Streetwise

One of the most important parts of my day at work was the walk home at the end of the day. It was not a very long walk (under 15 minutes) and certainly not a route that offered great beauty of nature or landscape. For me, the walk was more than the act of getting from the physical space of work to that of home. It was an important ritual that helped in the transition from the mental space of ‘work’ to ‘home’. Through my three decades of work there were different transitions that took place. As a young mother, it was the bridge between leaving behind of the role of busy professional and bracing for an evening with the mental and physical energy required in parenting young children. As the children grew older, and one’s parents older still, it was the period of putting behind the challenges of the job to tackle the challenges of coping with geriatric health and care-taking issues. When both children and parents no longer needed the sort of support I could give, it was simply the luxury of going over the day—hours which had passed, and the few hours ahead. Walking thus was form of therapy for me.

I like walking. And I enjoy walking on busy streets. I like observing people and activities, and my walk home offered much. There were the familiar regulars—walkers like myself, and others that I would cross or pass on the way. Strangers at one level, but a familiar and comforting daily cast of characters—I used to imagine who they were, what they did, and what awaited them that evening. As someone aptly put it, “Simply by being outside on the street, people are inadvertently revealing their life histories in their bodies, in their steps, in the hunch of their shoulders, or set of their jaw.”

Walking thus, even as one is observing people there is an odd sense that you are invisible yourself! I was occasionally reminded of the fact that others may be “doing unto you what you do unto them” when someone I did not recognise would tell me “we don’t see you walking these days” or “I know where I have seen you—you walk everyday on that road.”

There were the little ‘milestones’ on the route–the small Hanuman temple at the corner, and the Momo mobile stall, and the busy tailor with his sewing machine right on the footpath; the pavement dwellers lounging on the battered tattered sofa that they had salvaged; the ‘party plot’, where in the wedding season one could see last night’s decorations being taken down in the morning while going to work, and new ones being put up in the evening for that night’s wedding.

There were the trees along the route, especially the huge mango tree—and always the eagerness to spot the first blossoms on it. The big open ground which hosted a variety of water birds when it filled with the monsoon water, and which hosted a variety of handloom and handicraft melas in the winter. There were the cows that crossed the road along with you, and the dangerously straying puppies in puppy season.

Of course there were no real footpaths or pavements! It was an exercise in agility and alertness—sidestepping the cowpats and litter; circumventing the potholes and muddy patches; dodging the scooters and cars that veered dangerously close, and finding the perfect moment to cross the road amid the chaos of the traffic. Whatever the challenges, the walk was always an adventure!

As one of my favourite authors Ruskin Bond puts it so well—“The adventure is not in arriving, it’s the on-the-way experience. It is not the expected; it’s the surprise. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but are giving the world an even chance to see you.”

–Mamata

 

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