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.