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March 9, 2009 / zanzi

a work in progress

sometimes, when life has wrung you dry
and there’s nothing to smile about,
it doesn’t hurt to try a wry
pass of pate: it’ll all work out

eventually. eventually
it will. it always does and tends
to. even frost’s fence, neighbourly,
breaks with the spring, and friendship mends.

but of the time that’s in between,
when stones are blocking apples off,
and yearly monsoons being lean
there is no real reason to laugh –

what of this in-between, when all
there is to clutch at is a page?
when the stone wall is standing tall
and frozen ground-swells take an age

to loosen up the creaking joints
and wear the stones out; all the while
straining that a smile may anoint
the stony face – what of this time?

this time is silent struggle. this
time is frustration. this is what
they tell you builds character. this
time is all we have ever got.

let me relate to you a tale
of one such silent struggle that
took place. before the news is stale
and our enthusiasm flat.

it happened in a hot, hot town
some call it a world class city,
this metropolis does go down
as one that is rather pretty.

the ripon building houses our
unique chennai corporation –
flyovers (the call of the hour
when officials seek commission)

are sanctioned and authorised by
folks whose higher-ups work in here,
except for some. i know from my
own tries that some shirk work, i fear.

or else they’re much too busy. take
our dear city commissioner:
four trips in vain we had to make;
it made us a whole lot thinner.

the magic of bureaucracy
helpful PAs with strict orders
who with artful hypocrisy
draw procrastinating borders.

is this how hope is kept alive
or is this how it’s led astray?
anyway, on to trip number five
when we finally had our way.

the buffoon in a squeaky voice
said “sustainability means
the middle classes make the choice
of driving five miles to get beans.”

or maybe he said onions. it
escapes my mind for now, because
what he said next, the little twit,
made much more sense towards our cause.

“you’re doing too little, though well-meant.
make noise – we need you to protest!
see, department to department,
public institutions are best

off not getting in each other’s
way. i can’t tick off the EB.
we departments are like brothers,
branches of the government’s tree.”

on the one hand, he seemed to think
we were doing too little. but
on the other, the little fink
said to focus on “just one rut.

iron out all the problems there,
do a case study, a model,
and bring citizens’ demands here.
that gives me some kind of handle.”

so said our dear commissioner
to a bunch of us volunteers.
the urban studies professor
tried allaying our newfound fears.

“don’t chase all the hawkers away”
she said with calm and great aplomb,
“make urban spaces theirs to stay”
she might as well have dropped a bomb.

the fellow in the comfy chair
seemed to find this a tad naive
he stroked a hand through thinning hair
and hit back with his pet reprieve:

“you don’t understand what i said.”
neither did we; especially
not the “driving five miles” gambit
to pick up simple grocery.

we upped and went knowing quite well
that we would be pushing such chaps
to do their work. it’s hard to tell
why the brave must always brave traps.

we are a platform and we call
ourselves ‘walking classes unite’,
the kind that will help you walk tall
not be walked on or shunned from sight.

we do not have funding as yet
and yet we are going great guns
the sun burns us, rain makes us wet
but our time to walk has begun.

“where the mind is without fear and
the head is held high,” tagore said.
one-third of all commuters stand
victims of its inverse instead.

“the pavement’s so high, it’s too hard
jumping on and off with my load
it’s broken every other yard
you know, i’d rather walk the road.”

the spastic society finds
students with that much common sense,
so does power make people blind
or are officials really dense?

we at PedAccess tried our best
did audit walks with SPASTN
and with the Anna Nagar West
ERW Association

we got in the odd press release
called meetings with the officials
an exhibition gave new lease
of life to public attention

from morning walkers to the chief
election commissioner (state)
whether their visit long or brief
wrote of how highly our work rates

as groups go, a similar one’s
doing a study hand in glove
with the city corporation
as was commented on above

their funding comes from CII
the top industrial lobby
i don’t know about you but i
do not want that model copied

we don’t have any office staff
to go running around for us
the funds we’re seeking are enough
to let us go about by bus

what i have learnt, what i have loved
is seeing chennai in this way
cycling, walking and getting shoved,
most of all, DOing what i say.

we had a show launch yesterday
it’s remarkable how well it went,
what hit home most was the street play
and the commissioner – absent!

to do a thing and do it well
has its own quiet little joy
anything else would ring the knell
on being me as when a boy

it bothers me that some of these
things are a lot of uphill work
for just a few. so won’t you please
come help us clear out the murk?

when everyone has clear sight
of them, these issues speak aloud
– that is their beauty and delight –
enabling it’s what we’re about.

Written for Walking Classes Unite and first posted on the blog during the exhibition at the Anna Nagar West Extension Residents’ Welfare Association.


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