So this can’t help grabbing my attention by its sheer conspicuousness. It’s so commonplace that it’s even stopped striking us as odd anymore. But somehow, probably because of my isolation from civilization nine months of the year it always manages to befuddle me how we Indians completely refuse to use the footpath. (So do a lot of other things, but more on that later)
So the footpath’s there. It’s staring you in the eyeball. But you just look past it like a salad in an all-you-can-eat buffet( If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong). Or a dude with conjunctivitis. Probably muttering something like, my refusal to acknowledge you damns you to eternal obsoleteness. And with gay abandon we parade down the middle of the lane relegating measly trucks to the sides. Because the government sanctioned crores of rupees (from which the contractor siphoned off most) to lay down tar and asphalt on a road so that you could gracefully saunter down it. Why else, right?
So I’ve tried (futilely, let me admit) to analyze the psyche of our capable working mother-of-three as she takes the crucial decision of taking the high road in her pursuit of diapers and paneer. But before that, a disclaimer. I do realize that there is a lot of encroachment on footpaths. I mean you can figuratively hear prospective slum dwellers boarding the next train from Dhaka when they hear a new footpath is being made on SV Rd. So walking through their houses is probably like trespassing, and I totally understand why people are so wary of such footpaths, what with nuclear families getting ever so protective about their privacy. So I exclude such footpaths from my study. Let’s talk about a regular virgin footpath, on a regular road, unobstructed except for the occasional mound of dog poo or life threatening manhole. You will still see most people off it, walking in one of the lanes meant for cars. Stepping in mounds and falling into manholes there, no less. Go figure.
So Mrs.Mazumdar, our mum-of-three, three heavy bags in hand is earnestly striding through the market place in her quest for luscious paneer. There’s a row of cars on the narrow road for as far as the eye can see, and a careworn footpath beside it hopefully looking at her. This is a good woman, virtuous and harmless in every way. But not for a fraction of a picosecond does the notion of boarding the footpath even cross her righteous mind. She has to walk into the throng of cars and right through, because, well, the footpath’s just for kicks, right?
But I hear smart Alec say, well it’s just conditioning. People are conditioned to avoid footpaths, like traffic rules and public toilets at train stations. Since a lot of footpaths are unnavigable, we dismiss the idea as a whole. Well, he’s probably right (he’s called smart Alec for a reason), but this has farther reaching repercussions than we probably realize.
Firstly, people are walking on the darn road, without realizing that that’s a bad thing.
Second, footpaths are being used for purposes they weren’t originally designed for. Such as opening juice centers and residential housing. And sometimes, drunk drivers run them over and spend their lives in jail for it (In no way am I condoning their being drunk. Don’t drink and drive). Or not, if you’re a celebrity.
Thirdly, where do the cars go, if all the people are on the road? That’s right, either over them or into each other. Creating traffic snarls, decibellistic sound levels, and general chaos.
I hear you squeal indignantly. Am I actually alleging that upright Mrs. Mazumdar is responsible for the deteriorating standard of living? Why man, she raises three kids and brings home the bacon. Give her a break! But then, facts seldom lie, even my made up ones, and though we often see only what we choose to, somewhere deep down we know that she is an accomplice in this anarchist conspiracy. And it’s about time we start taking off our horse blinkers and started looking around. Because, you know, there’s a footpath on that side.