I can’t really remember how long I have been walking. And, how and when I came to enjoy it. My two schools till tenth standard were in walking distance.We never had any vehicle at home. There was no question of anyone dropping me and my brother to school. We woke up on time, ate on time, and left on time, and walked to school like clockwork. I now think how much of pressure it must have been on my mother, every morning, through the day, to stick to this schedule. But that will be another story.
That bit of walking apart, my father used to go for a walk almost every evening. Once school was over, and the daily routine of school-play-homework-story book could be altered, to stepping out in the evening sometimes, with friends, visiting others, and occasionally walking with my father. Often times, it was a quiet walk, or a discussion on someone, or some squabble or some forthcoming festival/ event or to pick up vegetables from nearby market where an extra hand is always useful.
When I left home to study further, and then to work, time spent at home got restricted to few days of vacation or leave. One thing I did, at least once every visit, was to go for an evening walk with my father. By then we had changed house and the landscape, regular path and route all became different and unfamiliar to me. But both of us, going for a walk, has come to be our tradition.
My work involved walking in the forests of Odisha. That made up for everything else. Some of my most memorable walks have been those, natural forests or plantations, hills or plains, the walk in the midst of trees always brought happiness. Flowers, berries, driftwood, stones, ponds and rivers, birds and often times, the sunset along the walk always added to the contentment of a walk that tires you physically but invigorates your mind.
So it has been a very very long time, that I have been walking, wonder if I try to calculate it in hours and days?!!
Walking fitted in beautifully to the rhythm of married life, suited what we both liked to do, our pace and concept of exercise, along with our love for treed landscapes and all creatures great and small. As we moved from city to city, small or big, we will look for spaces to walk and weave our routine around it. If it’s a large and lit campus, we walked in the evenings. If some days work kept us in the office, we walked in the mornings. If there was not a large campus, we wandered around to find a less crowded path and walked in the early morning light. All our travel to new destinations, holidays are remembered through our walks. Walking as the End, sole purpose, not just the Means.
Often times, the walking spaces are common properties, even though they may be State owned, and the State may be responsible for its upkeep, there usually are multiple users (for example the KBR National park in the middle of Hyderabad, where we walk now) .
When we lived in Bangalore, we stumbled upon this nicely hidden campus called Mini Forest. It had mixed plantation, few office buildings, nursery of plantation trees, and couple of low rise apartment buildings for its staff. Not wanting to trespass, we stepped in with apprehension, through a side gate which was partially open, the large iron gate was firmly locked. We were thrilled to find so many people already walking inside, it meant we could also walk there!
So this became our regular walking route, with an occasional diversion to another large residential campus, where we would go to see our dog friend Toffee.
Mini forest has a strange mix of local trees and exotics. There is Nilgiri (Eucalyptus), Neem (Azadirachita indica), Karanj (Pongemia pinnata), Gulmohar (Delonix regia), Jamun (Syzygium cumini), Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma) and many from the Cassia family. Am not sure if the trees were planted with some thought or just randomly, but they provided shade and were a treat to the eyes. We would often spot bee- eaters, coucals, tailor birds, sunbirds making the walks so much more pleasant.
Few things that has bothered me for a while about this space.
Every year, the jamun trees would blossom. We would see the tiny green fruits appear. They however, never live to ripe, to turn that rich dark purple. They would always be plucked, sometimes the whole branch, broken and left on the road. Unlike a mango, an unripe jamun cannot be eaten or cooked. What then is that uncertainty, curiosity, not letting it ripe, or someone else eat it…what really is it that year after year, they are so savagely destroyed? I wish the jamun tree had an option not to fruit.
This is a place for walkers. One can see by how stones and blocks are placed on the entrance that bikes are not allowed inside. But still people will manage to push their bikes in and speed away; scaring the children and elders who play and walk there assuming it’s a vehicle free space.
Stray dogs reside in this campus in large numbers, fed by the residents. They mind their own business, used to peoples’ walking. There also are many pet dogs brought there by the owners as this place would be a dog’s delight. But they leave behind poop all over the place. So much so that you need to mind your steps even when walking on the paved roads, forget the paths.
I first noticed a small framed picture of a hindu god on the crevice of the campus wall. The god soon donned flowers. Very soon, even the termite mounds had pictures of gods and goddesses and flowers on them (it is believed that the termite mounds are actually rishis/ hermits who are praying inside for a long time).
It bothers me when I frame all the above four together and see how they change the character of a green public space.
How these acts of ours define this space? It’s a free, open to everyone place where most people go to walk, occasional hand holding camera clicking couples/ families aside. When I worked with communities in the rural areas to own and protect common properties like land, forests and water bodies, despite the many layers of differences in that social milieu, it was largely possible to define the users and identify the intruder.
In an urban area, that’s one of the hardest.
What can be done? Let the forest department make some rules? And get guards to enforce these rules? Along with that, there will be many interpretations of these rules, timings, paths, for all you know, clothes will be defined and many other regulations. Put signage? Would people read and abide?
How much of rules and discipline is enough?
Would it work to form a group with certain critical strength of voice and authority, of the floating population and tell everyone the dos and don’ts over a period of time, may be a month, so that everyone understands. The group does not own the place, so what’s their interest? Why would they do it?
What hinders common sense?