his breakfast. Glancing at his watch reveals its twenty minutes past ten. He started searching for anything prepared for him and Lattoo by Anita, Lattoo’s mother. She always prepares some food before leaving for her job. He found some roti and dal. Mr. Harin made faces as the food did not interest him much. But he is hungry. “Tomato chutney is the super engine”, he thought. He dices the ingredients and tosses those in the grinder. The noise of the grinder seems as if it is roaring in protest. But that did not bother Mr. Harin at all. All he has put in the grinder is one small onion, one large tomato and few green chillies with few pinches of salt. This is not so much for a protest! Mr. Harin kept the grinder running with a poker face. Few moments later… “This chutney looks awesome” thought Mr. Harin as he pours it in a bowl from the rebellious grinder! “Lattoo, come have some breakfast” shouted Mr. Harin. There is no response from Lattoo. Mr. Harin pulls out two melamine plate from the kitchen shelf. Pulled out two roti for himself. The chutney tastes awesome. “Lattoo, come fast. I have made some delicious chutney.” Lattoo rushed in the room. His blue t-shirt is wet and stained with fresh tomato juice. Mr. Harin points to the wet t-shirt. “What is this?” he asks. Lattoo looks at his wet t-shirt and then smiles. “Grandpa, this dark area are continents!” and pointing to the stuck seeds Lattoo says “these are towns and cities!” He looks up to Mr. Harin with a naughty smile on his face. Mr. Harin bursts out in small laugh looking at Lattoo. “Ok! But what about having some roti with chutney?” “I have finished my breakfast. I am not hungry.” Lattoo said. “Ok! Go, take a bath, and change the t-shirt. Your mother is not a cartographer! She will not appreciate those maps!” said Mr. Harin. Ignoring what Mr. Harin said, Lattoo stretches himself to take a closer look at the chutney. He sniffs twice. Aroma of freshly made chutney lights up his face. Mr. Harin knows Lattoo’s likes and dislikes about food. Latoo is mostly like him. Mr. Harin tears a bit of roti, dips it in chutney and offers to Lattoo. The boy at once takes the bite and likes the taste as Mr. Harin was expecting. He pulls another chair and sits beside his grandpa. Both are enjoying the food silently. Litle drops of sweat appears on Lattoo’s forehead. He feels the hot chilli, yet he is enjoying it. Soon the roti in the plate is gone! Mr. Harin opens the casserole for another roti. His sight catches the look of the casserole. A quite simple white casserole with some light grey graphic patterns! Oh! the colour white reminds Mr. Harin of the white bicycle!

Mr. Harin pulls up the squeaking garage shutter with all his might. He is always cautious to avoid hurting his back. “The shutter needs some lubrication” he thought. A damp smell struck the nose. Its been long the garage is open. A large dark annoyed lizard ran and hid under some cardboard boxes. Spiders are flaunting their creations, mostly in the corners of the garage. Mr. Harin felt as if those spiders with rickety legs are staring at him in annoyance. Some were swaying in anger it seems! Mr. Harin gives a damn to the feelings of those annoyed spiders or lizards. He stood looking around for a way in. This garage is more of a storage place now. His old Maruti 800 is occupying half the area. Lattoo was 3 years old when he bought this car. Mr. Harin remembers how Lattoo was super excited about the car. Whenever Anita had trouble making Lattoo obey her, she would take him to the car. Lattoo loved sitting on the driver’s seat. Occasionally, Mr. Harin would drive to market and Lattoo comes along. Well, most of the time. Latto would sit quietly and watch through the window. Mr. Harin had bought a pillow to raise Lattoo’s sitting height in the car so that the seat belt is on his chest rather than his face! Mr. Harin drives carefully while keeping an eye on Lattoo. He does not drive anymore. Last month, while leaving the hospital his doctor advised him so. But it really does not matter as Mr. Harin’s interest is in gardening and playing with Lattoo. And of course, every evening he will be on the roof walking around. His eyes will wander the horizon and his mind in his childhood. From there sometimes he will just stand and watch those children playing football on empty plot between two built ups. This area is still developing, and many plots are empty. Plot owners live in large cities and has no plan to return soon. But this turns out as a boon for the children here. Fast developing of towns and cities are leaving less space for children to play in the open. “No wonder nowadays children are stuck with mobile phones, compute games, televisions, all day long” says Mr. Harin. Endless scolding from the angry parents has no effect whatsoever. “Parents should understand children’s problems too. Government should do something about this…” Mr. Harin makes his way towards the other end of the garage. Suddenly something hits Mr. Harin on his head from behind. He lost balance and fell on a pile of cardboard boxes. The pile came crashing down spreading some old bound books all over the floor. Some went under the parked car. Just then Lattoo dashed in to collect his ball. Seeing his grandpa down over a pile of comics delighted him. Latto laughed out loudly. Mr. Harin too started laughing as he extended his hand for help. “Pull me up” he said. “Are you hurt?” “No no…” Mr. Harin replies. Lattoo helped his grandpa up. While doing so, scattered bound books caught his sight. He knows these are old comic books that belongs to his grandpa. Lattoo cannot resist from picking one and start flipping the pages. Mr Harin joined in. Reading and collecting comic books is another enjoyable activity of Mr. Harin from his childhood. He always took care of his comic collection. He will group those books categorised by the protagonist of the story, then stitch and bind it with hard cardboard. Finally cover with brown sheet of paper and label. No wonder those books are still intact. He loves comics even today! The table in his room has a pile of some of these. Mr. Harin remembers how he saved his pocket money to buy comics. Though the local stall keeper would usually save a set but sometimes he would forget. So, Mr. Harin had to travel to the other end of the town. As a child Mr. Harin would think “The stall keeper is such a lucky person. He gets to read all those books and comics for free!” Once he asked the stall keeper. “No no… I like to listen to my radio! I am not keen in reading. I am not good in my studies too. So, I failed in my 12th board exam. Now I run this stall for an income.” the stall keeper replied with a smile which exposed his bright white teeth. Mr. Harin was impressed with his clean white teeth. He had never seen such white teeth and wanted to know the secret behind it. “Hah! Hah! Hah!” laughed the stall keeper “I know nothing about this. I just brush my teeth twice. That’s it!” replied the stall keeper. Those white teeth kept lingering in his mind for sometimes though.

Suddenly Mr. Harin felt some strong tremors, like he felt in the morning. He is surprised to note that he is hungry again. “So soon?” Looking at his watch he realised it is quarter to three! Lattoo is still devouring those old worn out pages of the comic book. Mr. Harin gently shook Lattoo. “Oye Lattoo! Get up, we need to have our lunch!” Lattoo glanced at Mr. Harin and went back to the comic pages. “You go, I will join you.” He said in a faint voice. Mr. Harin just pulled Lattoo up by his left arm. Lattoo just hangs on his left arm still holding the book and eyes glued to it. Mr. Harin make him stand and while dusting his back said “Come on! Let’s go and eat. Else your mom will kill us both!” Lattoo looks up at his grandpa and replies with a naughty smile “So be it! It will be some fun to loiter around being ghost! We can scare people! Go everywhere as we wish! Won’t it be fun?” Mr. Harin smiled and said “Yes it will be fun all right! But then you won’t be able to eat ice cream or chocolate or play with your toys!” Lattoo’s inquisitive face stared at his grandpa. “Do you not know that ghosts cannot touch anything? They are like thin air!” Lattoo’s facial expression turned disappointing. He holds on the comic and lazily follows his grandpa for lunch. “But where is my white bicycle?” thought Mr. Harin as they walk toward kitchen. “It seems it is not in the garage.” Tremor returns. Mr. Harin increases his walking pace. Lattoo, glued to the comic walks behind his grandpa. “Hurry up Lattoo! I am dying of hunger”. “I am right behind you grandpa” replies Lattoo softly as he follows lazily still lost in the comic book.

Today the evening is quite pleasant with gentle cold breeze. Mr. Harin looks at his watch, it is just quarter past eight. He has finished his dinner well in time as advised by his doctor. That white bicycle is still lingering in his mind. How can something vanish. No one in the family even know about it! He adjusts the pillow behind his head as he eases on his armchair. Most of the time he reclines on this old armchair which he inherited from his late grandfather. He loves sitting on this chair in his balcony and gaze the sky as it grows darker by every moment. Mr. Harin loves the moonless night more as he can enjoy shining stars across the sky. “Full moon is the spoiler! Poor stars cannot flaunt their shine. Moon is powerful!” Mr. Harin used to think. But Lattoo never agreed with him. He said “But grandpa, all the stars are like our sun. Some are even bigger than our sun. Moon reflects sunlight. But we call it moonlight! This is cheating.” The boy has a point. Mr. Harin agreed with Lattoo. But still the moon is so influential. Mr. Harin was never good in science. The thought had bothered him for months till he asked Lattoo one day. Lattoo thought for a while and said, “I don’t know”. Mr. Harin was not surprised at his reply. How can such a small boy answer something which a grownup man like Mr. Harin cannot. But a few days later Lattoo comes to his grandpa and said “You see grandpa, it is like when mom is at home, I obey her. But when she is away, I do what I want to”. Mr. Harin took few moments to realise what Lattoo said. “Hmmm… Lattoo is so very logical. Closest thing or person influences the most!”. Sitting on his favourite chair he is staring at the stars. It is dark outside. There are few houses around. There are no streetlights yet in this area. This makes star gazing more enjoyable. But Mr. Harin is not really gazing stars at this moment.  Thought of the white bicycle is inhabiting his mind. He is trying to recall every bit of today.

In the afternoon today, after lunch, Mr. Harin returned to the garage. He looked behind everything that might hide a white bicycle. A while later, he became mechanical. He will move anything of any size to look behind. He moves those rear-view mirrors, then the toolbox and then the empty lubricant cans. Wait a minute! Look what he finds, a bicycle key! Rays of hope lit Mr. Harin’s face. “If there is smoke, there is fire for sure!” thought Mr. Harin. The key had nothing printed on it and looked quite ordinary. A white plastic disc, about an inch or so is hanging from the key with a metal chain. The white plastic disc has nothing to reveal. With a beaming face he hurries to Lattoo, who is sitting on the stairs of the portico lost in the comic pulled out from the garage. Mr. Harin stoops down on Lattoo. “Do you know where the white bicycle is?” asks Mr. Harin. “Which white bicycle?” Lattoo looks up in confusion. “There never was one in our house. Mine is red, which you gave me on my birthday.” Lattoo is still in confusion. “Grandpa, you must have seen it in your dream.” Lattoo smiles. “If I had a dream then what is this?” Mr. Harin dangled the keychain in front of Lattoo. Surprised, Lattoo took it for closer inspection. He flipped the keychain a few times and smiled “Grandpa, this is the key chain you made for me from the bottle cap and put the duplicate key of my bicycle!” Lattoo was overjoyed finding the keychain. “When?” asked Mr. Harin. “Oh! That Sunday afternoon, sitting in your room you took two bottle caps. Then you trimmed one and pressed it in to other. This ring and chain were in your old suitcase. You don’t remember?” Lattoo was little surprised. “May I keep it?” Lattoo asked still admiring his new possession. “I was looking for this. Now I can show it to my school friends. They never believe you made a keychain for me with bottle cap.” Lattoo puts the keychain in his pocket and returns to his comic. Mr. Harin does not remember making a keychain out of bottle cap! Lattoo is just 8 years old, he must have mistaken this with some other keychain.

Evening Anita and Biren returns from their office. They both were tired, more due to hectic travel than days’ work. Both enter the kitchen after freshening up. “Dad! Come for dinner. It is ready” Anita calls Mr. Harin. Lattoo walks in hearing the call followed by Mr. Harin. He pulls a chair and sits at the dining table. Lattoo sits next to him. Biren serves his father and son. “Have you finished your homework?” asked Biren looking at Lattoo. “Yes. Only history is half done. I will finish it after dinner.” replies Lattoo. Aroma of the food makes Mr. Harin forget about the white bicycle for the moment. Anita is a genius. She cooks so well. Everyone who has tasted her dishes has praised her. Mr. Harin loves everything cooked by Anita, except that bitter guard fry. That is not food as per Mr. Harin! Anita brings hot roti for Lattoo and Mr. Harin. Just then Mr. Harin remembers to ask them about his white bicycle. Anita served one roti to Lattoo and turned to serve one to Mr. Harin. “Where is that white bicycle” asks Mr. Harin looking at her. Anita paused and looked at Mr. Harin in confusion. Biren too looked at his father in confusion. “Have you seen it or know anything about it?” Mr. Harin asks again looking both, Anita and Biren. Anita shook her head slowly in denial. She is confused! “Dad you must be dreaming!” Biren continues “You have the habit of forgetting things. Now you have started to think dreams are real.” Biren looks little worried for his dad though he smiles. “We never had any white bicycle!” Lattoo is smiling. “Me too told grandpa that. He must be dreaming about this white bicycle.” Lattoo says. Then he remembers something and pulls out the bicycle keychain with white locket and shows it to all. “Grandpa thinks this is the key of the white bicycle. But this mine.” “But I remember about it!” Mr. Harin protests. “Only I am not able to remember where I kept it or if I have given it to someone.”. His voice sounds little anxious. Biren and Anita is silent but worried for Mr. Harin. He is alone throughout the day at this age. Mr. Harin does not socialise much either. “Loneliness must be the reason behind this state of mind!” thought Biren. “Dad don’t bother about that bicycle. If it is not there, its ok.” Biren said. Anita glanced at Biren. She looks worried. Biren too is worried but he wants to know what is worrying Anita now. He nodes his head inquisitively. Anita does not respond. She is motionless. Her eyes are wide open. No, she is not even blinking! Now, this is worrying! Biren was about to shake Anita, suddenly she turns to Mr. Harin and asks, “Why do you need this white bicycle now?” This makes everyone in the room to stare at her in utter confusion.


The stars are beautiful. An owl flies by followed by two bats. It is calm. Hardly any noise, except for some insects. Most people have reclined in their homes. Mr. Harin is still not able to escape from his white bicycle. “Is it that this white bicycle was in my dream? But how can this be?” He looks at his watch. It is quarter to ten. Mr. Harin scoops himself from the armchair to keep the empty cup. After dinner he likes to have one black tea without sugar. Anita brings it without fail. Mr. Harin also needs to take his medicine. He puts the cup down on the table and reach for his medicine box. He hates medicines. But nothing doing. All these started few weeks ago, after the brain haemorrhage. Dr. Anand, a renowned neurologist is treating Mr. Harin and has given strict instruction to follow the treatment. “Else you might return to ICU for a very long time!” Mr. Harin picks up the cup of steaming black tea, Anita just brought it for him. Still lost in his thoughts, Mr. Harin sips his tea. Such a lovely tea, only Anita can prepare. Mr. Harin is not able to come to any agreement. He still remembers this white bicycle, but hardly with any details though. “But I still remember it!”

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