In an attempt to redeem our bodies from the diet of rice, chili and oil, we would sometimes buy a load of fresh fruit and veges and cut them up for a great salad of cabbage, carrot, and pineapple . We would eat this vitamin mountain like a pair of wild, rabid vegans from a plastic bag off the ground at the roadside. We had eaten one of these fresh feasts on our final day and left the plastic bag of organic remains outside the doorway of our room to rot in the sun. Our room was at the local dementia home where we could stay for a few days while searching for two local recipients suitable for our two well traveled but still perfectly functional cycles. We woke in the morning to find a cloud of flies had formed over the fermenting remains of our salad and a pungent aroma was wafting across the grounds towards the innocent and senile elderly. In search of somewhere to dispose of it, my father (bless his soul), approached one of the crazy old men living in the home. The man took one look in the bag, reached in, pulled out an old rotten piece of pineapple, popped it in his mouth and walked off licking his fingers. Perhaps not the best way to dispose of it.
We advertised our cycles on the local TV station and soon had two polio stricken middle aged men phoning in. They were both reasonably poor with small stalls at the coast selling soft drinks and tobacco. They would benefit well from a cycle to help them travel independently too and from work and out to get supplies.
So it happened that on World Handicapped Day we formally handed over Ned and Kelly to Prakashan and Shaji. I was surprisingly moved, perhaps not too far from the point of tears as they climbed into their new machines, big smiles appearing on each of their faces.
Prakashan was naturally skilled at driving the cycle, so he was able to accompany me on the 15 km ride to deliver the cycles to the men's shops at the coast. Riding alongside this man was a special experience. At 45 years old, with baby sized legs but body builder arms, Prakashan was a positive minded go getter. Despite his condition, he had acquired a wife, two daughters and a simple thatch hut stall. "Going fast, going fast" he chanted all along our ride, and called out to each of his friends as we passed. To his dismay, they were more interested in me the white guy cycling behind him. He liked to ride smack bang in the middle of the road so that all of the buses had to swerve around him. Clearly he liked attention. At the beach he was in his element, crawling across the sand on all his hands and thick callused knees. He could move at surprising speed and bound over walls like an agile goat. I tried to crawl along beside him but was no match. He introduced us to his fishermen friends and was able to find a fresh fish to give us as the token of his thanks.
Shaji, the second recipient, was beaming when he first sat in his seat, but soon appeared to become a little depressed. This may have been after seeing that Prashakan's cycle had come with my old tyre pump still attached, while his had not. Thomas explained to me that these disabled people can develop mental problems and selfish natures due to their condition. Despite sharing the same disability and having their shops side by side, Prakashan and Shaji were not friends. Disabled people get used to having peoples attention. Perhaps jealousy was the issue as Prakashan was such an outgoing likable guy, he was likely to steal all of the local attention with his new machine. Never the less, Shaji shook my hand appreciatively once I delivered his cycle to him at his small shop.
I left feeling confident that Ned and Kelly, India's most well travelled hand powered tricycles were in good hands and would serve their new masters well until the end of their days. I hope that not only will the two men's lives be improved by the cycles but also that this day they gained some insight into selflessness and giving. I hope too that perhaps one day, Ned and Kelly will ride side by side once again along the carefree back roads of Kerala. Just as they did on those days together for me and my Father.