At a time when obsession for four-wheelers is growing in Kashmir, a 60-year-old bicycle mechanic from downtown Srinagar continues to repair and peddle the vintage ride for the sake of ‘good old days’.
It’s a thriving neighbourhood, sited at a stone’s throw from the banks of river Jhelum, where legends and folklores create a strange sense of longing for the bygone days.
There’s a periodic mention of many never-seen-again bygone bunch of carefree schoolboys, who would swarm these lanes to beat the summer heat with their joy jump into the river.
The fallen rebels, who once knew this part of Alia Kadal as their secretive address, equally make the neighbourhood as a packed house of staggering tales.
A conveyor belt of most of these stories is a street regular, working in his ramshackle bicycle shop in the locality.
Today, he might’ve lost his sizeable cycling clientele, but 60-year-old Bashir Ahmad, locally called Bashaa still carries out his task like an upright disciplinarian.
Even as the changed times have created different travel priorities for the society, the aged mechanic continues to repair glitches in bicycles. Now, his staple is Mean Machine—the modern, updated version of bicycle—used by many young ‘peddle fanatics’.
“Times have changed,” Bashir says, while repairing a bicycle. “Now, mainly youngsters driven by the passion show up with their faulty rides.”
A father of two sons, Bashir comes from Old City’s Gojwara area. His derelict, leased shop is located in Aalikadal’s Qutubdinpora and is a local mosque’s property.
It was during early eighties, when Bashir as a sober young man began arriving, regularly, in this neighbourhood to work in his father’s workplace. As a young man, trying to support his family, Bashir didn’t take much time to learn the tricks of the trade.
Today, he might be the master in his line, but he calls his versatile repairing skill a “God gift”.
Besides repairing the classic bicycles mainly peddled by senior citizens on the streets of the valley, Bashir equally caters to the new beast bicycles with fat tyres and lot of sophistication.
“By the grace of Almighty, I don’t face any problem while repairing any modern bicycle,” he says. “I observe the bicycle closely and remember Allah, who then reveals a solution in my mind. That’s how I have been repairing bicycles all these years.”
Besides being a thorough professional who keeps the trade alive when many in his tribe have long moved on in life, Bashir equally lives by an example.
At 60, he himself rides a bicycle to travel distances.
“I feel an amazing joy in my heart while riding my bicycle,” Bashir smiles. “It keeps a person fit. People should use bicycles rather than cars, which have only made us hefty and lazy.”
Even though his sons aren’t following his line of work, the mechanic takes great pride in what he does.
“I’ve performed three pilgrimages with the money I earned from repairing bicycles,” Bashir says. “If I can be my own boss, why can’t our young generation who otherwise waste their youth chasing the mirage called government jobs? Why do we have this obsession for being the official pen-pushers? I even keep telling my sons that skill is much better than a job where one has to take dictation.”
His unshaken belief on his labour of love not only commands the community respect, but also gives him a sense of pride. His workplace is equally popular for pep talks.
Almost everyone who has used a bicycle at any point of their lives frequent his shop. Their informal shopfront discussions make Bashir’s workplace a different zone — where politics and any worldly subjects follow their own trajectories and possibilities. Wit and vitriol create their own essence in his space.
“Some of my customers who used to visit me in their childhood are presently settled in different countries like Russia, England and Germany,” Bashir says. “They visit me sometimes when they are here and we relive some moments of the past. This shop is a huge repository of memories. And that’s how I want to keep it.”
By sundown, as desolation dominates Aalikadal lanes, Bashir calls it a day. Riding his way home, he momentarily leaves behind the neighbourhood — where, from last four decades, he’s struggling to keep cycling alive.
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