Oh, For A Bicycle - Tuesday, February 26 2008
When I was a little girl, I knew that Bapak worked in a newspaper, wrote books and had many friends over for "makan" where they'd talk till late into the night.
These friends of his we knew as (Pak Cik) Tongkat, Melan, Kamal, Samad, Asraf, Syed, Alias and (Uncle) Leslie, Swee, Samani and Firdaus. There were others, of course.
Some of them, I later realised, were very much younger than Bapak.
They were very familiar figures over the years. Most of them were friends from Bapak's Singapore days.
Just like Bapak, they moved to Malaya around the same time we did.
And over the years the older ones among them -- Bapak's contemporaries - passed away.
In fact, the only one among Bapak's closest friends who is still around is Pak Cik Mazlan (Mazlan Nordin).
When I was older, I realised that these friends of Bapak were literary figures, journalists and academics. Some later became politicians.
When I was little, I didn't know that. I also never knew of Bapak's political past in Singapore.
Had I known I would've wondered why such a man who'd been through so much and more would not allow any of his kids to have a bicycle.
But, oh, I was just a kid.
I know this sounds so irrelevant to the points I have raised but surely someone like Bapak would have no reservations about getting us a bicycle. Just one bicycle for all his kids would've been so okay. We'd all have been so thrilled.
But he was firm in never entertaining any requests from us for a bicycle.
We never understood why then.
I mean, everyone else had bicycles. Isn't it something most kids would like to have.
That was a real deprivation for us -- well, at least for me.
The "best" thing we ever got was a big tricycle. But, after you're about 12 years old, cycling one is so, infantile.
At that time, I never stopped dreaming about having a bicycle. I used to just "drool" over pictures of minibikes and choppers.
I tell you, I'd be transported into another world.
I'm not so sure if my other siblings had similar fantasies.
My (maternal) grandfather whom I called Ompong was privy to this fantasy of mine.
Ompong who lived in Singapore enjoyed entering little itsy bitsy contests run by newspapers. At that time, Berita Harian, for the longest time, ran "Teka Bola" in its sports pages.
In those days, there was only a single issue of Berita Harian/Berita Minggu for Singapore and Malaysia.
I can't remember now whether the prizes offered for winners of "Teka Bola" were cash or minibikes/choppers.
But I do remember entering the contest so that I could get a minibike/chopper.
In "Teka Bola", there'd be a picture of a goalkeeper in action near the goal post. You had to mark an "X" at a spot (in the photo) where the ball was supposed to be.
Then, you had to cut out the picture with your "X" on it, plus the section with your name and other details, put it in an envelope and mail it to the address given.
It was Ompong who asked me to take part in the contest. In fact, he sent in multiple entries, thinking that, surely one entry would strike it big.
I would send in as many as I could in the hope that one would be a winner.
I never did win, Neither did Ompong.
In time, and as my near obsession for minibikes and choppers waned to be suitably replaced by other interests, I stopped sending in entries. Ompong continued until, I think, Berita Harian ceased running the contest.
I also found out why Bapak never allowed us to have a bicycle.
It was simple -- he feared that we would be tempted to go cycling around the neighbourhood and would be knocked down by a car.
He was not around to keep an eye on us so the simplest thing was not to let us have a bicycle.
It was the same as far as motorcycles were concerned.
He forbade us to ride one or ride pillion on one. He made that very clear.
I remember he told me that there was no telling the kind of injuries a motorcyclist would suffer even in the most minor accident.
He said he knew of motorcyclists and pillion-riders who were severely injured - even killed - in what were very minor accidents.
"You are unprotected when you ride a motorcycle," he said.
Those days, it was not compulsory for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets.
I think we understood Bapak's fear.
When Kamal, my youngest brother was about nine or 10, Kak Ton got him a minibike. But it was kept at her house (then in Section 14, Petaling Jaya).
Yes, it was definitely "breaching" Bapak's rule but Kak Ton must have felt that there was really nothing so wrong in getting a little boy a bicycle.
After all, as long as she made sure to keep an eye on Kamal, it'd be ok.
So, Mak (who was an accessory to all this) would send Kamal to Kak Ton's everytime he wanted to go cycling around the neighbourhood.
One day, Bapak was driving to Jaya Supermarket and spotted "budak, betul macam Kamal, naik basikal".
I think all of us, feeling so conspiratorial and guilty, said nothing for fear that we would say the wrong thing and get caught.
I'm not sure if Bapak ever knew of Kamal's tryst with his bicycle. Kak Ton thinks he did.
When Adel was about 4, I got him a bicycle -- the type with two extra (small) rear wheels to keep it balanced.
We got him used to it and took off the extra wheels when he was ready to cycle without them.
We'd take him to the playground regularly.
(My sisters and I never got to learn to cycle at playgrounds or any public place. Our cycling lessons were at the compound of our cousin's place in Kampung Melayu, Singapore -- every holiday.)
When, he was 12, we got him a real bicycle.
I allowed him to cycle to his friend's house nearby. Not that I was so okay with that but I felt that he needed to do that, to be exposed to that part of growing up.
Besides, most of his friends were cycling around the neighbourhood.
He only needed to be careful. So before I allowed him, I taught him about road safety and how to "cycle safe".
I had never cycled on public roads before but I was his mother and was supposed to know these things.
The first time he went on open road, I followed him in a car, just to observe.
I confess, I had the jitters. Probably more nervous than he was.
Even then, I'd only allow him to go cycling no further than around the neighbourhood.
But, motorcycles are something else.
Adel asked me whether he could ever own a motorbike.
I gave him a simple reply : "No."
I told him why.
I think Adel understands.
Because he does not allow me to ride a bicycle on the road.
I was taken by surprise one day when his face turned white.
I had told him that I'd like to ride a bicycle "just to exercise".
"No, mummy. It's dangerous."
Yeah... the very same "fear".