My first ‘vahana’—a wooden rocking horse —was a birthday gift from a grandaunt on my first birthday. The handcarved toy was mounted on rockers and had a handle-bar to hold on. My brothers, Presanna Kumar, Prem Prakash, Gokul Nath, Chandran and I had a whale of a time on the saddle. During vacations, our cousins would also get astride the toy horse and join us in the fun. The ‘timber wonder’ provided an unbridled entertainment during our childhood. At the age of three, my grandparents gifted me a tricycle and I graduated to pedalling.
My younger sibling would ride pillion, and we enjoyed going in circles inside the small compound of our home. When we were tired, we would force the elders to push us around. The vehicle was also used as a means of enticement when we refused to dine. My maternal uncle, M D Umapathi was my first driver. When still a tiny-tot, he would wheel me down on his bicycle from our home to where my maternal grandparents lived. Since I was the first grandchild in the family, the elders doted on me.
The weekend routine would see me dressed up in an olive green frock, cheek decorated with a black bindi to ward off the evil eye, and gingerly ferried to my destination. The great outdoors fascinated me—the sights, sounds and the smells I encountered in the streets transported me to a different world. My siblings and I also enjoyed our romance with doubledecker buses that traversed certain routes in the city. They cost only a few annas to and fro.
The chime of the bell, which was a signal to the driver to stop or proceed, was music to my ears. My brothers and I always eyed the precious front seat on the top deck and we would count ourselves lucky if we got one. Then, we could watch the world go by from our lofty perch or playfully clutch at a branch of a roadside tree. It was great fun and we would deboard with a heavy heart at the end of the ride. Many years later, when I rode on a double-decker train to Chennai, the thrill was never the same. Though I have sailed on a steamer and flown on an aeroplane, nothing can quite beat the pleasure of the simple rides.