The quality of a good writer is while the readers enjoy the contents, some of the readers like me, also get inspired by the writer to attempt to write themselves. That's how i started writing as early as in my tenth standard, by first reading and then attempting to write myself. I am tempted to write this piece after reading one such writeup by Manpreet on her facebook page. Although she has written about her learning experience in swimming, i am reminded of my own days how i learnt both swimming and cycling. While i learnt cycling when i had entered college, my swimming bouts started much later ie., only after joining Indian Army, because Shimla, where i was born and brought up, neither had many swimming pools during those days nor many places where one could cycle, except a two kilometers long stretch of road between Lakkar Bazaar and Sanjauli where cycles were available for hire and one could hire a cycle at one end and deposit the same at the other or even come back and deposit it at the starting end. This side of the end was near our school and some of my school mates, who knew cycling, used to hire cycles during lunch breaks and cycle between two ends as mentioned above. But that was not the place where one could learn cycling for the fear of hitting people, walking on the road.
I had learnt cycling over a period of approximately one month when i visited my 'naankey' (maternal grandmother's village) in Punjab during winter holidays of our college at Shimla. I used to sit behind on the carrier whenever my cousins would go around on their cycles for various daily chores. It was only when one day i picked up my cousin's cycle, pulled it up to a lonely stretch of the village road, sat on the carrier, spreading both my legs on either side of the cycle and tried to pedal. To my great delight i could ride for small stretches without loosing balance. And if i lost balance I would not fall because i would immediately rest one of my feet on the ground since i sat on the carrier from where the ground was easily accessible as compared to 'Kathi' (the main seat) and would resume peddling again. In the bargain at one occasion i had also banged the front wheel of my cycle into the ankles of an old lady who was walking in front of me with small load on her head. When i apologized and told her that i was learning, she retorted "kaka ajey hor wadhna" (" boy, do you have to grow any more") She was right in expressing her surprise because no boy of my age would be seen learning cycling in a Punjab village. I continued my self -learning sessions in cycling and graduated from carrier to the 'Kaathi' and by the time i left for Shimla after a month of winter holidays, i could cycle fairly well. At Shimla i would some times join my friends to enjoy cycling by hiring one and riding it from Lakkar Bazar to Sanjauli and back.
My cycling spree came to an abrupt end when once during such cycling practice between the two ends as mentioned above i lost control of my cycle and hit a girl of a different college walking on the road along with her friends. (There were only two co-educational colleges in Shimla that time. I studied in RPCSDB college which now has become girls college and the other one was Govt college which is now boys college. This group of girls was from Govt college which was located in the mid distance of this stretch of the road from Lakkar Bazaar to Shimla) It was raining and the road as well as the brakes were wet. The girls were holding umbrellas and were also chatting. Suddenly i realised that the front wheel of my cycle was heading straight behind one of the girls. I tried very hard to brake, or turn away and rang the bell continuously but the neither the girls listened to the warning bell nor the cycle slowed down or drifted away from the direction that it was destined to go. Before i could even shout any verbal warning, the inevitable had happened. My cycle had hit the girl from behind between both the legs. The result was disastrous. The girl fell down with me and my cycle on top of her. My friends accompanying me stopped and lifted both of us and the cycle. We all were expecting a scene but the girls were too nice and instead of raising hue and cry they simply complained that i should have checked the brakes of my cycle before riding it on that rainy day. Had there been boys from the college of those girls, this incident or accident would have errupted into a full fledged rioting betwee the students of the two colleges. Alternately had it happened in Punjab or for that matter in any other part of the country i would have been thrashed nice and proper, not only by the girls but also by the passers by. But thankfully this had happened in Shimla. We apologized to the girls and took to our heels on our cycles and after depositing the same at the Lakkar Bazaar we headed straight to our college which was ten minutes walk from there. Never again i dared to go on that stretch of the road to enjoy cycling.
This much about cycling. Read on further about swimming:
A non swimmer can enter the Indian Army but the Army won't allow one to remain so for long. Once again owing to having been born and brought up at Shimla, I did not know swimming when i entered Army and also was not imparted training in swimming in the OTA because the swimming pool had just been inaugurated as we were passing out from the Officers' Training Academy. I tried my hand in swimming at our regimental centre where i stayed for about fifteen days before reporting to my unit in Nagaland. During the swimming practice in the regimental centre swimming pool i would swim the full length but only by holding my breath as i could not establish coordination between my strokes and my breathing. While the instructors would admonish me for not making the right moves they would also express surprise over my capacity to hold my breath for so long under water.
Luckily i was deputed to undergo a course in Physical Training at Army School of Physical Training, Pune within just three months of my reporting to my Unit. There it was that i learnt full fledged swimming. I along with some other officers was declared weak swimmer and would have to go for swimming practice in addition to attending the regular traning schedule. It was quite an embarrassing experience, not because we were singled out as weak swimmers but because three grown up daughters of the Commandant of the ASPT also used to come for swimming at the same time. While their presence in the swimming pool offered a pleasant company to us young bachelor officers in our early twenties, it also threw a challenge to us as those girls were good swimmers and accelerated us towards our goal of becoming good swimmers fast.
Although i could swim for the full length of the pool of International dimensions but i could do it only by holding my breath as mentioned earlier. The swimming instructor suggested that i should wear the safety tube and learn coordinating my strokes with my breathing. I did that and found to my delight that by wearing the tube i was breathing perfectly well while swimming across the full length of the pool. One day to my greatest delight and surprise i learnt that while i was swimming very well making perfect coordination between my strokes and the my breath, the tube that i was wearing had actually deflated and it was acting only as a placebo. I removed the tube and threw it out of the pool towards the instructor who smiled at me approvingly. Eureka!! i had learnt swimming. While i was happy in being taken off the list of weak swimmers, i also felt sad in loosing the pleasant company of the swimming pool.