Monday, June 16, 2014

Orthopedic Adventures

A tale from the past.
New Delhi, circa 1987.

ELLO!” ANNOUNCED THE CHEERY VOICE of my friend Kailash through the office phone, “I’ve had an accident.” I congratulated him, sighed, and wrote an application for half-day’s leave.
      Kailash collects accidents like stamps and coins. His prized accident occurred years ago as a result of which he lost his memory, and he created a sensation by asking his mother to introduce herself. The memory returned promptly, however, after – as I suspect – she walloped him therapeutically over the head with her handbag.
      This time he was driving along the Ring Road, fast asleep. His subconscious mind, busy screening him a dream as well as controlling the car, probably failed to take into account the essential circularity of the Ring Road. Injuries were trivial – fractured ribs, a broken leg, and total absence of amnesia.
      The last one was worrying though. It meant I was in for a slow-motion rendering of each lurid detail. But when I reached his home I found him in bed reading the book the Complete Yes Minister, too absorbed in it to talk. I reminded him that Yes Minister was too hilarious a reading material to go with broken ribs.
      But having peculiar tastes in such matters, he impatiently changed the subject and asked me to get him a pair of crutches. His earlier pair was worn out, he said, and in any case, out of fashion.
      In those times I had a racing cycle on which I used to go everywhere very fast indeed – my average speed was 30 kilometers per hour, sometimes even touching 50 so I could easily keep up with the flow of traffic without having to give way to motor vehicles.  So I cycled fast to Netaji Subhash Marg, Delhi’s crutch street. With a variety of models on display, choice was difficult. Finally I settled for an orthopedic masterpiece in anodized aluminum, which I thought Kailash’s personality. The problem was transporting them.
      The store did not make home deliveries. So I took a decision and tied the masterpieces to my racing bike, tips pointing straight ahead like gun barrels. The visual effect was neat; it was difficult to tell the crutches and my silver painted bike apart..
      The sight of a bearded and bespectacled Madrasi zooming on a racer fitted with a streamlined contraptions fired popular imagination. Some stressed on the aesthetics and called it a “disco bike.” Some thoughtful people saw it as a symbol of the existential predicament of the Delhi cyclist and said, “Arre dekho! These days cycles come with built-in crutches.”
      The only ones who seemed to attach any ominous significance were the police. Delhi was crawling with them then as it is now. At one junction, traffic had been held up for a VVIP motorcade. As it was usual with me, I edged the cycle through the traffic emerged at the very front, my crutch barrels pointing straight ahead. As I freewheeled to a stop, a policeman leaped down from the kerb, sten-gun poised, and studied my bike and its appendages  carefully. In the tense moments that followed, I could almost see the officer’s prefrontal cortex working furiously. The intrepid cop finally understood, relaxed and eventually scratched his nose with his trigger finger as he looked around for more potential terrorists.
      That evening I handed over the crutches to Kailash. “Thank you,” he said, and returned to his reading. He had graduated to Yes Prime Minister and his ribs were still in place.