This incident dates back to 1992, my eighth year in school and the year of the Benson and Hedges Cricket World Cup in Australia. I was studying in Class 9 at Balasore Zilla School at age of 13. You must be wondering how I was studying in Class 9 when I had only been to school for eight years. That is because I was such a “non-child prodigy” that my parents directly admitted me in Class 2. On top of it, in Oriya medium government schools, there was no tradition of LKG, UKG, Nursery or any of these so called preparatory courses that a child goes through before even he or she starts studying. Life was simple and education was a just a reflection of it.
Now, coming back to the story, during one of the visits of my maternal cousin Ashok (Bapun) to my hometown, I decided to take him to Khirachora Temple in Remuna, It is a little town located 9-km east of Balasore, about halfway between Kolkata and Puri. And I chose my old Hero cycle to do the job for both of us. And I also convinced my friend Kajal and his younger brother Animesh to accompany us on their cycle. And, here was the catch. Both Animesh and Ashok were too small to ride the bicycles so Kajal and I had to do the riding for the entire journey of 18 KMs. The entire budget for this trip was Rs 10, out of which a major portion (Rs 8) was spent at the temple for buying bhoga (offering). We started from our homes at around 10 am.
Everything went according to plan till we finished the puja at the temple. Suddenly, out of nowhere the idea (you can say it was a perfect recipe for a blunder) struck us that we can extend the trip to Panchalingeswar, a religious spot situated on top of a hill about 30 km from Balasore. We had already completed nine out of it, so we thought if we can another 20 (in the peak of summer) we can have another feather on our cap. And at that point of time we had just two rupees and some prasad that we bought at the temple.
But, we decided for it and started pushing the pedals towards Panchalingeswar. On our way we ate the Prasad, and drank water from the roadside village tube wells. We reached Panchalingeswar around 3 pm and that is when we started realizing that we have done a mistake by not informing folks at home and by extending the bicycle odyssey. We also began feeling hungry. We bought some biscuits worth Rs 2 (our last hope) and drank loads of water. However, that was not enough. Still, we managed to climb the hill and had a good darshan of the five shivalingas submerged by the glittering perennial spring. It is believed that the shivalings were installed by king Banasura. And like the hidden Shivalings, God had some hidden learning for us that day.
So at around 3 pm, we four kids with our hungry stomachs started our travel back home. And on our way back, we decided to take the highway instead of the village roads as we felt the chances of us reaching home safe in the evening is better if we take the highway. The journey back was painful. Kajal and I were tired of riding the cycles, our stomachs were crying for food and water was of no help. There also came a point where I begged for food at a small hotel with the promise to pay back the next day. However, the hotel owner refused. Somehow, I could gather enough stamina to complete the 30 kms on the NH-5 which connects Bubaneswar with Balasore and reach home safe with my cousin Ashok in the evening around 6.30 pm. And thus my own 60+ km tour de France came to a hungry halt.
I had this great fear that once I reach home my father will trash me to pulp for having put our lives in danger. However, after having a look at our state of being, the first thing we were offered were some hot parathas. And in my entire life food has never tasted better. And that day I realized what one feels when one is really hungry.