I’m as a big lover of the daily walk as anyone else on this planet. If I do not spend at least 3 hours of a day on my feet in the open, I feel as if I have missed a major aspect of my life. Not with a particular destination, mind you, aimless wandering is what you would call it. Escapist wandering is what I’d say.
Back home in Bombay, I would walk distances equivalent to Flinders Street to Brunswick West on a daily basis, sometimes for reasons of study or work but at most times, for no reason at all, other than to pretend to escape. Escape- under the boiling sun. At times, I was compelled by my mind, to walk on the medians of highways, with my earphones on, against the flow of traffic.
At times like those, I really questioned whether I belonged. I do not know why I never took those three steps to the left and closed my eyes. Surely a truck would do the trick. I think it was the other compulsion that my mind impresses upon me. The compulsion of not being a nuisance, getting in the way, keeping the status quo.
I am glad I didn’t (well I will say to a large extent, this is true). I now walk for pleasure. I love the pound of my feet on the pavement, love the odd dog or cat I meet on my way and love the hum of my city. A living, breathing organism made of millions upon millions of souls living their dreams or living their nightmares. More than all of those, I love the sunset colours spread over her endless sky. Under the sun, I was in sharp relief and as the sun went under my feet, I was lost in the shadow. No features, no identity, just a piece of dark in her larger darkness.
But see here’s the thing: I do not like nature hikes. I do not like being on my feet outside my beloved urban sprawl. In fact, I would say I go to inordinate lengths to avoid any prospect of ‘nature-time’. The city is my nature. She is of me and I am of her. And I would not have it any other way.
Thoreau, in his essay ‘On Walking’ says ‘When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?’ He laments the inevitable occupation of nature by man, the loss of the green and the inevitable victory of the grey.
I am sorry, Henry, that it is inevitable. But it’s not so bad. I have gotten so used to my grey that I welcome it. It is prosaic, almost alcoholic and I am drawn in. To her warm embrace and sweet suffocation. At one time, in my life, I was walking under the hot sun, walking the median line between existence and dust and now, the city has claimed me. I can no longer leave her, I have not had the permission yet. And sometimes, I wish I could stop.
But the pound has to go on.
I will keep walking.
Shorter of breath, it is true but the walk will go on. But for the time being, I will not take those three steps to the left.