I wanna ride my bicycle …
“My father is full of old sayings, he told me”, the Hawaiian said, “My son, wherever you go, that is where you are.”
It was summer of my childhood. I was a wee lad of eleven years old, growing up on a steady diet of romance and detective novels. Those days, I used to spend summer holidays with relatives and friends. I would like to think that it was for broadening my horizons, but it was as likely for giving my parents a break. That summer took me to a small village four miles away from Amaravati.
People who are familiar with Amaravati kathalu know the area well: Amaravati, dharani kota, motadaka, narukulla paadu, vaikunTa puram. The village I went to is so close to vaikunTa puram that you could see the temple from there. Amaravati, a mere four miles away, was the closest urban center.
Amaravati, I recall, was a dusty little town, with a good temple, and a great museum. I was too young to appreciate the museum, yet it was magical, with artifacts belonging to the great Nagarjuna himself. There was a reconstructed stupam, and stories told in the sculptures. Years later when I went there with other friends (Kishore Papineni and Ramana Juvavdi), we asked a guide explain the sculptures, and then only I could fully appreciate the museum.
The town it self is has one major road that leads to the temple. You could stand on one end of the road and almost look into the temple walls. This is the temple that is featured prominently in some viswanath’s movie called “saptapadi”. [Years later, I would be reminded of this road, quite incongruously, when I was walking down from Place de la Concorde to Arc de’ Triomphe on Champs-Elysees.]
We exhausted the possibilities in the town: the movie hall, the museum, the temple, and the market. We were restless, me, my cousin, and his friend. We could only go to the temple so many times and watch the river. There were small islands in the river, that would could go over to, but even that stopped being fun after a while.
We wanted to get out of town. We were not particular where we would go. We just wanted to take a trip. Fortunately, we could manufacture an errand in a near by village, mOtadaka, which is probably around ten miles from Amaravati. We had relatives in town there and we had to carry something to them. We were the volunteer couriers.
Our total fortune on that day stood around 1 rupee 20 paise. We had promises of riches upon reaching motadaka of course. We had to travel frugally, which meant to travel by bicycle, even if it meant I needed to be carted along.
In that part of Andhra, the roads had tamarind trees on either side. I am not sure why they has tamarind trees; I would have preferred mango trees, or at least some other fruit trees. I suppose, in retrospect, the very fact that these trees stood so long meant it was a good decision to go with less utilitarian trees like tamarind trees.
Being from Sowpadu, the roads seemed absolutely great to me. we could go for miles without having to get down from the bicycle! Also, we could stop anywhere and be assured of shade on either side of the road.
I remember only the impressions from my journey, not the actual details. I recall the breeze, despite the hot and humid weather. I also recall the temptations on either side of the road, in the form of road side hotels welcoming us with various viands. I remember that we blew away a substantial portion our money on frozen Popsicles, the kind they sell you under the name of “ice”.
We crossed narukulla paadu, a town referenced in Amaravati kathalu. Apparently, here several beheadings took place during the dharani kota kings’ reign. There was even a saying that goes like “aTununchi narukkuraa” associated with the story.
Crossing that town, we came to a junction, with descriptive name like “padhanalugo mailu (14th mile)” junction. This was not a town, it grew out at a traffic junction. It is a spot in the main road, where two other roads come and meet. The trees, the numerous tea stalls, and the make-shift movie hall provide enough place to hang around for the tired lorry drivers. The place had a permanent temporary-ness to it.
Eventually we reached reached motadaka. The old lady of the house, a grand old woman of 70 years old, with a mane like that of Late Indira Gandhi, was delighted to see us. She sent us to wash ourselves and told us to get clothes from the attic. We dug around and found suitable clothes in the large wooden box.
On the way to motadaka, we saw that “raja makutam” was playing in 14th mile junction. We wanted to see that movie, badly. Since our finances did not allow it, we had to ask the lady of the house. After what seemed like endless pleading, we got enough money to get us into the movie hall.
Cycling back in the middle of the night, on a quiet road, with trees on either side casting shadows in the moonlight, was a fitting end to the trip.
It was the winter of my youth. I was nourishing my soul with steady diet of Keirkegaard, Hegel, and Wittgenstein those days. My fascination with the continent landed me in a youth hostel in Heidelberg, all alone, on student budget, for the new year’s day. I had a room to myself, and a borrowed bicycle. There was a barrel full of apples in the dorm, free for the taking. And, I had “Of human bondage” by Maughm keeping me company. If you recall, the hero in that book spends sometime in Heidelberg studying and listening to “ich leibe dich!”.
I was stuck in Heidelberg for a couple of days by that time. I was growing restless. The original plan called for getting a ride to Munich (mit fahr zentrale?), but they backed off in the last minute. I did not know anybody in Heidelberg, my friend having left for Munich earlier.
My knowledge of German was meager. For some reason, I associated German with Tamil and at times, I found myself talking in my pidgin Tamil to German people. Eventually, I hooked up with an American, Marc, a student of philosophy (“Studying Heidegger”), Michele (“without ze french accent”), Magritte (“I am the only one that does not speak German here”), blind Klaus and others.
Thanks to my new friends, I was no longer alone. First we prepared a fabulous meal, planned and orchestrated by Blind Klaus. (For some reason, people introduced him as Blind Klaus.) We all set the table, lit the candles, washed the dishes and sat at the table. There were fifteen people for dinner, and most were curious to see a strange face at the table. I was asked several questions about “Indie”.
After dinner, we all went to the Schloss to see the fireworks and ended up at club 1925(?) till the early morning hours. What I thought would be a miserable night, ended up being a most entertaining night. For some reason, everybody kept on insisting on teaching me to dance.
After my friend returned, she felt remorseful for having left me there all by myself. As a pay-back, she arranged for a small bicycle tour along the necker valley. We packed our lunch and took our bicycle and went up the Valley down to small villages of the neighborhood.
Quite possibly this is one of the most beautiful university town in Germany. The picture-postcard-perfect spring was something I never saw there because I went there in the winter. But thankfully, it was one of the mildest winters in Germany. Despite the lack of vegetation and flowers during that season, I could see why people flock to this town.
The river near Heidelberg divides the city into two. On one side it is mostly student dorms and residences. The other side is touristy, with the castle, and the town squares. No town there is complete without Hauptbohnhof(“pedda bazaaru”). Heidelberg too has one on the right side.
We decided to go up the necker river. The road leads to small villages in the valley, famous for its agricultural products. Germany is justifiably famous for its villages. They seem to have been materialized out of Grimm’s fables, with town centers, crowed houses, and waterways.
Cycling up from Heidelberg, we cross the printing presses of Heidelberg (Home of Springer-Verlag) and the railway crossing. We parked by bicycles near the train station and went up to the student dormitory and ate the subsidized breakfast there.
From there, we went up to the philosopher’s walk. The legend is not too clear but it appears that the Heidelberg school was famous for its philosophers. Now it is famous for its printing machines and tourist attractions. The Schloss is the most famous attraction here.
We cycled up to a small village in the valley, and reached the town center. We quickly found the park near the river and parked our bikes there. One thing that impressed me most during my trip was the cleanliness. The places we visited were obsessively clean.
Those days, I was experimenting in bread-making. While I never perfected that art, it gave me finer appreciation for German breads. Unlike French bread, which is hard outside, with a soft, white center, German bread is a heavier. I particularly prefer the whole-kernel bread (available even in US), which can be bought in bakeries.
We looked for a bakery and bought the breads we liked. One thing my German host taught me was to carry my own water bottle. It is almost unheard of to drink water from tap. “tap wasser???” was the expression on a pretty fraulien’s face in Bonn, when I started filling in the glass with water, on the day I landed. Since then, I always carried the water bottle in backpack.
After checking out one more village, we started back to Heidelberg. That evening, we all went to town center for a high school reunion. Being to a high school reunion of a an all girl school in a small German town is story worthy of its own. So, this narrative shall end here.