Rotating Like a Cartwheel
The Bicycle Friends
Two friends – one Muslim, the other Sinhala – and a working partnership that spans decades
According to Buddhist philosophy, sorrow and happiness rotate like a cartwheel. Mohideen and Raja are two mechanics who work together sharing everything in life, including meals.
There is a small garage near the Youth Centre in Kada Dolaha junction in Anuradhapura. This little shed houses two garages. One side is for bicycles while the other side is for motorcycles.
J.P. Somarathna a.k.a. Raja is over sixty years old, a senior citizen who has worked as a motorcycle mechanic since he was very young.
“I started motorcycle repair work over forty or fifty years ago. In the early 1980s there were only a few motorbicycles in Anuradhapura. I initially repaired the Triumph brand. Today, there are several motorcycles in one house. In this city, there are thousands of bikes. I know their faults and the repairs needed. I would like to do my job honestly. If I overhaul an engine, I will season it and check its accuracy before I hand over the bike to the owner. I earn money honestly and do not cheat customers. If I did so, I could have built such a big garage in this city,” Raja said while his colleague Mohideen nodded.
Although Raja worked hard throughout his life, he could never own land in the town to run his garage.
Raja is now a grandfather who lives in Sucharithagama. He attended Walisinghe Harishchandra College in Anuradhapura upto grade 5. Then he apprenticed in motorcycle garages in the city for a long time and eventually started his garage in a rented shop in the Kada Thiha area at Jayanthi Mawatha in Anuradhapura. He moved from place to place. With the increase in rent prices, it was difficult for him to run a permanent repair centre. It was around this time that his friend D. Mohideen invited him to work together.
Mohideen ran his bicycle repair shop in many accessible settings in Anuradhapura city before he moved to Kada Dolaha junction. The 64 year old Mohideen was born in the sacred city of Anuradhapura and studied in Vivekananda College. He started apprenticing in his uncle’s bicycle repair shop as a child. He is now a widower after his wife’s death four years ago. He has four married daughters but lives independently.
“Raja is a seasoned mechanic. He earned money and spent it helping people and did not save. Raja has a good heart. In time, the city developed, and the value and rent prices shot up. Small businessmen like Raja were thrown into dire straits. This shop that belonged to my brother is situated on prime land in the town. We provided space to Raja because in good faith,” Mohideen said, as Raja nodded in gratitude.
Mohideen worked with his uncle in a repair shop in front of the post office in Anuradhapura for a long time. He moved to the present space many years ago. He does not pay rent to his brother and shares the shop with Raja now.
“Several decades ago, the primary vehicle was bicycle and thousands of customers visited our shop. Leading schools like Central College were situated close to our shop, and we had much work. People were not as prosperous as the present society but we had a lot of bicycle repairs. We attended to a large number of punctures everyday. When we provided a low-cost solution, people were delighted. We saved some people who were lost due to troubles with their bicycles. You will not believe that we charged only two rupees to repair a flat tyre,” Mohideen recalled the past.
“We were content with the service we delivered, and we did not want to grow as big businesses. We are happy even today. The entire town loves us. The kids who came to get their bicycles repaired then, wave at us as they pass our shop in luxury vehicles now,”Mohideen added.
Mohideen runs many errands like going to hospital, visiting his children, attending a funeral or a religious function etc. When he is out, Raja repairs bicycles of his customers. Mohideen does not forget to give Raja’s share from the charge. When Raja has similar errands, Mohideen keeps his customers until Raja returns.
“Although I worked hard, I could not buy a property for my shop. With time, it was difficult for a small businessman like me to rent a space. Even now, we provide our service to customers at a nominal charge. Therefore, our daily income is not big. When I did not have a place to run my workshop, Mohideen offered his assistance like a close relative. His family also did not object to Mohideen’s offer. I am indebted to him for his kindness and will do anything for him,” Raja says.
Raja can speak Tamil to a certain extent. Mohideen is fluent in Sinhala. Sometimes, they share the meal that one of them brings. Sometimes, they have to share a single cup of tea. Both attend the functions of one another’s family and friends. Both do not tolerate opinions expressed by others against their friend’s ethnic community or religion.
An older person came pushing his broken bicycle to the workshop. We asked him how he knows Mohideen.
“I have known him and his uncle since the time they were near the post office in the 1960s. His uncle was also a friend of mine. They have served thousands of people with their hands,”the senior citizen, S.A. Charles of Stage One, Anuradhapura told us.