City Zen – Walk of Life

The city is a morning walker's nightmare.

The city is a morning walker’s nightmare.

For the better part of two decades my dad has been a compulsive morning walker. Before he retired he’d hit the road at 5:45. To maintain that daily routine in our city’s too-good-to-leave-bed climes, you must be driven by desperation or determination. Maybe both. My dad had a better reason: it was the only time he had the footpath to himself.

Before I flew the nest 10 years ago, I’d sometimes join him. In dawn’s half-light our wannabe metro retained shades of the Pensioner’s Paradise it was once cut out to be. Dogs chased their tails as they wound down a boisterous night. Milkmen went on delivery rounds, clanging pale aluminium canisters hitched to motorbikes. Flower-sellers braided fragrant garlands outside temples whose loudspeakers were clearing their throats to rip asunder the peace of BPO workers who had just hit the sack.

I used to wonder what he was complaining about, but it is easier to see his point today. As early as 6, paperboys have delivered the Times (and its appendages) and are sorting stacks of The Hindu for households inclined to a more sober reading habit. Milk trucks gnash their teeth impatiently as they unload their crates. And if, like me, you dwell in the vicinity of Sarjapur Road where Cauvery water is literally a pipe dream, you have already surrendered the imaginary footpath to water tankers that assume pervasive right of way.

Six years ago my dad moved into a privileged demographic bracket. Proud of his senior citizen status, he thought he should exercise it by sleeping in. He now leaves for his walk an hour later than before. If he is not back home by 8 my mom has kittens. And there’s ample grist in the papers to feed her fears (maybe they should switch to The Hindu.)

Walking a street at that hour, even in a residential area, is fraught with peril. For here you will be challenged to find a walkable footpath with an electron microscope. This is Animal Planet of a different kind. Amber traffic lights blink undecidedly as cabs race each other, ferrying early birds to work. Walkers, joggers and cyclists are under constant threat from vehicular predators. Their habitat, the fragmented footpath, has been driven (literally) to extinction. In farther reaches of the galaxy (such as Bellandur), footpaths have not even troubled the imagination of the authorities.

Where vestiges of pavements remain they are occupied by encroachments such as private gardens or shrines claiming total impunity. Sometimes, they are pockmarked by unexplainable black holes to parallel universes. Fishing a senior citizen intact out of them can pose a serious challenge even to a quantum physicist.

But who’s complaining? Don’t our apartment complexes have jogging tracks? And aren’t our roads getting wider? Where 20 years ago an Ambassador backed up chivalrously to let an autorickshaw pass, two Endeavors and a Pajero can today park cheek to cheek. If that’s not progress what is?

Hmm… maybe I should tell my dad to take his car out for a morning walk.

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