By some quirk of fate three of the four bicycles I have owned were red. The first wasn't even a bicycle in the true sense, it was what was called a Tobu cycle - a red, toy tricycle of sorts. It must have been new when my parents bought it, red clean plastic body, three solid black wheels with tire treads etched on them and gleaming steel handles. It even had a horn to toot. I rode it indoors and sometimes outside when Mum took me to mingle with the neighbourhood kids in the evening. This never worked out well for me or the bike as the other kids would bully me and then rough up the bike. The horn I believe was lost this way. Or it could have been my sister, who came soon after. From an annoying bundle that ate, gurgled, pooped and screamed (I would have totally given her to P who wanted a sibling if not for my parents) she became an annoying thing that was capable of amazing amounts of energy. Almost all her waking hours were spent on the Tobu cycle, my Tobu cycle. During the day, she hrumpphed her way around the home on it and in the evenings she went out with it. That by the way is the only picture I have of the bike (with my sister on it) in its heydays...don't snigger at the hat...I really loved it.
Somewhere along the way she outgrew the little tricyle and we outgrew our squabbles. The Tobu cycle grew old, the red plastic body and the black tires faded from being left out in the sun to often. We moved from one company alloted house to another and the little bicycle moved with us. Like an old warrior it carried its battle scars proudly and sat in the balcony and that's how I remember it. It was used as extra seating and sometimes if our little cousins came over they were allowed to ride it. My mother nearly gave it away to some cousin, a maids kid and sundry other greedy little devils...but as I said nearly. We made sure it stayed, stuck in its corner in the balcony where we could occasionally sit on it.
In sixth grade, a red Hero Jet arrived. This twenty eight kilogram beauty would be parked in the garage alongside Dad's car. Evenings were now spent zipping around the neighborhood on a real bicycle with friends.
Weeee...look, I can ride with my hands in the air. How about racing down the main road, whizzing in and out of traffic? Want to ride to school tomorrow?
I did ride that Hero Jet to school for about two years, one of the last breed of school children who cycled to school. The avalanche of affordable Scootys, Kintetics and Puchs meant that no one arrived sweaty at school anymore. After I left for Pilani my sister rode the Hero Jet around for sometime before it was given away.
In Pilani I bought yet another red Hero Jet. Now this was a real work horse. From seven in the morning to eleven in the night it went where I went. An all terrain bike - it tackled the smooth roads inside Pilani, the pot holed ones in the city as well as the sandy tracts that led into the desert. The brakes were gone by the second year and bringing the bike to a screeching halt meant planting both feet firmly on the ground some twenty odd feet before the intended stopping point. Brakes were not the only things missing on this one. The color was gone, the bell kept vanishing every few months (thanks to a mysterious bell thief) and the wheels defied all laws of physics and managed to function with the bare minimum of spokes. The tires were prone to frequent punctures. Every time there was a puncture, I took it to the cycle repair guy (are they still around?) who would take the inner tube, fill it with air and swish it in a bucket of water to look for bubbles. Bubbles meant HOLES and holes had to be covered up - usually with some sort of liquid rubber that came out of a tube. Ten rupees later, I was all set to go gallivanting around town. The cycle was also a subtle indicator of sorts, a relationship status button if you will. Just-friends walked on either side of a cycle but more-than-friends walked alongside each other with the cycle usually on the guys side. And real couples were never seen...you only saw the parked bike *tee hee hee*. When I was leaving Pilani I finally gave it away to one of the mess workers and moved on.
But it was not the same with that Tobu cycle. It was 1996 and Dad was about to retire. We would have to move from company housing to our own place. The new apartment would be smaller and my parents had already begun their downsizing efforts. There would be no place for the red plastic cycle that was by now a permanent fixture in our balcony like the blue aparajita plant. But unlike the aparajita the cycle had to go. And so on 24th February 1996 my mother gave it away to Lata, our maid. How do I remember the date? Because on that date, a very angsty, teenage me wrote one whole page about the bicycle in her diary. An honor that the other red bikes never had. But as I said this one was special.