I learned to cycle at the age of 24. Shocker, eh?
God knows what crazy looks I get every time I slip this little factoid into casual conversation. Apparently, most people around me had learned to cycle as little children, some even before they could say 'mamma' or 'papa'. Indeed, one had learned to cycle even while still inside the womb. I have rather interesting friends, don't I?
On the other hand, one of the funniest stories I've ever told is of the time I tried to learn to cycle as a kid but failed, only to give up completely. But a decade later, I received a letter that said my career, and indeed life thereon, depended on how well I could wield the two-wheeled monster. Isn't fate a cruel mistress?
I cannot but admit I was hesitant to learn at this age. I mean I could vividly remember all the pitiful glances I'd get on the streets when I was learning to drive, with a big red 'L' stuck to the front and back of my dad's old car. After much effort and embarrassment, and with the help of my lovely friend Sharmishtha, I gained confidence and started to drive on a one-kilometre stretch inside my university and park confidently without having to call for help. But one day, as I was driving back from class, I panicked on a narrow stretch of un-cemented road and ran full throttle into a tree. I also hit a guy returning on foot, to avoid whom I had originally swerved. All the confidence I'd gained over weeks went down the gutter in those few moments. I never tried my hand at driving again, partially due to fear and partially because I seldom had the chance thereafter (the poor old car was wrecked and I went away to study further).
It was in mid-2016, while I was pursuing my PG as a Young India Fellow, that I was told I'd have to learn to cycle to pass a fitness test for my first job in Bombay. I was angry, I was scared. I had lost all my bearings. Even so, I half-heartedly set about looking for help. For days, I'd approach anyone I met with only one question: Can you teach me how to cycle? A few of them agreed to help, but plans to start my lessons never materialised. When I finally did try my hand, the fear of letting my feet leave the ground and balance the bicycle on my own proved too much for me to conquer.
I was back again where I had been ten years ago - I had a cycle, I had people who wanted to help me learn, but I couldn't let go of my fear of falling and getting hurt. I was bound by my own demons.
It was a difficult time, those few weeks. I'd almost given up on ever being able to balance on two wheels. But then, one evening, my closest friends - Hargun, Nikita, and Malika - decided to take things into their hands and dragged me out to the cycle stand on campus. Hargun even called in the big guns, Ishan and Shravan - our beloved friends from the university program team. They began my lesson with a motivational talk on learning to trust and letting go of the ground. It was an ordeal for each one of them, I could see. The guys even had cuts and bruises on their hands by holding the bike handles and running with me - but I like to believe they needed the exercise as much I did.
I was in the company of loving, caring, and encouraging people who had made it their personal mission to help me conquer my fears. If I didn't succeed, I'd be letting each of them down. And I couldn't possibly have done that! Within the next twenty-five minutes, I was riding around like Fearless Nadia on a yellow bicycle, a wide grin on my face even as the wind hit me hard. I was told to take it slow, to be careful, but I kept cycling around campus as if I had just been freed from a cage.
I had never felt so free, so mobile, so... empowered.
I'd conquered my biggest and perhaps my only fear, and one that had plagued me since I was a little kid.
While I have my friends to thank - all five of them - for making me do this and bearing with me till the end, I also learned a big lesson through the entire ordeal: that it is never too late to learn new things. It is never too late to conquer your fears. And it is never too late to learn to let go.
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