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The pedestrian is cross
On the increasing travails of the poor, aged, children, unwell, physically challenged, and other vulnerable pedestrians.
A direct link to my longer post on pedestrian woes is below:
It was a dark and stormy night!
That was how Snoopy, one of my favourite cartoon characters, would have put it. But not quite. Dark, yes. Perhaps clouded too, but not stormy. It was sometime in mid-1981, after my degree examinations, a few weeks before leaving Trivandrum for New Delhi, the arduous 50-hour second-class train journey for higher studies. I spent my time with movies, books and music, or playing bridge or chess with family.
The Tagore theatre in Trivandrum was hosting a Bergman retrospective. That summer night, I was returning home after watching Winter Light, the second in Bergman’s trilogy on man’s troubled relationship with God. On my 3 km walk back home, I had a close appointment with God. Then, forced off the footpath by unloaded gravel or overhanging bougainvillaea, something hard hit me from behind.
When I came to my senses, I was lying on the road. An autorickshaw driver peered down to check whether I was conscious. I soon realized that his vehicle had hit me at the joints connecting my lower spine and pelvis. After barely managing to get up and walk, the driver dropped me home, his passengers going their way, grumbling and without paying. All along, the driver was apologetic. The bright lights of an oncoming truck had blinded him, he pleaded. My limping arrival at home created a commotion. Finally, the driver took the trouble of going to faraway Statue Junction to get me medicines a doctor prescribed over the phone. He was grateful that I had not cursed or manhandled him.
Visiting us then was ‘Swaraj’ P Narayanan Nair, or Mani Saar to friends. Once an owner of a newspaper, Deshabandhu, and numerous buses and boats plying down Kerala’s waterways, he lived in a bungalow facing the Kowdiar Palace at one end and the Governor’s residence, the Raj Bhavan on one side. Mani Saar opined that my father, a part-time amateur astrologer to friends, colleagues, and ministers, needed to check my stars. (A separate post on my father’s proficiency in astrology is half complete).
A bike mishap
Mani Saar was referring to my proneness to getting involved in accidents. He had in mind an earlier incident involving my favourite bright red BSA, with which I crisscrossed the Trivandrum of those days, strenuously uphill and cruising downhill. Crossing the Palayam church (now a metropolitan cathedral), Palayam mosque, and its neighbouring Ganesh temple of great antiquity, I rode down the one-way (now widened to two-way) towards the Victoria Jubilee Town Hall and University College in central Trivandrum. In a flash, a tourist bus emerged from the wrong side, oblivious to the one-way restriction. I jumped off the cycle in a swift reflex action and watched the front wheel of the bus crunch and reshape my first vehicle, costing all of Rs 700, headlight and dynamo included.
Street justice is a way of life in Kerala, often annoyingly intruding into one’s private space. From almost nowhere, and in no time, a small crowd gathered around me, the damaged cycle and the bus carrying pilgrims from Tamil Nadu, probably on their way to Sabarimala. With a Mahabali-like papad moustache, the driver looked down to check why these earthlings were creating a commotion. Someone in a half-raised lungi assumed leadership and commanded Mahabali to descend to earth. Though restrained in deference to his ignorance, they gave the driver a mouthful in Malayalam and the Tamil they could muster. Some examined the damage to my cycle. A few others commiserated. The leader asked me to estimate the repair cost. I had no clue but gave a wild quote of Rs 100. They made the driver cough up the money before letting the vehicle go. In about ten minutes, the crowd dispersed, and the bus was on its way to spiritual heights.
I repaired the cycle at a shop in a bylane next to the old S. Pottivelu Pillai and Sons, general merchants, popularly known as SP, opposite the old General Post Office building. For this, I had to face the ignominy of dragging the mangled remains of my bicycle about a kilometre past curious onlookers, my old College, where four generations in the family studied, the secretariat where my father worked, and whose pavements were encroached by protestors of various description over the five decades I had seen it. In compensation for the disgrace, I earned Rs 40, the excess over the Rs 60 I paid for the repair. Miraculously, only the front wheel was damaged, leaving the rest of the cycle intact.
The autorickshaw incident did not cause me any immediate trouble. But someone warned me that it could act up decades later. Only once in the past, during the 1990s, my back caused problems. However, I have often found it difficult to remain standing for long, often having to leave many a domestic chore half-done. And it was always my style to do my cooking preparation seated with vegetables, ingredients and instruments spread out.
In recent months, more than four decades after my fall, I have been suffering from severe lower back pain. This reduced my daily working hours from around 12 to 16 hours to about four or six. The rest of the time, I was ‘largely’ confined to bed, if not walking or cooking my meals. I devoted the remaining precious hours to completing a book chapter for an edited volume, which will hopefully be out sometime early this year.
When I was ready to get back to blogging, my chapter was back with corrections and questions. So also a technical assistance assignment. I also got busy shifting to a new home and doing its interiors. This explains my absence from blogging for the last six months. I initially planned to be back on Diwali, marking one year of this blog. But that was not to be. So I decided to take it easy and push it to the new year to ensure continued writing.
Henceforth, I will post on an ‘as and when can’ basis instead of once every week and the stress such a strict regime would entail.
On a happier note, the long break connected me to what I had planned to write about for some time, the travails of an average pedestrian walking around in Indian cities. I had initially planned a short post. But, the research opened up new areas of learning and threatened to become never-ending. So, I had to force myself to close my research. My long post, making a case for a pedestrian’s manifesto, is in the link below:
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