I made an impulsive purchase of a new bicycle about a month ago. She’s a Trek 520 touring bike, with drop handlebars, a rear rack, and a steel frame that will take whatever the ride throws at her. She’s slim, quick, but strong and durable.
And she just got herself a name.
Naming a bike is no small thing. For me, it kind of just comes to me. I can’t force it, but once she’s named, the name has a pretty big role in my relationship to the bike. My last bike was Cecilia. Cecilia isn’t a name you hear often, but once my bike was named Cecilia, I associated the name with her qualities and vice versa. Bulky, hard to tame, but once you know how she works and how to control her, she’ll bring you wherever you want to go. Cecilia would fall over if you didn’t lean a very specific point against the wall, she’d bump upanddown big potholes, and when riding up hills, she’d threaten to topple you with her front wheel lifting off the ground. Very few people can ride Cecilia effectively, and every time I let a friend hop on, I have to explain the intricacies of how she works. Unless I want to let them fall…
I’ve had her for about a month and hadn’t given much thought to the name. This past week, I was spacing out on the subway, listening to Kendrick Lamar. I suddenly realized that my bicycle must be, and is, an extension of my self. Small and thin framed, which deceptively hides an inner strength. Sturdy but slender, excited to get out and ride. Generally, a beautiful bike. Her name has to be related to these qualities, and she must be named to honor the memory of my great-aunt. I don’t know how, or why that came to me, but once it did, it was obvious that my great-aunt, Susmavieumichi, is the perfect guiding force for the journey I am planning on taking on this bike.
Susmavieumichi was my father’s aunt, but she was only 7 or 8 years older than him. She stayed with us during our yearly trips to India. She was tall and lean compared of all of my other relatives. Her tiny wrinkled face was expressive and excited. She wore dentures, but would take them out to eat, and we always laughed at the way she “chewed” cashews and other hard foods with her gums. She’d take care of my aging grandmother, who I call Umichi. She’d tear apart jackfruit for my brother and I to eat while we hid it from Umichi, pretending that there weren’t any sweets or snacks in the house. She was one of my only relatives who took my tangled mess of hair as a serious affront, and would diligently tackle it with a comb for family events. And even though I don’t speak much Malayalam, we were always able to communicate, and I somehow always felt understood by her (despite her unrealistic hair expectations).
Throughout my trips to India, I learned through my mom that she had a hard life, in short. Her home was small and isolated and she had to walk on paths through the rainforest and rubber trees to get to her home. She struggled to raise children with a violently abusive husband, who developed cancer and died at a relatively young age. In her old age, when she stayed in our home and kept us entertained during our yearly visits, none of this showed. She was always laughing, cracking jokes, and trying to teach us Malayalam.
My great-aunt, Susmavieumichi, is a huge part of my relationship to my parent’s home, a huge part of my relationship to India. Her spirit will help carry me through my bike trip. A silent strength through adversity, a slender frame that does not reveal her years of fighting for survival. She stood up against the abuse she was regularly facing and fought to protect her children. In the last years of her life, she lived simply and joyously.
My bike will be named Susi. Not Suzie, but Susi. Pronounced Sue-si.