This happened in the eighties.
My moped unexpectedly broke down on a busy road when I was returning home from work. It was late afternoon, about 4 o’ clock. I wheeled it into the yard of a vacant wedding hall, parked it and stood there wondering what to do. Two boys of around my age made a sudden noisy appearance from behind the wedding hall on a motorbike. One of them asked, “You need help?”
All that black leather and menace scared me a bit. Maintaining a neutral expression I said, “My bike came back from servicing only yesterday, so I don’t think the spark-plug or carburettor could be a problem. And I filled petrol today so the tank’s full…”
He said, “I know a mechanic across this road. Let’s go there.” While his silent friend took their bike, the boy who did the talking released my bike from its stand and began wheeling it. We introduced ourselves as we walked. His name was Vinay. From his surname we found out he was related to my maternal cousin on her father’s side!
We reached the garage. He handed my bike over to the mechanic while I leaned against the gate of the house next door. I had started to feel giddy. Being an intern in the Paediatrics department of a busy hospital often meant missed lunches on crowded OPD days. This had been one of those days. A woman came out of the house and asked me what was wrong, as I had started swaying. I asked for a glass of water with a spoon of sugar. She asked me in and insisted on making dosas for me. I complied. I was too hypoglycaemic and close to fainting to resist.
I felt much better after that meal of three dosas and a tumbler of coffee! I thanked her from the bottom of my heart – I mean who does such things? On second thought, my mother might have done the same. Maybe others would have too then, when Bangalore used to be a nice city.
When I came out into the street Vinay and his friend were astride their bike, about to leave. “It’s fixed!” he called out with a big grin and a thumbs-up. I said, “Thanks. How much do I owe him?” With a dismissive wave of his hand and mischief in his green eyes, he said, “What’s ten bucks between friends?!” Still smiling, he took off with a screech of tyres and that awful noise that bikes without a silencer make.
I bumped into Vinay a couple of times after that. We would just smile and say “Hi, how are you?” and walk on.
I left Bangalore a couple of years later. I had told my cousin about the bike incident so she kind of kept an ear open when his name was mentioned at their family gatherings. In those days of snail-mail my cousin and I didn’t keep in regular touch, only met when I came to Bangalore. On one such visit I asked her about Vinay. She said, “He died!” I was shocked. Apparently he had belonged to a ‘drug gang’ and he and his bike had been set ablaze by a rival gang. I couldn’t reconcile the two: the memory of that smiling, carefree boy and this image of a helpless, terrified boy screaming in pain, battling flames…
Eventually I asked, “So what happened? Police and all?”
She replied, “Oh, nothing. Cops don’t care when such people are murdered.”
She realised what I was thinking. “Yeah, I know… You only met his good side…”
I was numb. The whole sequence of events – from the moment my moped broke down to when he cheerfully waved goodbye from his noisy bike – unspooled like a film in my mind. I felt a terrible sadness wash over me.
It fleetingly does so even now when a youngster on a noisy motorcycle passes my car at a reckless speed. Or when I come across news snippets of drug-related murders involving teenagers. And then I catch myself indulging in magical thinking, wishing away the whole supply of street drugs into space, to go orbit in a new ring around Saturn.