ISLAMABAD: The practice of repairing faulty bicycles that was initiated at the start of the 20th century by a Hindu mechanic, Odhy Baan, in Rawalpindi continues to be a source of generating livelihoods for many families.
Sixty-eight-year old, Muhammad Ajmal learnt the art of repairing bicycles from his father, Mistri Munnawar Deen, who had served as an apprentice with Odhy Baan in the second decade of the 20th century.
During partition, Odhy Baan migrated to Saharanpur (UP, India) with his family, but his skills of repairing bicycles have not been forgotten till today because there are still some persons who earn their livelihoods from fixing bicycles.
Ajmal has been following the tradition of repairing bicycles for the past half-a-century that was initiated by Odhy Baan at Liaquat Bagh on Murree Road and is still teaching his skills to his students.
He says Odhy Baan had a mechanic shop at College Road near the roundabout of Liaquat Bagh and at this place he taught his father and many others how to fix faults in bicycles. Ajmal says in the late eighties Odhy had paid a visit to Liaquat Bagh to refresh his memories about his native town, and then he (Ajmal) had learnt that he was ‘Ustad’ of his father.
Ajmal now owns a shop at Arya Mohallah, Murree Road (Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Road) where his students and he provide solution to bicycle faults. He has witnessed an era in which mending bicycle was considered a specialised job and now he is witnessing a period where cycle-riding is getting limited to children.
“The tradition of enjoying bicycle ride is dying as those who can’t afford four-wheelers opt for motorcycles and owning and riding bicycle has become, by and large, fun for children these days,” Ajmal comments.
According to him in good old days, the most popular conveyance was bicycle in Rawalpindi and there were hundreds of shops of mechanics in the city where bicycles were repaired. However, now hardly a few dozen shops are left and the majority of their customers are children, he adds.
“I myself used to fix a puncture to a bicycle’s tube for 20 paisa while my father did the same job for five paisa during his period. In old days people were not willing to take fresh tube for the wheels unless the older tube got 10 punctures. Now the grown-up bicycle owners prefer to change the tube if it has a couple of punctures on it,” he narrates.
Ajmal also witnessed the era when Rawalpindi used to present a deserted look in comparison to today’s hustle and bustle, especially around Raja Bazar and in Saddar. He said fifty years ago Rawalpindi had fewer prominent offices. including the GHQ and now there are a lot of offices, a lot more population and Murree Road seems always packed with traffic.
Ajmal hasn’t stopped teaching the art of fixing bicycles that he had learnt from his father, who was a student of Odhy Baan and at least he has trained 10 persons so far in this craft.
Two of his students still work along with him at the shop and his shop is a well-known spot among children who own bicycles. Besides fixing bikes, Ajmal has also got a good taste of foods as according to him there is no food-outlet in the city that he didn’t pay a visit to taste its specialties.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 21st, 2016.