Finally the week of 3/3/2014 ended-up being the time when one of my long cherished thoughts finally happened – “Anand & Aparna rode their bicycle to school on 3/3/2014” !!
Basically my childhood recollection is all filled with me cycling around Chennai. I remember learning to cycle first time while visiting village during summer vacation and I over ran and disturbed paddy organized after harvest and got away without any trouble. But had to return home next day. So for next few weekends I would religiously trek half a km to rent “hour cycle” and enjoyed cycling in the neighborhood, I slowly transitioned from smaller cycle to normal sized cycle. When I was in 5th Standard I got my first BSA SLR and was soon permitted to go to school on Cycle. I was also tasked with taking my younger brother to school on pillion, that used to not go that well! I started cycling around in about 10 Km radius from our house and graduated to doing quite a bit of house chores after school or weekend – transport gas cylinders, Rice bags, ration purchase, vegetables from MGR Nagar market. When my friends from school meet even today one of the stories that get narrated is how I conned everyone to cycle all they way from KK Nagar to what today is Padi flyover to play a cricket match with another team there! Cycling gave me independence and because I used to cycle so much I ended-up not being comfortable riding in crowded city bus. I would not have survived my college days in Trichy or Coimbatore without a cycle, for me cycling is what made me who I am period.
So I was eagerly waiting for Anand to be of appropriate age, so that I could get him started on riding a cycle to school and as with most things Anand initially did not like the idea and I refused to give-up and finally something interesting happened. Every day Anand & Aparana use School organized private VAN for return to home segment alone. Since there was only handful of working days in March & April, Anand did not want to pay whole month of fee for March & April. I tried to explain to him that it is fair to pay the Van drivers the whole month because for services like these you cannot pick and choose which month you will use services and they make money only if Van is full. So he started proclaiming he will cycle to school if we did not pay for the Van. We were in stalemate. Finally Navadisha made the decision to give a long break summer vacation from March 8th to June 10th 2014, so it came down to one week of school in March. So I stuck a deal with Anand that if both he and Aparna use their cycle then we will not use the Van for March. Once Anand accepted I had to coax reluctant Aparna to join in the fun. Finally they both cycled to school on 3/3/2014 and I led them on Scotty.
As an affluent parent living in India one of my concerns have been that my children are living in a protected bubble and how do I enable them to learn “life skills”. It is tough to know what is safe for your children. A twelve year old riding cycle alone to school today is probably slightly more complicated than in 1980s but we see kids of all ages from more improvised background still independently walk in busy roads, ride bicycle in traffic heavy roads etc. So lot of times it is our apprehensions that makes this protective bubble larger than it needs to be. It is easy to second guess others but hard to make these decisions when it is your children! I have shared route map for their bicycle ride – here. Not sure if I would have taken this step if their school was in busy Velachery Main road. These hypothetical questions are hard to answer and I try not guess what I might do …
After the first day Anand said he will go school independently and so on the second day I ended riding another bicycle along with Aparna. Anand independently went to school and returned on 2 days and on the third day as he was about to start to school, he encountered his first flat Tyre! Now we are actively considering if he should go to school on cycle everyday. As I have written before I want to equip my kids with two things – ability to value fellow Human beings and develop life skills . With these two I believe they will be equipped to deal with uncertainties in their chosen field and have chance at leading a happy life.
To end this post thought I would share some comparisons –> Anand is about 3 years behind me on cycling to school and Aparna is about year ahead of me! My School ride was slightly more than 1 KM theirs was slightly more than 2 KM.