Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Bicycle Man

As years go by, the school days makes one feel nostalgic. As our children go through the same motions, it reminds us of the similar events that happened in our life. Surprisingly, as we grow older our memories of school are always good - probably the human mind acts as a great filter and keeps only the good memories. Any tinge of disappointment, issues we had during school disappear from our memories and only the best of times at school are evergreen in our minds. Probably that is the reason why we wonder with amazement and incredulity about why our own kids now do not want to go school. Is it not the most wonderful thing in the world? (atleast for us).

But, there are a few days in school which will probably appeal to all - parents and students. Teachers might be ambivalent - since, they have to take care of the hyper excited students during the sports day. But, the teachers always pull it off. I hardly seen an sports day that did not go well. It is always surrounded with hoops of excitement, sound, mirth and oodles of energy.

Allen Say relates the excitement and unusual nature of the Sports Day in his native school in Japan in this exciting book called - 'The Bicycle Man'. The story is set after Japan had lost the second world war and US soldiers were present all over the Japan.

The book starts off with a wonderful illustration of a school built midway on a hill. From the school, one could see the sea, the mountains above, the tiny houses of the village below, the green forest encompassing the whole hilly region and paddy/rice fields. One of a fine spring day, the sports day is held with great enthusiasm. The kids are divided into two teams - the red team and the white team based on their head bands. The kids clean up the ground, tie colourful flags and streamers to bamboo poles and the excitement starts. Variuous competitions are held and prizes given out.

Suddenly, a silence falls over the chaotic children. Every one quietly looks out at two foreigners staring at them. The Americans. One is white and other black. The foreigners smile at them and say something in their language. The tall black man jumps into school and wishes the Principal and points to a bicycle. The Principal nods and gives him a bicycle. The white man jumps into the ground and stands in the center as the black man starts his pyrotechnics on the bicycle. The black man does front-wheeling, zig zags using the bicycle and rides the bicycle backwards. There is circus in the school.

Suddenly, everyone is won over and they cheer the Americans with great gusto and enthusiasm. The Principal gives the Americans a gift and they walk away smiling with their wonderful gift.

A great story that tells us that no matter what your colour is, what your caste, creed or religion is - we can still communicate. We can still be friends without imposing our language, religion or culture. All that is needed is a wonderful smile and probably a bicycle! :)

I enjoyed it immensely and loved every page of the book. The illustration are similar to Japanese illustrations. It gently invites us to partake in the culture of other people. Some of the pages from the book can be seen in Google Books.


Tharini said...

Sounds like a lovely book Sathish. How did Sooraj take to this book and the setting for this story? Am curious to know about his reactions.

sathish said...


sooraj had questions about war - any mention of war/fighting makes him ask a few queries..
and he related to the black man doing circus-y stuff with the bicycle.. many of the older kids in the apartment try to do wheeling and all sort of funny things with their bicycle - so, he thought that was cool! :)

Praba Ram said...

Sathish -

Sounds delightful - not just the book, but also the little para on the joy of good memories of school, sports day etc..

My best friend and I have lots and lots of good bicycle memories too, if I may add... ( :-) )

On a lighter note, curious to know if the illustrations show the two army guys wearing helmets while on the bicycle performing the stunts!..(I'm sure my 5 yr old will make a big deal out of that, in case they didn't! :-))

sathish said...

praba, both the soldiers wear normal army cap..

no helmets, I am afraid! :)

Dee said...

Hi I have commented before, I love your blog...except that I don't comment often. I am passing on the 'Blogging Community Involvement' award to you for maintaining this wonderful blog!

sathish said...

thanks dee.

Sheela said...

satish, you convey the feelings so well.. i am glad you always find such interesting books to share with us here

Tharini said...

Dee...thank you so much. It means a lot to all of us!

Meera Sriram said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Meera Sriram said...

I love books that evoke nostalgia and this is one such book. The cross-cultural lesson is a bonus.

Like Praba, I can cycle down a wonderful memory lane, especially because I didn't have to fall to learn to cycle:)

octa8on said...

This book was a lovely read. Thanks for recommending it!

The other day when my daughter went biking, I asked her if she wanted to try the stunts that the black man did in the book and she thought for a moment and said no!

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