Category Archives: Walking

Chronicles of a roving protester

For nearly two hours this morning, I tried finding out if there was a fast or protest planned in Mysore today. If people were gathering somewhere it would be good to add to the numbers, I thought, rather than fragmenting the effort. But I was told, “We are planning, but there is nothing today”. Nothing seemed to have been done yesterday or the day before, so I decided to make my own placard and go sit under Gandhi’s statue outside the court, for a few hours while it was still day.

I made a sign saying “We Want Jan Lokpal” in English on one side and “ಭ್ರಷ್ಟಾಚರ ವಿರೋಧಿಸಿ” (Oppose Corruption) in Kannada on the other. And around 4.45 I left the office, with the placard. I had decided not to go sit by the G. statue, because I could easily be missed and because it seemed a rather boring thing to do.

I walked along the Hunsur Road, but for the first ten minutes or so, I was on the left hand side, with my back to the traffic. I realised this wasn’t such a good idea–I need to face the oncomng traffic, only then would people pay attention to the sign. And it worked. People would slow down to read the sign and then speed up.

It was rush-hour traffic, people were going home from work, which also meant they were not in a mad hurry to get to office and face their workday. They had a moment to indulge their curiousity about this woman with a placard walking by herself.

For the first couple of minutes I was a bit shy about meeting people’s eyes. But I plucked up courage when I saw someone smile. And after that I kept looking at people’s faces, with as neutrally pleasant an expression as I could manage (or should that be ‘as my perpetually frowning face would allow’?).

Most people, about 60-65%, would see me, but would simply not care and drive past without slowing to read the sign. A smaller percentage read the sign, shrugged either physically or mentally, and drove on. Some read the sign and took a look at my face, but on meeting my eyes, immediately pretended I did not exist. Many looked completely cynical. One man said “ಅಷ್ಟೇನಾ?” “Is that all?”. A fraction looked at me and smiled, some in embarrassment at having been ‘caught’ looking at me and some in encouragement. Some wanted to talk to me, but were too shy. A few felt compelled to read my sign out aloud to me.

My first conversation was with a young man who drove up and asked why I was alone. I told him that i had tried to find out if anyone was organising a public event, but was unsuccessful and decided to go it alone. He said ph, that is very good madam, smiled and went away. He was wearing a helmet, but driving on the wrong side.

A minute later a slightly older man slowed down and said, “All the best!” I asked him how good wishes would help, and he looked sheepish. Unrelenting, I went on. Instead of good wishes, would it not be better if he also did something to change things? Poor man, he simply said, “Yes, yes, you are right, madam,” and sped away.

A little ahead, a man in a watchman-like uniform, with an Alsatian on a leash, asked me in Kannada, what my sign meant. In terrible, incoherent words I tried to explain, and through more effort from him than from me, managed to get the idea across. He asked if I was a lawyer. I lied and said I was a student.

Another man, (again driving on the wrong side!), stopped, introduced himself as a doctor and asked where the fasts had been organised. I told him I had tried to find out without much success. “So you are walking alone?” “Yes.” Good, good, all the best!” “Thank you.”

And suddenly, I didn’t know how to go back. Called M and asked for directions. Got them and went on. Two boys in the university compound, read the sign aloud, in funny tones, false voices, falsettos. I grinned and waved. They looked embarrassed and then waved back, jumping up and down for some reason. I felt like a celebrity.

At a crossroad where I was trying to do the right thing by using the zebra instead of walking diagonally, a group of young men in sports uniforms crossed ahead of me. One of them, not in uniform, asked me, “ಏನಿದು?” “What is this?” I replied, “The sign says ‘Oppose Corruption,’ and that is what this is about.” “What does that mean?” “Umm, it means we should all try to stop corrption and not be corrupt ourselves.” “What does that mean?” At this point, the rest of the group has begun to get impatient with him: “Don’t you know what corruption means?” “Why are you asking silly questions?” “Come on, man, you know exactly what this is about!”

I smiled at all of them and started to cross the road, when two men on a bike, one holding a camera waved at me and yelled for me to come to where they were. I waved back gesturing that I was crossing the road. The man with the camera kept shouting “Look here, I want to take a photo!” I hid my face with the sign and gestured that he should photograph that instead. Some of the sports people were still shouting questions to me: “Which college, akka?” I moved the sign to shout back some completely untrue response, when the photographer went click, click, click. Bleddy! I muttered some curses and moved on, hiding as well as I could behind the sign. He followed me for a while, but the traffic at the railway crossing got the better of him.

At the tracks, vehicles, children, university athletes and one large goat were all squeezing past each other. One motorist called out something complimentary about the placard being in Kannada.

The sun had nearly set by now. The roads were fuller than earlier, but fewer people seemed interested in the sign. People were not going to make the effort to read my squiggles in the semi-darkness.

Near the DC’s residence, a pillion-rider smiled and saluted. I saluted back. Two cops at the Valmiki Road signal said, “ಏನು ಮೇಡಂ, ಒಬ್ಬರೇ ಇದ್ದೀರಾ?” “What madam, you are alone?” “Yes, what to do, if no one joins, you must go alone, no?” “Yes, yes, you are right.” Smiles all around. Nods also.

Auto drivers at the Paduvarahalli stand, pointed at the placard and spoke to each other in a babble I couldn’t decipher. I did the usual thing: I smiled. They just stopped speaking.

M called a couple of minutes later. I was less than a kilometer from home. “I’ll come pick you up.” Sure, do! It was too dark for anyone to read the sign anyway. Or even to see me. I crossed the road to where M would meet me. A couple of auto drivers at the corner read the sign by the glow of the streetlamp and asked me what it was about. Before I could launch into my converses-only-with-in-laws-and-the-domestic-help-lady Kannada, M arrived and I extracted “politician”, and other crucial words from him and managed get the explanation across in a somewhat less garbled manner this time. M helped immensely by throwing in a metaphor about bandicoots.

Shoved the sign gratefully into the back of the car and went home.

The most significant observation I made today was that not a single woman wanted to acknowledge the sign or me. If I looked at them directly, they would not break the gaze, but simply shift focus, as if I was invisible and they were looking at something beyond. Most pretended, extremely effectively, that I did not exist. Women have a LOT of practice at this, with all the unwanted attention they get. But I must have looked into the faces of at least a thousand women today. Not one smiled. Not one looked curious. Not one stopped to ask me anything. All the people who commented or spoke to me, or even raised their eyebrows were men. I have no clue what to make of this.

It is almost three hours since I got home. My hands are still aching. Who knew a one-kilo placard was this heavy?


A meadow and its family

If you happen to walk past my house heading uphill along the street, going right to the top and continuing past the two large elms that mark the official end of the road, you will be well rewarded for your undeterred progress. For beyond the dark clump of wood lies a gorgeous, green meadow.

Untouched by the council’s civilizing hand, this verdant expanse is a not-very-well-kept secret among the neighbourhood’s residents, although I made the delightful discovery only recently. Many make their way here in the mornings to work off the guilt of recent indulgences; later in the day love, young and old, arrives seeking the serenity of the setting. A few foot-beaten paths run along the contours of the common. Dotted among the tall, waving grass are some benches–put there by some thoughtful soul decades ago and thankfully forgotten by those mysterious beings who keep lists of public furniture.

When the burdens of my vocation become too heavy, or (more commonly) when lethargy towards gainful toil overcomes me, I slip into comfortable footwear, forget to take the house keys, and head to this haven.

The happy absence of lawnmowers and garden pliers has allowed many small animals and birds to make their homes in the grass and shrubbery. Sometimes, if I am quiet and well-behaved, these creatures will allow me to watch them go about their lives. On one such occasion a few weeks ago, I observed a pair of blackbirds at a nest.

The couple had evidently made the decision to increase their tribe somewhat late in the season – it was mid-July already. But no matter, they seemed to think, we still have a few weeks of sunshine. Their parental labours had a hurried air, as though they were trying make up for lost time by working harder and longer. For the two hours that I sat watching, they took turns flying to and from the nest, bringing worms and insects to their three seemingly insatiable offspring.

While the male bird kept guard close to the homestead, the brown and unremarkably plumed female flew along the hedge, stopping on the branch of a holly bush or perching on the boulder by the path to check for unwanted presences, like that of a cat. She always rummaged in the same patch of leaf litter under a large maple, returning with what looked to me like dirt, but was clearly gourmet fare to her ravenous family.

When it was his turn, the glossy black male chose his pickings from a greater variety of sources. He sometimes scratched about under the hedge to find crawly grubs, at other times he hopped around the mossy bole of the oak. Occasionally, he would dive into the grass and disappear from my view, emerging a few moments later with a struggling worm in his bright yellow beak. He didn’t care to give his prey a quick and merciful end, preferring instead to stop at the far end of my bench to watch me awhile to ascertain I meant no harm, before proceeding nestwards.

The untiring efforts of the pair had evidently paid off, for today I saw mother, father and two spotty but nearly full-grown blackbirds hopping about in the same hedge. My earlier investigations had revealed three juniors, but today I saw no sign of a fifth member of the family. Perhaps a magpie or sparrowhawk had had a particularly good lunch sometime.

Nevermind, I said to my somewhat sorrowful heart, as I walked slowly homewards. There are at least two more blackbirds that will sing next spring.

Dylan or not…

this piece is worth getting all soft-kneed about:

One morning all the steam whistles in the valley blew continually for an hour to warn residents that the floods were imminent and once the whistles ceased to wail, the waters rushed in to obliterate alleys and attics, chapels and cellars, confessionals and milking stools, lawns and lanes, the nests of birds and the dens of foxes, the beds in which children had been conceived, porches on which old men smoked, places where the sunlight came late on account of the hunch of the hills. All now silence. Think of the music that could and should be written, the pastoral opening, the wail of the whistles, the roar of the waters, the long silence at the end. Someone should compose such a piece. And the spiders and the insects who crawl upon the earth, the snakes and squirrels, what happened to them, did they rise upon the waters and make their way exhausted to shore after dark and in latter times mold stories to tell their young in the span of years yet appointed to them, or did they too end their days in the blue musics of the deep?

Sigh. Sigh. Go, go away and leave me now, I need to sit and sigh alone.

Public Footpath No. 68

Walking home (on a whim, instead of taking the bus) from the SHW station, I spot a small green sign hidden behind some bushes: ‘Public Footpath No. 68. Leading to R Park Road’. Of course I decide take it, not only because it promises to lead me home to R Park where I live, but also because a. it is a pure ‘foot’path; not an afterthought appended along a road for vehicles. b. it winds around the edge of a large sloping meadow, skirting H Hill and looking like a picture out of Enid Blyton.

And it is. Delightfully so. It runs along a green that is an exact likeness of the English countryside that I imagined in the many years when Blyton and her creations dominated my life. Wild holly and wild flowers bend over the path on my left. On the right is verdant, velvety grass. Best of all, halfway up the meadow slope is a bench. Put there for the express purpose of sitting in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing.

I discover that where the charming Public Footpath No. 68 meets R Park Road stands a small church, shyly hiding a rose garden along one of its walls. Behind is ‘The Hermitage’ where the vicar lives. I stand there, breathing the heady scent of late honeysuckle and high season roses. An old sign, paint peeling, announces: ‘Visitors welcome’. Who says that anymore?

A cyclist rings his bell and rides past me. And then I skip most of the way home.

Insolence then, insomnolence now

I have flown with the owl. I have come to life at dusk, prepared my eyes for the darkness, waited for the sounds of day to fade. And stepping out, shivered from anticipation, fear and the thrill of tasting the forbidden.

I have crouched in half shadows, eavesdropping on drunken quarrels. I have listened to the night-watchman talking himself to wakefulness. I have heard the lonely roar of the late bus. I have puzzled over soft rustling sounds in the baker’s alley until sweet parting sobs revealed all.

I have watched shift workers descend the company shuttle and walk wearily home, wordless unlike their daytime compatriots. I have seen the lights in the cabaret dim, clients stumble out, dancers in shawls of modesty slip facelessly home. I have watched sweepers turn out the day’s litter from the depot’s buses.

I have heard the first thuds of a new day – tight newspaper bundles landing on the pavement. Silent swishes of paper on paper as nimble fingers sort yesterday’s gossip. Landing shouts of fishermen, answering calls from their women. Diesel vans, dyspeptic from substituted kerosene, bringing in the city’s vegetables. All preparing to stand by as normal people wake reluctantly to their day.

It is not yet light, but impending dawn has pushed away the night’s romance. I am suddenly somnolent. I grope my way home, to cool sheets and hard berth.

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Oh, many have been the nights when I brushed aside the daily repose, indulging my inner voyeur in the unlit city. I thought nothing of it, for sleep was not then a precious, proscribed pleasure. Perhaps I am paying in unclosed eyes now, for my youthful disregard. Neglected nidra is having her revenge.
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