23 May, 2011

Ode To Walking

Now shall I walk
or shall I ride?
"Ride," Pleasure said:
"Walk," Joy replied.
~W.H. Davies

I don't know when I fell in love with walking. Perhaps it was in Mussoorie, when the Uttarakhand separatist agitation reached a feverish peak in 1994, shutting down schools and offices and forcefully thrusting upon us hours upon lazy hours of nothingness. Classes and exams were indefinitely halted, shops closed down, canned food was bought in alarming quantities: what an adventure for any 8-year old! We were prisoners in the verdant Queen of Hills and a picnic basket and hours of rambling seemed the perfect way to kill time. In those days of bruises and scratches, I'd convinced myself to believe that I was the sixth Famous Five, munching on puri aaloo instead of tinned sardines and lemonade, whistling to a dotted Dalmatian instead of Timmy, and collecting wild flowers instead of solving mysteries. 

Or it could have been earlier. When Various Tentacles of The Family were covering distances, crossing rivers and climbing mountains, accumulating miles and genetically fortifying me. As Mussoorie let me leave her, teenage opened me to another kind of walking that was restricted to taking 'rounds'. Concentric steps traced along the boundary of the school ground, as we gossiped hand in hand, demystifying the latest rumours, worrying about the last test we messed up or the alarming dip in our tuck supplies. School girls. Warm Gwalior evenings. Coloured dupattas. Copious cacophony.  
Walking takes longer... than any other known form of locomotion except crawling.  Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.  Life is already too short to waste on speed.  ~Edward Abbey

When Delhi greeted me with its abusive pedestrian behaviour and unbelievable stench of piss, I balked, I retaliated. But what is a walker if she can't find a place to walk? And so piggybacking on the lack of money as a suitable excuse, M and I traced unbelievable patterns: Venky to Priya on a blistering summer afternoon to catch a movie we managed to miss. Habitat Centre to Lajpat Nagar, arriving late for a party we were hosting. Kailash Colony to South Ex. Janakpuri to Tilak Nagar. Ansal Plaza to Saket. Lodhi Colony to C.P. Hauz Khas to Humayun's Tomb. We discovered little triangles of green on the way with shrieking kids and overweight ladies. Dhobhis tucked away in hot furnace-like shacks began smiling at us in familiarity. We broke much loved chappals and started carrying water. We learnt that even the dogs looked rich in South Delhi.   
Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.  ~Henry David Thoreau

But it took another round of the mountains to realise the therapeutic effects of walking. Trekking to remote villages, time and scenic beauty were the two resources I had in abundant supply. With a mellow breeze to clear the head, walking became my 'couch'. I could decode painful memories with clinical clarity. I could make uncomfortable choices without an audience to proclaim its judgement. I could pick a fern en route and marvel at circinate vernation for as long as I wanted. I could sing aloud and hear how horrendous I sounded echo back in pity. I could chew on my thoughts and a blade of grass with equal ease. I could follow errant ideas as they trapezed around my mind. I could clutter and clear, I could confuse and create.    

There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast. ~ Paul Mowrer

And now, as a gentle reward for my tenacity to tread, I find myself in pedestrian paradise. I can skip along paths without worrying about seeing plastic, I can actually trust signboards, I can walk and not be looked upon as an aberration. And somewhere along the journey, I have reaffirmed my belief in the superiority of solitary walking. That and a good play list. I have acknowledged that finding a good partner to walk with is almost as good. I have discovered nuances within me, how I don't like to meander, how I cannot decide which I prefer: silence or conversation, how I want to smell every flower and how the night sky is an enthralling backdrop.  


  1. Abhijit1:41 am

    Absolutely loved it!

    p.s. I think the last paragraph is incomplete.. new sentences will keep adding to it, as you continue the journey of walking! :)

  2. Thanks fellow walker :)

    Yes it is incomplete, but I think it deserves to be that way...what with all these paths left.

  3. If you live in Bombay you learn a different kind of walking, akin to a rat race. If you are a walker of the romantic kind I'd never recommend this city to you.

  4. Marvin5:29 pm

    Oh dear, I am already tired. Care for a lemonade?

  5. As Nivedita says, Bombay is different. Agree with each word she said but then, that walk has a different charm to itself. You have crowds to accompany you on your walks - crowds that walk with you but don't care about it.

    A nice writeup as always.

  6. Yes, city walking is so fast, ugly and crowded but I like it. For me, walking more than often trumps ambiance. Sometimes, the chaotic rat race has given me some very quiet, private moments. Perhaps its the 'walking with crowds and yet alone' concept Prasoon mentions. The best part is when you do find the oases of calm you recognise its worth :)

    Marvin: Nimbu pani? Always welcome.

  7. Although I almost always walk with my destination in mind, I liked how you took up a subject like walking and turned it into something so fascinating. So easily has this transformation been affected that I almost want to do it myself. The walking bit.

    You are quite nifty with adjectives.

  8. And you are quite thrifty with compliments.

  9. And you are quite thrifty with compliments.



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