Monday, 20 April 2009

Walking in Delhi

(To learn more about walking in Indian cities click here)

To ask someone to walk in Delhi sounds preposterous and is often dismissed with a laugh. That was the reaction we got from our friend when we walked for the last time in Delhi. It was 2004. The event wasn’t so momentous that we’d record the date but it so happened that we left Delhi after a few months. So the stroll from Saket to Aurobindo Place Market on a winter afternoon is the last time we walked purely for the pleasure of walking in Delhi. The soft afternoon sun, the smell of roasting peanuts, small thelas piled with cheap woolens, even the languidly moving traffic seemed to add to the pleasure probably because we could navigate it so easily and quickly. We would have loved to say that the skeptic friend became a convert but in reality he too remembers the walk for precisely the same reasons as us.

Another memorable walk was some 10 years earlier when the IIT U special didn’t turn up and the three of us, all girls, decided to walk to Pragati Maidan from Pandara Road to catch the Noida special. That too was winter and Delhi looked so beautiful in the liquid sunlight that we ended up walking all the way to Miranda House for we were only nineteen and Sociological theory wasn’t something we looked forward to first thing in the morning. And what a wonderful walk it was. There were a few strange looks but for the most part we completed our journey unmolested, which is commendable considering one can’t walk a few steps without fending off unnecessary comments and unwarranted glances these days. The fact that we had clearly demarcated space to walk for the most part too helped. We tried to recreate the journey in the opposite direction but it was monsoon and that year safety of women was a major news item. So we caught the bus back home from ITO.

Having lived for over 12 years in Delhi we walked in all kinds of weather for all kinds of reasons. Along ruins, in gardens among chrysanthemums and roses, under Peepul trees with their leaves turning pink, up and down the Delhi University campus eating bhelpuri, on Prithviraj Road with bats for company, in Sanjay Van with the twisted Vilayati Keekar creating a mini Mordor, along roads densely packed with cars honking and the auto rickshaw we had abandoned getting swallowed by the smoke, on Kamraj Marg when the Amaltas colours the sidewalk gold, in Tughlaqabad with the moneys watching us even as we watched them, in JNU under the trees singing in the rain, to Khan Market to Aurobindo Place. A million walks in a city that seemed to be best explored on foot to enjoy its timeless beauty. But that was before Delhi became the city of a million roads and nowhere to go.

The only regret. Never being able to enjoy a walk along the Yamuna to truly appreciate the city that was built beside a river.

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