Tuesday, August 23, 2016



                                                      (BICYCLE AND KASHMIR)

History informs us that around 1817, Germans built the first archetype of the bicycle that they named Draisine. The German Draisine had three or four wheels. In 1860, Draisine was subjected to some major technical improvisations by the French who named the new two-wheelers as ‘Bicycle’. It had cranks and a pedal and a popular commercially successful design.

Sometime around 1890, Tyndale Biscoe brought the first bicycle to Kashmir. He would use it as his local conveyance. As and when, Tyndale Biscoe would move to downtown Fateh Kadal on his bicycle, Pandits and Muslims would line up on the road to see what the metallic animal Tyandle Biscoe was riding. It was named as “Biscoe Sahib Ka Djjin ”. So a bicycle was a Djjin for Kashmiris initially. They also named it as Zalgur later. 

There is a popular story in Kashmir that once a Kashmiri lady came with some animal feed and put it in front of Tyndale Biscoe’s bicycle. She presumed it to be some unknown beast of burden.
I add relevant excerpts from the book ‘Tyndale Biscoe 
of Kashmir ‘:

“ We usually went to school by boat until I brought the first bicycle to Kashmir, which caused even more astonishment than did the first motor car many years later. My first bicycle ride was at night. As I passed, a coolie was carrying some load, I heard a shriek and on looking back, I saw the coolie shouting in terror ‘Mooduss ha! Moodus ha !’ or ‘I am dead! I am dead !’ Poor fellow, he had heard much of the Djjins and had at last seen one with his own eyes. What a grand tale he must have had to tell when he reached his home ?”

After the second world war, cycles started coming to Kashmir in large numbers. It was considered as a mode of conveyance of the elite. College professors, magistrates, advocates, Europeans stationed in the valley were the new users. Later, it became an essential item of dowry given to girls at the time of their marriage in well off families. The brands that came to Kashmir included Hercules, Humber, Raleigh and Robinhood. All these bicycles were imported from England.

 I am informed about one Afsar Khan who is reported to have come to Kashmir during Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s rule. Afsar Khan was an ace cyclist who demonstrated his skill at Rainawari ( Zindshah mosque ground ), Eidgaah ground ( downtown ), Hazuri Bagh ground and Polo ground ( near Residency Road ) cycling non-stop for 7 days. He also held his shows at many other places in Kashmir valley. My father has told me that he would eat his food and even shave his beard while paddling his bicycle. Although I have not seen any show of Afsar Khan, yet so many stories about his cycling talent have been conveyed to me by some elders.

And then at a point of time, films also promoted a bicycle. So many films had song sequences with lead pair on bicycles. I vividly remember Nazaraana, a film wherein Raj Kapoor and Vaijayanthimala sang a complete song: "Meray peechhe ek deewana, ek albela mastaana , koyee dekho re mujh ko sataaye re" riding bicycles .O P Nayyar’s composition ‘ Pukaarataa chalaa huun mein ‘ for Meray Sanam was again filmed on Asha Parekh and her friends riding bicycles. The song shooting took place on Srinagar- Baramulla road with Shammi Kapoor driving a jeep. Other bicycle songs that come to my mind at the moment are ‘ Maana janaab ne pukaara nahin ( Devanand and Nutan in 'Paying Guest' ) and ‘ Mein chali mein chali ' picturised on Saira Bano in Padosan. 

Noted writer Bhisham Sahni ( brother of actor Balraj Sahni) in his memoirs 'Today's Pasts ' writes about his experience of bicycle rides in Kashmir. I quote:-

“ In summers, we used to go to Srinagar. Kashmir was created for sightseeing, after all. What destination was better for celebrating a honeymoon than Kashmir? One morning, I got two bicycles. One of them was mine and the other was a girl’s bicycle that I borrowed from a neighbour. Sheela and I rode these bicycles. We went to Dal Lake. We could have parked our bicycles on the shore, enjoyed the lake on a houseboat and stopped at Ahdoo’s restaurant on way back for our lunch. But I changed my mind. Why not go to Ganderbal? Sheela was really happy. Her hair was gently blowing in the breeze and there was a smile on her lips. But the roads were bumpy and the heat was intense. Sheela was finding it difficult to continue her cycling. Her face had turned red and she felt exhausted. She had just taken her examinations a few days ago and then she was exhausted from the wedding. She was sweating and tired. ‘Ganderbal is one of Kashmir’s oldest places. Kheer Bhawani is next right to it. Lake Manasbal is not that far. You will like it. Just a little more. ’ I said to her. She kept cycling though she was extremely tired. Soon she began to cry. We were outside the temple and I got her something to eat. We relaxed under a tree but Sheela did not say a word. She just kept shaking her head. My heart stopped. It was afternoon when a bus arrived for Srinagar. I put the bicycles on the roof of the bus bought tickets and got into the bus. Sheela looked at me and smiled for the first time. And when the bus started, she put her head on my shoulders and soon fell asleep.”

I vividly remember having seen Prof. B K Bhan of Amar Singh College Srinagar using a bicycle to go to his college from his Jawahir Nagar residence. He was generally seen in a two-piece suit with a tie paddling his bicycle and also chewing a Paan. A metallic clip was always attached to his trouser bottoms to protect it from the bicycle chain. His bicycle had a bell, chain cover and a torch operated by a small dynamo. In my school, Sri Krishen Seeru ( a popular teacher ) would always paddle from Habba Kadal to D.A. V. School, Rainawari on his well-maintained bicycle.

 For a ten-year-old boy like me, learning bicycle meant moving through various stages known as Zangataar ( putting your feet on both the paddles without sitting on the bicycle seat ), half paddle and full paddle. And then finally one day I sat on the seat and effortlessly brought the bicycle down the slope of Jogilanker bridge in Rainawari.

The bicycle was a source of freedom for many teachers, many government employees and many students. Leave at your own time, move at your speed and then spend nothing as transport charges. It needs no fuel, no documents and very little maintenance. Most importantly, the rider remained connected with his surroundings while paddling along the paths. In Kashmir, doctors, advocates, college professors and traders used the bicycle as a mode of conveyance.

Many families in Kashmir owned some popular imported brands of bicycles like Raleigh, Robinhood, Phillips and Humber. These brands were imported by some bicycle traders from Srinagar city.
In the early seventies of the last century, the popularity of this cheap and useful conveyance suffered a set back after the arrival of Lambretta and Vespa scooters in the Kashmir valley. These were followed by yet another popular brand of motor bicycle known as Yezdi. Surely, from bicycles, the younger generation moved to these two-wheelers.

But then these petrol-driven two-wheelers were expensive and a select section of the population only opted for them. As the population kept increasing, bicycles also found an ever-increasing new market and Indian brands like Atlas, Hero, Avon and Hercules started becoming popular in Kashmir.The municipality also started registering bicycle owners and collecting annual Token Tax on possession of a bicycle. This fee was later withdrawn.

                                 ( Bicycle tax receipt of Municipality )
                             ( Bicycle Token issued by Municipality in Srinagar )
Bicycles were kept tidy by elderly users. They would fit these bicycles with a small dynamo, torch, chain covers, bell and a carrier on the backside. Some users also carried a bucket in the front of their bicycles. Lady bicycles were also available and used by many college going girls and teachers in Kashmir.

During summers, you would come across so many tourists from Europe and the US riding bicycles and moving in a group of three or four towards Ganderbal, Mughal gardens, downtown interiors and other areas in Srinagâr city's suburbs. These bicycles were rented out by many bicycle shops. In Srinagar city, one could see such shops in Nageen locality close to Hazaratbal shrine. 

In Srinagar city, We had so many bicycle shops, so many shops dealing in spare parts and engaged in repairs and closing punctures in bicycle tubes. I vividly remember ‘Durrani Cycles’ Exchange Road, Srinagâr or ‘Mir Bicycles’ at Nawapora near Khayyam cinema. And then we had some bicycle traders who had their business locations at Hari Singh High Street, Regal Chowk, Lal Chowk, Karan Nagar and so many other places in Srinagâr city. I am informed that Pandit Tikka Lal ( a Kashmiri Pandit) had established many bicycle shops in Srinagar city sometime around 1918 AD. He had a flourishing bicycle business at Gagribal near Dal Lake run under the name and style of ‘Ganesh Cycle Works’.

It has also been established by economists world over that a bicycle can increase a poor family's income by more than 30% as entire expenditure on transport is saved and the maintenance is almost negligible. Accordingly, a bicycle can be an important poverty-eradication tool in any country. The 19th-century feminists named it as a "freedom machine" for women. They felt that a bicycle gave her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she took her seat and paddled away.

And a bicycle never lost its popularity and utility in Kashmir.

( Avtar Mota )

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