The road, the time, the milieu — everything was the same but I saw a whole new world while walking to my office.
As I trod my beaten track on foot that day, suddenly the world started moving in slow motion, throwing some unseen scenes up my way. Since I was walking and not riding my motorbike or car, I realised there were places, people, activities worth noticing that I normally ignored while speeding on my way to office.
The octogenarian gardener working along a roadside green belt must always have been there, but I never noticed him. “He shouldn’t be working, he is too old for this job” was the first thought that came to my mind. I sat beside him for a while to catch my breath and observed his dexterity with the shovel, in handling the delicate flowers and leaves. Like an artist, he was drawing different patterns on the soil with colourful flowers and making our world beautiful. He needs some appreciation, some acknowledgment. Walking made him visible to me.
I had never noticed so much activity along the road my entire life — new people, shops, signboards, buildings and scant old trees. I also discovered some frivolous aspects of myself — counting the running cars, pushcarts, reading every signboard. Why was I doing all this? Perhaps it was because of the plentiful time I had walking the 10-kilometre distance.
Along the way, I saw a bulky man sitting on a charpoy with no shirt, puffing on his hookah. The gurr gurr of the hookah while he inhaled the smoke was something new in the noisy urban environment. I was surprised how the sound was even audible. I could actually hear a cat meow, a dog bark, birds chirp and a donkey fart out loud.
All those sounds were new for me on a busy road in rush hour. I discovered that the bustling city does not belong to humans alone.
As I gazed at the fat man, he smiled back offering me the hookah pipe. I declined the offer with a smile and moved forward. He was always there but I noticed him only today. I remained connected to the man through a smile and a wave of hand for the whole next year passing by that spot daily.
One day he just disappeared along with his charpoy and hookah. I never bothered to find out what had happened to him. Perhaps, he was replaced by someone else whom I didn’t know.
As I continued to walk along the same path, at times I felt fatigued; but the fatigue was more mental than physical. I was too tired of observing so many things and reading all the wall-chalking, billboards and signs on the way. I was tired of being in close connection with everything around me. I was tired of all the gazes that scanned my every step and move. I could have accelerated and ignored all such activities had I been in my car.
I was astonished to see a young labourer pedalling his bicycle and singing aloud as well as an anguished well-dressed executive in an expensive car. Why is the poor cyclist so happy and what depresses the man in the luxury car? I was amazed by the many touchstones of happiness and anguish.
Most of the 10-kilometre stretch that I had walked was on road because it was difficult to negotiate my way on the footpath due to the thriving business of roadside vendors and massive encroachments.
The widened roads, the signal-free corridors and the fast moving traffic have further squeezed the space for walkers in the city. I would like to have some clear footpaths with covered manholes to enjoy the pleasures of walking, please.
Slowness keeps us together and connected while speed scatters and increases the distance. So slow down, catch your breath and connect — to see a new world.