Mumbai: 91-year-old cyclist lives life in the bicycle lane

Updated: Feb 02, 2018, 21:04 IST | Santosh Wagh

Probably city's oldest cyclist says relationship with bicycle goes back to when he was 12; is both passion and health cure

Dharamshi Bhate makes time for cycling daily
Dharamshi Bhate makes time for cycling daily

In the last two decades, a 91-year-old from Thane has travelled far and wide with a bicycle for company. The former railway employee and probably the city's oldest cyclist, Dharamshi Bhate, was advised cycling as a remedy for acute knee pain. But, the nonagenarian says he had found his most reliable and long-standing partner at the age of 12, back in pre-Independence India of 1939.

Born Dharamshi Raychura in Vyara Gaon, Surat, on January 20, 1927, the boy's family shifted to Malegaon two months after his birth, when they suffered huge losses in their family business. Bhate, who managed to complete his matriculation despite the financial hardships, said, "Our family didn't have enough money to spend on higher education, let alone indulge in a luxury item like a cycle. But, I rode a bicycle for the first time when I was 12. I had a Muslim neighbour who owned a cycle and he taught me how to ride it."

Dharamshi Bhate is recognised as the oldest cyclist at the Cycle Mitra Sammelan
Dharamshi Bhate is recognised as the oldest cyclist at the Cycle Mitra Sammelan

Moving cities
Following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, in 1949, Bhate's family moved from Malegaon owing to high tension and incidents of violence. "That's when we arrived in Mumbai. We started living with one of my cousins, at Kalbadevi. But, I was heartbroken with the shift because it meant I could no longer ride my neighbour's cycle. I joined the Reserve Bank of India and worked there for six months, but I left when I got a job as a clerk with the Indian Railways, in 1950. Soon after, I got married to Jayaben in 1953."

To his delight, his job once again offered him an opportunity to ride a cycle. "Back then, Mumbai was not crowded like it is today. Lots of people travelled to work on bicycles. I used to get a salary of R110 and most of it went towards household expenses. When I learnt that the Railways offered R75 as loan to employees to buy a bicycle, I applied for it. But, when I received the money, I couldn't bear to spend that big an amount on a luxury. It went into running the home," he laughs.

Bhate with the memento he was presented for participating in the Cycle Mitra Sammelan in Thane on January 28Bhate with the memento he was presented for participating in the Cycle Mitra Sammelan in Thane on January 28

In 1960, Bhate was advised to go cycling to treat his knee pain. "All this time, I wanted to buy a cycle, but couldn't. But, during a visit to the Railway Hospital, a doctor advised me to ride a cycle regularly. I considered it a sign from up above.."

The brief halt
While the bicycle has been one of Bhate's longest companions, he never aspired to participate in cycling competitions. "A few years after being married, we shifted to Thane, where we started living in Bal Ganesh Chawl, near the railway station. My cycle was a major attraction in the chawl," Bhate says proudly.

Repeated cycle thefts, however, meant that Bhate had to give up cycling for some years. "But, at the age of 76, in 2004, I again had the urge to begin cycling. So, with support from my family, I bought another cycle."

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