The first time I rode in Chennai, I was amazed at how small and un-intimidating the city really is. So, it is not like I’m new to Chennai, in fact, quite the contrary. I was born here. I spent three of my first five years here. I came here religiously every summer during my school days. And, I did my undergraduate studies here (although, “studies” is a fancy term). Somehow, the impression I have had of Chennai is one of size and distance: the heart of Mount Road is so far from my mother’s place in T.Nagar, the Gemini flyover (which took eons to build) is so high, the beach is at infinity, etc. etc. Perhaps these were the impressions formed as a five year old child that never got erased. (Okay Okay, the said flyover didn’t get started till I was eight years old, but you get the point.)
All these impressions of distance and size got shattered during my first ride on my Bike Friday.
In five minutes of riding from home I was on the Gemini flyover. In a couple of minutes I was at its peak, it felt no more like a bump in the road. (I huff and puff much more on stretches of Rinaldi in the Valley.) In another five minutes I was at the heart of Mount Road: Spencer Plaza, VTI, LIC, etc. And, in about ten more minutes, I’d reached “infinity:” I was on Marina Beach. I was thrilled!
Sure, I’ve been over all these stretches by car, in fact, I used to drive here myself. A car eats up the miles (at least when traffic is light), and Chennai would not have appeared large from a car. But I suspect the impressions you form from a car are subconsciously tagged by the psyche as “unreal” since they take place at speeds that I think the brain has not yet evolved to be at home in. So, I believe my psyche gave emphasis to my childhood sense of the scale of Chennai and disregarded contrary impressions I may have obtained by driving.
A bicycle, by contrast, is something that I suspect our brains can handle quite comfortably. I think that both the speed and the level of mechanization are just within our evolutionary comfort zones. Therefore, the recalibration of scale that occurred during that first ride seemed quite “real” to me. I think I will carry the new impressions of Chennai’s size permanently.
This is the magic of a bicycle. It shrinks distances, but in a human way.
I leave you with a couple of photographs of Marina Beach (taken on a subsequent ride).
That’s a statue of the poet Subramanya Bharatiyar in the foreground. Illiterate as I am in Tamil–did I mention that it is my mother tongue?–I haven’t sampled his wares, but from the description of his work and values at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subramanya_Bharathi it seems that he’d have been my kinda dude. My loss for not being able to read him.
More on Marina Beach later.