My red bicycle saved me. It took me to book fairs so I could buy books, which were frowned upon in my house because anything fictional was considered a waste of time. They were also not available anywhere else, as we didn't have the luxury of public lending libraries.
As a nine year old who was fascinated with all the books written by Enid Blyton, I wanted to inhabit the world she described - where little girls and boys gathered under weeping willows for picnics provided by their beautiful mums - picnics that consisted of enormous slices of chocolate cake, warm scones accompanied by sweet berries and clotted cream, washed down with tall glasses of lemonade. I learned how to dream because of those books, to dream of a world beyond mine, which, beautiful as it was with swaying palm trees and fragrant mangoes, did not, in my childish opinion, compare to visions of rolling hills, blue skies, and cake. Oh, that chocolate cake that inhabited most of my fantasies.
Since I couldn't reasonably expect that sort of cake from the modest and irregularly found bakeries in my hometown, the only logical thing was to make my own. There was, of course, the slight problem of how. Not that I was incapable, in my self-assured little mind, but how, and from where, could I procure the ingredients? Not to mention, we didn't even own an oven, nor did I have access to any recipes. This was, after all, South India thirty seven years ago. Our grocery stores existed on tiny street corners. Vegetables were sold door-to-door from hand-carts pushed by the farmers who grew them, fresh every day. The milkman brought the cow to your front door, so she could be milked in front of you, into a tall brass container you provided, so you could see it was fresh, and free from contamination. Most grocery stores had no refrigeration, hence could not sell cream.
Thank goodness for my red bicycle. It took me to a traveling book fair, from where I purchased my first recipe book, with my own allowance. All these years later, you can still see my childish handwriting marking the book as mine, and the penciled price at the top right hand corner - it cost Rs. 47.00, which is less than ten American cents.
My bicycle also allowed me access to stores farther than walking distance, and I began to hunt down the ingredients I would need. I begged for an oven, and was told that one would be purchased IF it was proven that I could indeed bake. A neighbor was kind enough to lend me hers in the meantime.
That bicycle gave me wings, and eventually led me here - to a country where I can walk into almost any store, and be overwhelmed by the choices offered. To a land that's indeed rich - with it's melting pot of cultures, farmer's markets, resources and people. I've come across a few bad apples, but time and again have had reason to believe in the good. Where I found love, the kind that lasts, and was blessed with our daughters. And as my eldest prepares to fly the nest, I wish for her her own version of a red bicycle, no matter where she goes.
I didn't start with chocolate cake of course, but I outlined it - marked it in ink that was red at that time, as IMPORTANT. That it was my goal, and I would work up to it. I did, and with the patina that time lends, it is the best chocolate cake in my memory.