It was in the 1950s, while we boys in trousers with suspenders were playing cricket in our backyard, that I heard the vibrant vroom-vroom-vroom sound. A motorcycle? Aha! A motorcycle had made a grand entry into our street! I felt elated as if a spacecraft from an alien planet had just landed.
The match was peremptorily abandoned. We all ran making unearthly noises, my inquisitive grandpa demanding to know the reason for such sudden noisy mass movement, his questions attacking us like bees from a stone-pelted hive.
It was indeed a shiny bike ('motorcycle' in those days) parked in front of Dilli Babu's house, an ex-serviceman. He was wiping the gleaming vehicle with a blue rag, humming under his breath. "Will you do a puja, uncle?" asked Rangu, hoping to wangle some prasad, forgetting the fact that Dilli Babu, an atheist, had preferred to hang pictures at home of Lenin, Stalin and Marx instead of Ganesh, Lakshmi and Saraswathi.
But Dilli Babu wanted to show off again for those who had missed his grand entry. So, he kick-started the vehicle and zoomed past, ignoring Rangu's appeal to be allowed to ride pillion. Lo and behold! Jimmy, the street dog, challenged by the sight of the speeding monster started running parallel to it, aiming for Dilli Babu's calf muscle.
The tragic result was that the vehicle toppled. Dilli Babu had hairline fractures on his left hand and right leg, requiring a POP bandage. While the vehicle escaped with minor scratches, Jimmy, the tormentor, suffered no damage. The ex-army man unleashed a fusillade of abuses, mostly in colloquial Hindustani, on the canine ruffian.
The next motorcycle to enter the scene much later was a sturdy Java ridden by my aunt's son, Prabhu, 10 years elder to me. When I requested for a spin, he winked and said he took only young women as pillion riders, but would make an exception in my case. I enjoyed a thrilling ride, the wind blowing onto my face, carrying the blended smell of perfumed hair oil, filter Wills cigarette and scented supari from Prabhu. My classmates, Chitra and Chameli were looking at me wonderstruck. I ignored them with my nose in the air.
Prabhu came back to Poonamalee after a decade. His hairline had receded, face shone like a metallic plate meticulously burnished bearing signs of prosperity and good life. He had married Kanaga Durga, an Andhra damsel, and ran a dealership of two-wheelers in Rajahmundry, financed by his doting father-in-law.
"I have a child now; Nandu, a two-year-old bundle of mischief. I seat him in the front, holding him, while Kanaga Durga rides pillion holding me. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than riding with them thus. Did you know there is a bit of parallel in this? Well, I've to bring a cat and monkey to explain this.
"A mother cat goes places clutching her baby's scruff. But a baby monkey should hold its mother's chest. Otherwise, it will fall. These are the two types of surrender to God, the total and partial. Maarjala kishora nyaya (cat's baby) and markata kishora nyaya (monkey's baby). Indeed, life is full of such allegories."