Just like the Naturalists searching for the trails of Olive Ridleys on the shores of Tamil Nadu, I also thought of searching for the good old footpaths of the bygone era in and around Chennai City as we were dreaming to convert this into “SINGAARA CHENNAI”. Anyway let this dream come true when we open our eyes fully and ‘properly’.
For the city to grow in leaps and bounds and for the latest sedans to fly on the roads like spring and with rubber cushion action and to gain a global recognition, we created multi-lane roads, fly overs, butterfly wing grade separators, flying over ground and sweeping through underground metro rails. For this monstrous growth, the first freely available rich food was the foot path, then the nearby buildings and so on and so forth. The good old adage came true: ‘For something to grow, something should die’. Thanks for MRTS. They have taken the deadpan “COOVAM” for their track, but spoiling the footpath with their pillars at some places.
Just like Huansang and Fa Hien wandered searching for the trails of history, I also made a small attempt and found out the peculiar transformation of the old foot paths in different types in different parts of my city by walking through all the hurdles. Most of the places, the footpaths have become a 2-in1 situation. The civic body has given it a new name just like UNESCO and WHO. They had christened it as SWDCFP to look global and waiting for an ISO Certification for this under the category: Highly hygenic! When probed into I could stretch it as: storm water drain cum foot path. Look. What an irony it is. It turned into a water stagnant cesspool for mosquitoes and unfit for walking! A drain in the treasury!
Again VINAASAKAALE VIPAREETHA BHUDHI
In Chennai city this space has become a most sought after area (vanished at most of the places) due to the scant respect shown by the civic body in fixing the floor space index, the apathy towards restoring it by the ruling and the erstwhile parties who had tasted the comfort of the fort. Fear of vote bank and the corruption. We are even trying to remove the word ‘foot path ‘from the dictionaries and encyclopedia.
Now read the word foot path again in literal Tamil language: Foot mean Kaal and Path mean Look ahead. It means be careful in walking, danger lurks at every step. For the pedestrians.
I meant pedestrians to those who step out from their cars and are forced to walk few distances and those who are destined to walk throughout their life and those who make a morning or evening stroll as part of their exercise.
Politicians can whirr and zoom in the sedans with tinted glasses enclosing them from the outside world. Our democratic rules have allowed them to walk comfortably in certain places only. They can dictate and demand in getting things done in clearing their way from various departments. Even the small hole made by the insects will be covered in their path, else?!
Different classification of footpaths in the present context:
Now let us see how the foot path narrows, diminishes, steps up and steps down and slanting, twists and turns and tunneling and all that can be possible with it.
I was standing in front of my house. The civic bodies were very active in digging out the road in search of the man holes tucked deep under the many labyrinths of the macadam very recently laid. The speed at which they were engaged in this work made me think that my area will shine as Singapore roads. But alas! The rubbish was strewn all over, the old manholes were pulled out and new manholes kept temporarily covered, leaving the road un-motorable and impossible to walk even. They are at the final stage of a tender to close this! One great achievement for the civic body. They totally stopped ten cars coming out from a building nearby. Wah!
The other day, waiting for his school van. one student was standing near my house reading something. I knew it is exam time for him. I just asked him what he was reading. He showed it to me. It was a write up on the topic: The landing on the Moon by Neil Armstrong. The last line: “That’s one small step for (a) man, a giant leap for mankind” that he spoke while placing his left boot on the moon is still ringing in my ears. Thank God, He was on moon at that time. An undisturbed virgin satellite of the Earth. Had he been stepping out of the car in Chennai, his happy utterances would have been over with the first four words. He would have disappeared into the unfathomable drain. Why unfathomable, because the search for his whereabouts and all that will follow later will be impossible to dream even. He has to be kept in quarantine for the rest of his life!
Most of the footpaths are either removed in the pretext of widening the existing roads, encroached by the roadside traders (their products and services are generally required by the common man in his day to day life; an ANPU THOLLAI in literal Tamil),or there will be obstacles like electric junction boxes, telephone pillars and boxes, the nooks and corners of them are very convenient to ease out the bladders and that stench, the unbearable obstacle will even make the birds and dogs and mosquitoes to take a U Turn closing their five senses. Man’s greatest enemy is his own wastage from his body. This must be the reason for the high voltage surges and low voltage cut offs and the feeble and water falling noise from the landlines, I think. Someone should do research on this phenomena.
Then the encroachment from the abutting two wheeler clinics and the sales garages. Most of the vehicles will be outside. Is it to show the hands-on-expertise in servicing them or marketing capability of selling? Big No in both cases. Nobody can question their authority. By the time one circumvents all these hurdles, he might have traveled a distance of 15 Km instead of 1Km to reach his abode. Good exercise, isn’t? Old man will be gasping for breath, which also in short supply now. Thank God Magellan and Columbus made a sea voyage to discover the continents and made it a success story too. They would not have reached the destination, had they walked on Chennai foot paths.
The case of diminishing footpaths. From a very wide starting point where through the VIP’s car is always made to pass to a negligent corner where it ends and the road obviously takes a turn around the corner of a compound wall of a building. Is the surveyor in the civic body an expert in Perspective drawings? Or has he ever operated a theodolite? I doubt both. He must be having a ‘conic’ eye defect, better get them checked. Here again one more hurdle to overcome. One has to squeeze through the iron bars or the mile stone type granite cylindrical pillars planted abutting the wall. The building owner would have felt the imminent danger of collapse of the wall when trucks, full steel body conservancy trucks and the garbage dumpers plying especially during night will make a hit and run and escape drama.
One day walking through these contrivances guarding the wall like a gladiator guarding the Roman Fort, I noticed a big cinema poster pasted neatly on this wall. I really appreciated the sagacity of the Poster Boy for his timely action. The poster read: AGNIPATH. Definitely he would have noticed the sparks created by the rubbing action of metal to metal or metal to stone when one of these types of truck have taken a sudden turn at night. Kudos to him!
Foot Paths with twists and turns: Sometimes these foot paths, if any, will give way as though ‘the egg or the hen came first’ manner for the obstacles like lamp posts, electric junction boxes, road side water hand pumps and their cement circles. For the civic body these wayside items are like Heritage structures. These footpaths sometimes even enter through some hutment dwellers and had got transformed into living room with a dish antenna on the asbestos roof. They have ‘tunneled into’ before the metro rail concept! When leaders bring out new slogans like Peace, Prosperity and Progress that may or may not materialize in the near or far future or never even, here they have established a slogan in the true form of word and meaning. The slogan being: Transgress Transfuse and Transform. The path will give way even to the protruding shops which sell bakery products and other food items. These protrusions will give only a hairline gap in the foot path to show that the owner of the shop is very lenient towards the pedestrians. These shops have found their way like camel entering the Arab’s tent.
Way side eaters will drink and wash their hands in front of these shops and throw the waste news paper plates in which he serves the puffs and samosas.One has to be very careful in walking through this strip of land between the shop and the kerb to avoid the speeding motorcyclists who are experts in this area of the corner and if one is not an expert like a tight rope walker, there is every chance of slipping and falling. The shopkeeper teaches us a lesson: “Life is not as easy as a ‘cake walk’ in Chennai for pedestrians and for the ‘ever’ walking common man”.
Here comes another type. Steps up and steps down. Some entrance gates will be in level with the foot path, some gates will be at a lower level to allow the vehicles to enter. In this, one should maintain a proper rhythm of his legwork just like learning the rudimentary steps in dance in line with the sound of the stick and block. Sometimes one has to jump over the manhole as one may not know the special ingredients with which it is made to look like a cement structure to satisfy the civic body. And of course some man holes will be propping up here and there with lids, without lids, under or oversized lids and broken lids. At times we can see few ‘arrogant’ lids. Sharp metallic ring around them will tear you like lion if you do not respect them. At times the muck removed manually will be heaped up near the opening itself to make us prepared for a monkey jump or mountaineering trip. See what all things the foot path walking teaches us. Some may wonder whether these are the handiwork of any retired army man joined in the civic body to teach us left, right rhythm to induct us into paramilitary during an emergency.
Recently a VIP from Delhi happened to visit an important place near our neighborhood. All on a sudden a tractor-trailer with men came. They took out all the drain line lids from our road and went. When enquired we were told they have to cover that road and lids are under short supply. This reminded me of the opulent life of kings. When they walked to the palace, someone would unroll the carpet before them and someone would reroll it behind them to put it back again before the king reaches the seam. Thank God, I could see this removing of the lids. But it took months to close. I was expecting a VIP, but none came.
Sometimes they even disappear in thin air! We have seen Indian Rope Tricks and card tricks played by mediocre magicians. But this disappearance of lids will even make our great P.C Sorkaar scary and force him to search for some hideouts to escape from these civic bodies. Even Veda Vyaasa made it visible to us through his great epic the hideout of the Pandavas on the last lap of their exile. But for these disappearing lids, there will be no records. Incredible India! Yar!
Next type is a bit punishing type to our legs and body. Sloping foot paths. This is the one which the builder of multistory makes at the entrance on a long stretch as he had raised the basement fearing flooding. Some look like the ramp in a hospital eating half of the road itself. This of course is a grueling task for the driver to drive the car inside from the road level keeping his leg on accelerator and brake pedal together to avoid rolling back. Real synchronicity of leg which even the driving schools will not teach.
Let us see what will happen to the pedestrian when he is at rest and when he walks on this gradient. Center of gravity, Meta centric height, centrifugal and centripetal forces, like parallel, unlike parallel forces, friction, impending slip force and what not. All God given gifts to man on the walk! The entire Physics on Statics and Dynamics are brought at one place. Wah! One walk by the dullest student in Physics on this type of footpath will help him score centum and see for sure his master’s eyes bowling out! I am not going to explain all these here. One should learn to walk on this type of foot path by himself with loaded bags of vegetables and groceries.
We have two legs of identical length and size (though medically and genetically not, and we are not perfectly symmetrical). This causes a problem of balancing our body in the gradient as we have to bend and adjust the leg. If the gradient is smooth, it will be slippery and like that. Please go ahead in analyzing each. Learn Laws of floatation etc. Sorry for boring. But it is very serious. Any breakage of bone is your own fate and our civic body or the flat owners are not responsible. Take care. We are not in US.
But one boy in our neighborhood, who is a cycle racer, was found sad. When enquired, he told as such they do not have a good playground nearby or in their school and if at least this gradient be on a full stretch for a distance of minimum 10 kilometers, he and his friends would have enjoyed racing like in a Velodrome! Can this be done to satisfy him? No. We must have a flat and comfortable pathway to walk.
But I am sure; the ever enthusiastic blade runners participating in Olympics and Marathons will surely take this type of gradient walking as a pleasure. The disability of implant of artificial limbs will never be a handicap to them. Their clippers can be adjusted like a telescopic shock absorber to automatically stretch and shorten their ‘legs’. Let God give them a happy and prosperous life. Also many thanks to Artificial Limb Centre at Jaipur for bringing smile and cheer in the eyes of these differently abled to do all types of work just like people with natural limbs.
Now a new twist and a real path breaking news. The Civic body is trying to change all foot paths to International standards. What a fun! When the roof of the International Airport is leaking and falling down, they are venturing into this never possible project! When Rome was burning, Nero was fiddling!
For the temporarily evacuated footpath hawkers from the busy area, it is a boon and can reopen here in an International way! FOOTPATH MALLS! Don’t worry. They have a will to thrive. They will provide parking and walking space either under their trading table or above it. A last request to my dear hawkers. Eat the foot but give us our legitimate path.
Finally, foot path or no foot path, we are all destined to walk in some way and adjust with grudge.
One suggestion on How to construct good foot paths? Dreams have no boundary!
Just like we are giving names for the roads, let us give the names of the politicians to the foot paths as well. We shall include the names of MLA’s. But when the power changes, all the names will have to be scrapped. To avoid this we can have an electronic display at every point giving the latest name as per the reshuffling or removing and all sorts. If a new entrant comes, he should not dig out the old and make a new. If only one name should be projected in all the foot paths, then we shall number them like that of Raja Raja chola I ,Raja Raja Chola II, ( an example of a name from history for a better impact)repeating the history. Bypass foot paths can have a Tamil letter suffix. But when the foot paths of two opposition parties meet, the meeting point will be in a mess and garbage bin will fill the bill. Again a hurdle. Already garbage bin is a hindrance on the road as well as foot paths. Now many autorikshaws have filled the good part of foot paths. Once again ANBU THOLLAI. Cars are also slowly crawling in and hindering the walkers.
In the meantime, one fellow wanted his picture pasted or laminated at the ends of the foot path wall assigned to him. While others also seconded it, a doubt persisted in my mind. My house is situated at the end of a cul de sac. If a photo of a male is hung or pasted or glued on the wall, the passerby will rush and try to release his pressure in the bladder, totally free, unlike the paid photo chambers in bus stands. Either I have to be there round the clock or engage someone, salary paid by the civic body. Both impossible. This idea of affixing photo was dropped, but the naming idea may help. Will this be a failure or success? I don’t know.
There are few stretches of wide foot paths in our city. Many homeless people are dwelling there. Let us not evacuate them. Let them be there peacefully till we find an alternate pucca shelter to them. Most of them are victims of Tsunami and other natural disasters. They are not a hindrance to our daily lives. Let us not use that foot path for the time being. Most of them are workers in the construction of skyscrapers for our dwelling. Let God give them shelter, but not a footpath again.