Friday, December 31, 2010

Stirring Out and all Stirred Up

Went for a long walk today, inspired by the  City Makers Collective which, was conducting a walk under the aegis of the Indo-Global Social Service Society in the Capital  today, with the aim of  reclaiming city spaces for homeless citizens. The route of the walk was exciting: The start was from Nigambogh Ghat, Yamuna Pushta and it was scheduled to end  at Hanuman Mandir,  Connaught Place.  I love particularly the symbolism of the planned walk. Originating from beside the life giving  river and Nigambodh ghat that stands sentinel to countless death-rites, the walk moves into the hustle and bustle of the city centre, culminating at the temple of Hanuman, the legendary monkey who consoled and protected his exiled king Sugriva, who was also homeless. Hanuman also leapt a hundred fathoms away from his own personal life and reached another kingdom as scout and messenger on behalf of yet another homeless exile, Ram. In fact,  he  used his tail as an incendiary torch to  rub home the message to the powerful king of that country that  his  destitute friends meant business.
 As a Delhi resident, I have visited all these places and my thoughts stayed with the walkers in spirit  as this is probably one of the most wonderful ways in which  an entire year could be wrapped up, while  the new year waited around the corner, with yet another knotted bundle of hopes and frustrations.
 Unable to participate in the walk  for a host of little reasons that crop up everyday,  I took off later in the afternoon for what used to be a regular haunt from my house in Safdarjang Enclave to the District Park. This is an expansive walk, past the newly made lake and the ruins of the madarsa and the Hauz Khas monuments and back, and remains a debatable distance of three or four kilometres,  that  no one at home has really settled. The walk took  around forty-five minutes  and the weather was crisp and the sky was blue, because for some part of the day, the sun had stopped by and dried up the grey air. One encounters unusual birds, ranging from green pigeons and  common barbets to the peacocks and tree-pies and the abandon  of bougainvilleas and the general lush foliage proves very soothing. Today, I observed that there is really very little public place available on the street, for someone with no home to go  as well as  the average pedestrian, the old and  the infirm.
The entrance to the park is eight hundred feet  from my home and I need to go past moving cars that honk me out of the way while I totter over to the side and lean on a parked car. The options are usually an ungainly dive to the side of the road, towards an occupied pavement, where either car or unsanctioned private hedge or fence holds sway. Occasionally, there are closed iron gates. These are illegal and are a display of resident ability to provide apparent protection  from passing cars, burglars and chain snatchers and pick pockets and louts. The only qualification required to cross by the small side entrance  is a robust disposition and  knees that measure thirty inches from the  level ground .  Clearly, the denizens of the world of Avataar were measured when these gates were made for unless you are extraordinarily tall and able, you  might as well as stay at home. If you are old, feeble or unwell, then you had better stay at home hadn't you, suggests the honk of  the  man  at the wheel of  a big black car.
 We had a functional circular fountain in the  district park. Our elected MLA  put up a rectangular one on the opposite side.  We have got used to this eyesore, especially since we are now allowed to walk in the  park again, post Common Wealth Games and the tennis stadium has withdrawn miles and miles of  stainless steel pipe fence intrusions. The children's section is desolate. One sunken rail-engine shaped jungle gym is all that remains of what was once a bustling park with loads of activities for small children. The walk itself is exhilarating, even though sections of the park remain unkempt, sometimes  even unattended. The return to the world beyond the park, however, remains intimidating.
 The road outside the park is an arterial road. it  has an endless build up of traffic. There is also one speed breaker,  but  cars don't take kindly to  all this. What business have pedestrians at the ends of roads?, they say as they refuse to pause at the break in the verge. Occasionally, if after a long flow of cars, one  finds a gap  and starts towards the  verge, the next car coming  from  quite far away will  see you and accelerate,  adding to the exciting unpredictability of  whether you will reach the verge or whether the car will get you first!  Having dared the impossible and achieved it,  I got  back into the  smaller lane inside the colony  considerably  invigorated. Seeing a car  heading in my  direction, a nimble dart  into the edge of what seems an empty parking space seemed  a quick remedy. Not quite, I found out as the car behind  noiselessly crept up, just missing my feet and taking up the parking space. Halt, pause and then recollect breath. Squeeze out of the slit between two parked cars and then  begin counting the lanes back to the house. Successfully complete the side gate high jump movement  and  land in the middle of a street to be  immediately accosted by honking  cars driving in opposite directions who don't understand why there should  be pedestrians on roads designated only for vehicles? Stumble home somehow and feel thankful for the possibility of being alive and not having to live on the street.  Maybe  I should stay at home, safe?  Unless, we can work towards a recognition of  sharing public spaces for a multiplicity of  needs, the  pedestrian will need to mutate and grow wings in order to survive in this hostile space.