Three ingredients of life style design are time, money and mobility.

             -Tim Ferriss (b.1977), American Technology Early stage Investor

In my younger years, I had never fancied owing a bike or car, not even a cycle. It may be because, the primary school that I was attending was just a few buildings away from my home or my father never owned one. It was only after turning ten, when I joined Rai Bhadur Arcot Narayana Swamy Mudaliar School (RBANM’s) for my fifth Standard, I started travelling by public transport – city bus, as the school was about two kilometres away.

But the amount of time that I spent waiting for the bus and the distance that I had to walk from home to bus-stop and again bus-stop to the school, made me think. Within a week of travelling by bus I decided to walk the distance of two kilometres. The truth quickly dawned in me about importance of having strong legs for mobility!

It did not dawn to me that I had not learnt cycling till I turned sixteen. I felt the need only after observing several boys, many even younger to me riding bicycles! There were a couple of cycle shops in my locality which were giving out cycle for hire, charging just ten paisa per hour. In less than a week’s time I learnt riding cycle without anyone’s help, as I was tall enough not to fall down!

Learning cycling helped me when I joined the engineering course, as the college was about five Kilometres (Kms) from my home and classes started at 7.30 am. I also used to cycle to Malleswaram, atleast three times a week, another four Kms from the college, to learn maths from my relative, a retired mathematics professor. The cycle belonged to my paternal cousin who was then living with us.

During my third year of engineering, on a rainy day when I was returning home by cycle, I met with an accident resulting in me lying on the road unconsciously for a while. An unknown kind gentleman not only took me to nearby hospital for treatment, but subsequently reached me home without even knowing the address. His kindness could be matched only with another divine intervention; one of my schoolmates happened to spot me in the auto in which he was bringing me and guided the benevolent stranger to my house! Subsequently my father went to the place of accident to collect the cycle, which a shop-keeper close to the accident spot had safely kept along with my spectacles! However, this accident did not deter me from cycling and I continued till I completed engineering.

Jawaharlal Surana (1948-2021) was the fourth child in the Marwari family who were tenant in our ancestral house during 1957-1962. When we returned to Bangalore in 1960 after a brief break of three years due to my father’s transferable job, we stayed in a portion of our home till the tenant vacated. During those two years Jawahar and I had become playmates. As we grew up, while I continued my education, hailing from a business family, he discontinued his studies after tenth standard, settled down in his father’s lending business and got married when he was twenty three. In 1971 Jawahar had purchased a Bajaj Vespa scooter which was a premium vehicle in those days. He invited me to accompany him whenever he went for a movie or restaurant, as he perhaps felt that I was a better company for conversation than any of his Marwari friends.

After a few months of going out with Jawahar on pillion, one day I asked him to teach me to ride the scooter. Though he had some hesitation initially, he handed over his scooter to me and sat on the pillion, guiding me to apply the clutch whenever gear has to be changed. Having cycled for several years, riding the scooter was relatively easier, except that I needed a couple of days to get used to synchronising clutch, gears and accelerator. Whenever I got the opportunity, I used to borrow the scooter from my neighbour for improving my riding skills. After my marriage to Hema (1980), I was using her uncle’s scooter, as he was away working in Nigeria. In 1984, I met with an accident resulting in collar bone fracture. I decided to give up riding two wheelers as I already owned a car by then. Interestingly, I never owned a cycle or scooter and the first vehicle that I owned was a car and that too it happened more like an accident!

After my graduation (1973) I had joined Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI) as Research and Development engineer (Grade II) and got promoted to Executive Engineer (Grade III) in 1978. During May 1979, I happened to read a circular issued by Administrative department  stating that those officers (Grade III and above) who had completed a minimum of five years service can apply for car loan of Rs.20,000/- which can be repaid on Equated Monthly Instalments (EMI) of Rs.200/- per month over ten years.

I mentioned about the circular to Paul Mundackal (1926-86), who was having a general stores in our building during a casual conversation with him. Paul, a Keralite had shifted his base from Chennai to Bangalore in 1973 to establish a departmental store for his second son who could not continue schooling due to medical reasons. Around that time, I was modifying two of the road facing rooms of our ancestral home into commercial space. One of my neighbours introduced Paul to me, informing that he was interested in hiring the commercial space and within a short time we finalised the rental agreement.

Paul was affectionate towards me, perhaps because I was of the same age as his eldest son who was away in Mumbai doing his Post-graduation in medicine. I used to spend my spare time in the evenings with Paul, as I was curious to know about the way he was managing his business.  On hearing about the low cost car loan, Paul suggested me to apply for it to buy an Ambassador car. He said that he’d use the car and will reimburse me every month Rs.200, the EMI that will be deducted from my salary. He further said that I can use the Standard Herald car that he owned. It sounded very much like win-win for me, as I’d be having a car at my disposal without any investment! Within a week of me applying for the loan, I received the cheque for Rs.20,000 and within another week Paul finalised a Second-hand 1968 model Ambassador car owned by a Professor working at Indian Institute of Science. In a few days’ time, I learnt driving with the help of Paul and in three months time I got my driving license too! Thus, I became owner of a car without having planned for one!

Around 1981 Paul left Bangalore to take up a major civil project in Kerala. When I resigned from ITI in 1984, I repaid the outstanding loan balance, by which time I was using the car regularly. Unfortunately in 1986 Paul had a massive heart-attack and succumbed to it. Over the last forty three years, we must have changed cars several times. But I can never forget the trips that we had made in the Ambassador car to different South Indian cities during 1980s, before we switched over to Maruti Van in 1988.

Looking at the traffic jams and the parking constraints in Bangalore, these days I prefer commuting by Metro which is much faster and safer! I do walk from home to Metro station and metro station to the destination. Thus, I am back to walking like my school days!


February 06th, 2024 | Ravi 72