First time I ask my father for a bicycle I was six years old. My farther said that I was too young. He promised that once I finish fifth grade, I will get a bicycle.
Wanting a bicycle was a logical necessity. I was buying our household groceries since I learned to walk. My mother would send me to the local market at least six times a day. I wish I could say that I dreamt of pink handles and tassels. But I didn’t. I wanted a machine that took me places faster than my legs.
I started sixth grade. I was told to wait until I completed sixth grade. Every year I was told to wait for next year. My next year never came. My six years younger sister got her first tricycle when I was in my senior high-school. Of-course by then my father simply said that I was too old for a bicycle.
After high-school, I moved from New Delhi to Kolhapur to study architecture. In 1991, there was no internet, or gazillion TV channels. My life was college, hostel, and hanging out with friends. There was barely any public transport servicing the college-to-hostel route. There was one public state bus at 6:30 in the morning. Most male students had some version of two-wheelers: scooter, moped, or motorbike. Female students share traveled in auto-rickshaws; some had moped or Kinetic Honda.
My farther simply refused to buy me any two-wheeler. His logic was that they are unsafe. (I had more chances of dying from my parents beatings!) He frowned on auto-rickshaw travel. For him that was frivolous spending. He wished me to use my legs everywhere. Within my first month in Kolhapur it was clear to me that I could either eat or travel for next five years—duration to complete an undergraduate degree in architecture.
Following the norm of undergrad-living, I liked a boy in my first year. His parents bought him a scooter at start of the second year. Still, I had no money to eat. Even though I was not spending on transportation, I was paying for the boy’s living expenses. That is the price of love, but it is saga for some other time. In my third year, the boy and I broke-up. I revisited the issue of transportation with my father.
Something happened. My father’s younger sister—unmarried, 40 year old, pant and shirt wearing, driving a Bajaj scooter, can change the scooter tires herself—intervened. She said to my father, “While [she is] walking, a bus can hit her.” My father relented. He searched for the cheapest two-wheeler.
At the age of 21, I had my first mode of transportation. It was a Bajaj Sunny Scooterette in white color. It had a 60 cc engine, weighed 140 pounds, held less than 1 gallon of fuel, and could not go faster than 30 mph. I compromised with my happiness.
I transported my Bajaj Sunny from New Delhi to Kolhapur via Indian railways. I drove everywhere in Kolhapur. It was as though the city had more to offer. After graduation, my Bajaj Sunny and I moved to Mumbai.
Next three and half years in Mumbai, (I realize I am using a cliché) I painted the town red. My girlfriend—born on the same date as me, rode pillion everywhere with me. We drove to movies, up and down the hills, to discos, and to shopping. I used to drive my 200 pounds male friend on my 163 pounds scooter; it was difficult, but I managed.
I relocated us, me and my Bajaj Sunny to New Delhi just before the new millennium. I got a good job; I saved money; I didn’t buy a refrigerator or TV or bed; I upgraded to Kinetic Honda.
My new machine was dark blue, almost a black, 110 cc 2-stroke engine, and with double mirror. I had heard the phrase ‘fully loaded’ on Hollywood movies, so I paid to have my Kinetic Honda ‘fully loaded.’ That involved the front and side guards, and an inner basket.
I was happy. My Kinetic Honda was an extension of my freedom.
It was heavy; I couldn’t put it on main stand, I had to ask for help. Parking lot attendants of my frequent venues like Dilli Haat and Sarojini Nagar Market, recognized my Kinetic Honda and me. We fell down many times, but neither of us had a single scratch.
Around the four-year mark, I started losing my nerve to drive. One evening I was driving down the loop of newly constructed AIMS flyover, I saw a sea of vehicles—scooters, buses, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, cars, and trucks—merging (without following lanes) in an anarchy; I lost my nerve.
I didn’t sell my Kinetic but I didn’t drive it again.
I depended on auto-rickshaws. While I was applying to graduated schools in US, I met my boyfriend. He would warm my hands in his as we strolled in Lodhi garden; he showed me a dream about cars that have better than canvas convertible roof; he knew these things as he had lived in America.
I relocated to Texas to study; I had rented a place online, far from campus. I needed transportation. One evening, my classmate drove me to Sports Authority. At the age of 32, I bought my first bicycle. It was $150, and we waited half hour for the store to cash my $500 traveler’s check.
My bicycle was light blue, and had gears on both handles. Next afternoon, my classmate showed me how to ride it. On campus, I became recognized as the older Indian student who is covered in bruises and who doesn’t know how to balance. My bicycle took me from campus to home, and that was enough for me, for the time being.
I itched for a car. My father the guarantor of my Indian student loan would not agree to the idea of a car. My boyfriend explained and convinced my father to let me buy a car in America.
In November 2005, I bought my first car for $2,500. It was fourth hand 1995 Honda accord. I learned how to drive on that car. Its AC didn’t work, and only driver side window rolled down. For next three years, it took me from campus to home to grocery stores. Of course, once I bought the car, I never touched my bicycle. It remained padlocked outside my apartment for three years.
I am proud of my first car, I had the transmission changed once for $500; I sold it over Craigslist for $1,000. Moreover, I was the only Indian female students who had her own car.
After completing my graduate degree, I moved to California to be with my boyfriend. We married; we shared his car. We moved our first apartment in his car; we bought IKEA furniture in his car; we took our first road trip in his car. We waited for the right time to buy a car for me.
Deciding which car became a task. I never had these many options; one moment I wanted a MINI Cooper with a strip across the hood; other moment I desired a sunset orange Mustang. After months of visiting car-dealerships and I couldn’t decide.
My searched slowed down. The day we were going to see a Diwali mela, my husband stopped at a VW dealership. He inquired about Eos. The dealer took us outside; he pointed to a two-door car; he sat inside the car; he did something and the car’s roof started opening and folded inside the boot. He asked me if I wanted to test drive. Until then, at every dealership, I made my husband test drive the cars. Here, I couldn’t wait; I nodded my head and took the keys.
We took the ramp to the highway; evening sun was setting in. October chill was biting, but I didn’t feel cold. I had the open feel of driving a two-wheeler, but safety of a car. It was as though I was flying. Everything was perfect. My hands reached the steering wheel, which had the perfect grip. It was as if the car was specifically designed for me.
Today it is three years since my husband bought me my dream car—a hardtop convertible. I should be over the excitement now, but I still give my car a flying-kiss every time I lock it. I am not over it; during cold weather, I bundle-up in warm cloths and I drive the car with the roof down.