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Sunday Editorial: How about the right to walk: pedestrian rights!

 

By Ratnakar Tripathy

Oh The pleasure of walking!

Oh The pleasure of walking!

We humans use the word ‘walking’ as the privilege of the biped. All other beings with four, six or eight limbs, but tails, feelers and trunks not included, do not walk…ahem…we claim they canter, lope, gallop, crawl, trot and many other verbs, amounting to dozens if not hundreds, meant to put them out of the reach of the exclusive walker’s club of two-legged divinities, open to humans only.

Privileged us!

Or so I thought, till a while ago, looking as I was at roads, lanes and highways from the motorist’s point of view. I felt, in brief, bullied most ironically by the walking shadows of human nothings!

In India in particular you do get bullied by insignificant but ponderous nothings like a lumbering bull with a pair of baleful eyes and sharp and restless horns in a narrow lane, say in Varanasi. A furry and bossy monkey brooding over ways to damage your well-being, say, in Shimla! Fighting dogs unconcerned with the master race of humans right in front of a gated apartment in Pune. Nuisanceful nothings like beggars at traffic lights who scrape your knee through the auto with their dirty hands, groomed to be grimy unto death. Struggling salesmen/women daring to ring the doorbell only to receive the nth reprimand of the day. Or a VVIP for whose sake roads get closed to us common nothings as the uncommon nothings rush from one meeting to another with no consequence and of no consequence.

And so on and so forth!

Till I realized that the primal form of mobility is indeed walking and as a biped in our cities I count for nothing. I should have known, I indeed knew it, forgot it in favour of daily driving or riding convenience.

I ride a little moped in my hometown with the horse power of a defeated MLA. But drunk on the power of petrol I feel and hallucinate that I deserve the license to go uninterrupted in the manner of a NASA rocket.

So there are two me’s. The walking me and the gasoline driven I. Okay, let’s change tack.

How important it is for us to see our child stand on both its feet! Way back, as I watched my daughter discover increasingly efficient and painless means of movement – from reptilian swimming over the floor through contraction of belly muscles helped by the limbs, to a more erect crawling, to but-drag to a drunk’s walk before running like a plane hoping for a takeoff, were indeed matters I had forgotten.

And then one day in Patna, amidst the densest of traffic jams, I realized I must descend into the gently flowing gutter if I wish to continue to walk. And again and again in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune, I have had to hug the walls and parapets that in turn hug the roads too intimately for me to slither along. Makes me feel like a sideways lizard.

In the small town of Siwan in Bihar, I found the only way to cross the road was to climb over a cycle rickshaw, say ‘Sorry Madam’ to the aghast passenger, and get off to the other side.

So these days as I move around on foot in the big city, I seek the right to move, walk or safely sidle along with some minimum dignity. Right to education, work, food, clothing, and medical treatment must indeed be basic. Are quite basic in fact as basic goes!

Power of toes: Walking, flying, dreaming!

Power of feet: Walking, flying, dreaming!

But religiously speaking dear God, secularly speaking dear PM, just let me walk. I will manage my food, education, health and walk way further to sit somewhere cool and have a good time, thanking you as no help.

The technical word is sidewalk and a pity it is, given that walking is not a side activity for biped mammalians with swollen brains waiting to explode into creativity on a daily basis. Walking is no side business for bipeds who tend to pace up and down in the living room debating theoretical/business models in their heads. And share their musings, and help us stand on our feet!

So shall I say I want my centre-walk, the main thing, the right to walk without a threat from mast elephants or irritated camels belonging to kings, big cars, SUVs, mobikes, trucks, bullock carts, horse carriages, or VIP, or VVIP motorcades.

Or should I buy a treadmill or should I retire in a village?

I am not a bird, a seal, a snake, a lizard, or a platypus.

So please, may I?

 

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