Walking has its charms. It also helps if you’re perpetually scared to drive.
But I guess I have always enjoyed walks. These are not power walks every morning or evening to stay fit. These are leisurely walks observing people, trees, anything or anyone else that needs observing.
Sometimes I sing songs in my head while walking. At others, I am thinking of my next subject to write. These days it’s photography that I am thinking of, and trees. Having lived in this suburb for years, I had gotten to know quite a few of them. Like people, some have passed on, most having been victims of redevelopment. Like the bougainvillea that once stood bright and happy where now stands a chawl for the rich, by the name of Jade Gardens. I wonder where the garden is.
Then there was a beautiful chafa tree that too exists in memory now. Like some strangers we see everyday, I had gotten to know the trees and like them.
So this is why I’ve been thinking of photography and trees. Sure, no photograph can capture the beauty and colours of a tree honestly. But at least it’ll be proof of what is, what was.
It’s just like other suburbs in Mumbai, this locality where I live. The only difference being, it still has a decent cover of trees.
I don’t remember when I began to like walks. Perhaps it was when I was in college and I hated to wake up early for the lectures. But I looked forward to my short journey to the bus stop. It used to be quieter then, and very few morning walkers were around. The noted painter, K K Hebbar, walked with his little dog every morning.
The trees helped me dodge the rains in the short walk to my bus stop, as I was always fed up of opening the umbrella in such a short distance. In the summer of course, they provided shade. Just before winter, the falling leaves would spread a carpet of earthern colours, albeit a crunchy one.
In time I began to enjoy walks. The walk itself lets me know how far I must continue. Like the time a raddi wallah accosted me twice in the gap of a few minutes, insisting I call him for old newspapers. The first time he stopped his Kinetic two wheeler next to me and said sinisterly, “Bhav nau rupaye hai.” I said, okay, a little bewildered at being told this in the middle of the road without warning. A few minutes later, he stopped again and said, “Aap mera number le lo!” I just smiled and walked home as fast as I could!
Crazy people, these raddi wallahs. The one who collects old newspapers from home now has said only one dialogue every time for the past couple of years. “Bhaiyya, bhaav badh gaya kya?” I always ask him. “Arre kahan? Abhi beech mein badha tha, ab wapas 10 rupaye hua hai.” At least he waves and smiles when I am on my walk and does not haunt me.
There are many types of walkers. There are the couples, where it’s clear that one has stepped out at the insistence of the other, for exercise. Then there are the young women who huff and puff while power-walking amidst talks and glances at the thin college girl who just passed by them. There are also senior citizens on daily walks. These are all serious walkers, out there with a purpose. But there are also other mad walkers like me, who stop and talk to people, play with a stray dog or cat, or simply pay attention to the world around them.
Since I am not a person whose walks are bound by the hour, I have time to see many strangers and familiar faces. Like Laxmi, our former maid. She has retired a long time back. But she used to work in our colony for years and has seen at least a generation of us kids grow up. So for us, she’s like an old aunt in the neighbourhood. Every evening she sits chatting with fruit vendors in a lane nearby, with a “Kaisa hain” for each colony resident who walks by.
Occasionally I see Ramdas, my mother’s best friend’s domestic help. When her kids and me and my sister were growing up, he was always there to chaperone us around. We would call him by name, but he was always like a part of the family. Now I often meet him when he chaperones her grandson to his drawing class and friend’s houses, like another grandfather.
Then there are the familiar non-human faces. Like the two dogs who live outside a small tin shed shop near my colony. The shop-keeper goes on rounds twice in the area, feeding chicken to dogs and filing random pots he’s placed nearby with water for them.
The strays in my locality do have it good. There’s a woman who feeds them in the morning. There’s also my friend’s mother, Mrs Hendricks, who feeds the stray dogs every evening.
Another familiar non-human face is that of a white and black dog that goes crazy when a neighbour’s dog, Zulu, is taken for a walk. There’s something that happens to street dogs when a pet dog passes by. May be it’s that ‘Here’s one of our own who made it big!’ feeling or just, ‘Hey, let’s play! Leave your mom behind’.
These days I too am wondering whether I should abandon my leisure walks for power walks. Join the rest of the world. But I am still unsure of this.I don’t go on walks in as picturesque a location as a certain Mr Bond in Mussoorie. But they’re equally interesting.