This article was first published in Gurgaon Times dated 30 November, 2014
In Gurgaon, if you'd rather walk short distances than drive, people assume that you're either poor or mad. After all, the millennium city is India’s very own America where the majority prefers taking out their car, even if it’s a five minute walk to drop their child at the school bus stop. Little wonder the city’s roads during weekdays with bumper to bumper traffic resembles a very long parking lot where motorists honk and swear at each other for entertainment.
Sadly, the number of parking spots in Gurgaon has not kept pace with the number of vehicles that has been growing in leaps and bounds unlike our country’s GDP. Getting a decent space to park during rush hour is like winning a lottery. One vacant spot and at least 5 cars rush towards it gladiator style, unmindful of basic courtesy or consideration for the unfortunate soul who was the first to sight the bounty. If you’re not aggressive, chances are you’ll keep circling like a planet in its orbit.
It doesn’t help that the city’s transport system is a wonderful opportunity to get groped and to exchange sweat and BO with random strangers. The autowallahs think you’re Ambani’s twice removed cousin and quote such exorbitant rates that you’re forced to stage a walkout, much like our revered Rajya Sabha MPs.
So, when you move to a neighbourhood with wide, tree-lined avenues, with markets within walking distance, the air just the right kind of nippy, you give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back, bid adieu to parking woes and take out your walking shoes.
History repeats itself when you’re not paying attention the first time. Your memory loss aided by the few years you’ve lived in a quiet city in Australia with shaded walkways, where pedestrians enjoy the right of the way and cars don’t try to knock them over for daring to cross the road. When you move back home, you’re optimistic that the good times will last, unlike Kingfisher. You’ve conveniently erased from your memory the times you’d decided to embark on a Padyatra to your local market and got cat-called by idle Romeos, knocked over by playful piglets and feral canines, hopped, skipped and jumped over potholes filled with foul water and narrowly missed getting run over by vehicles that mistook your locality’s alleyways for the Buddh Circuit.
You step out of your serene, gated complex with a song in your heart and the fond hope of burning off the aloo parantha you had for breakfast. A few dozen steps later, you experience history repeating itself in slow motion. Within minutes your bravado has vanished into thin air and you start resembling a deer caught in the headlight. With no paved ways for pedestrians, you are forced to walk gingerly on the side of road that resembles the moon’s surface. The incessant honking from impatient drivers fills you with fear for the well-being of your eardrums. You scurry like a startled rat, a halo of dust around your once upon clean pair of feet and you pray for Ram who looks like Arun Govil to drop down from the sky and rescue you from this evil world.
Of course, it doesn’t happen. Instead you return home with a haunted look in your eyes, your hair smelling like it has just smoked a pack of cigarettes.
You console yourself thinking that the nights will be much saner when the traffic thins down.
The reality check arrives by Speed-post when you invite friends who live right across MG Road, for dinner. The optimistic souls they are, they decided to walk over to our place. It was well past midnight when we saw them off. Their walk back home was an adrenalin rush without the bother of Bungee jumping as they played hide and seek with weekend revellers whose idea of fun is behaving rowdily with anything that looks remotely human, or female.
All our dreams of walking down for late night movie shows at the malls on MG Road were gone in sixty seconds!
My brain is still fogged up by the exhaust fumes that I have inhaled because I still refuse to accept that the only time Gurgaon is safe and fit for walking is, never. So, my never-die-spirit has latched on to a Swachh Plan. Since posing with extra-long broom-sticks is the new Prada for ‘eager to please Modi’ celebrities, I have decided to order one for myself and carry it with me every time I decide to take a walk. After I have done my bit to clean Gurgaon, I can pole vault to my destination and also knock some sense into people with my broomstick who think pedestrians are lesser beings.
And since Harry Potter has retired, I was wondering if he could loan me his flying broomstick?