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Walk, Father, walk

| Updated on June 05, 2020 Published on June 05, 2020

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A committed walker despairs as residential communities shut gates to keep a virus out

Dear Editor,

My father is a keen walker. Is that a problem, you might ask, a grouse troubling enough to occasion a letter? It is, dear Editor, it is. Let me tell you why.

As I said, father loves to walk. Not that you would believe it if you happened to meet him, for his physical appearance betrays no signs of disciplined walking. I wouldn’t want to offend him or take anything away from similarly-endowed people, but I fear that the term ‘pot-belly’ was coined to pay homage to his paunch. He blames it on his hernia; I, on the pickles, namkeen and papads that he has been consuming with utter disregard for the time of day (or night) for 75 years or so. However, the pot belly doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a committed walker. Apparently it is a trait that runs — or walks! — in the family. His father — my grandfather — is said to have marched with Gandhi when he arrived in a coastal Kerala city in the 1930s. His father — my great-grandfather — is said to have walked all the way from Kerala to Kashi. You get the drift.

Father’s scheduled morning and evening walks pass off for exercise. Then, there are impromptu ones through the day — on the pretext of buying some medicine or satisfying a deep craving for buttermilk or to mend something that ain’t broken. He wags his fingers and then, with a redundant “Do you know”, tells the family that he does a four-km stretch every morning. The proclamation-cum-taunt aimed at younger people nursing smaller pot bellies is generally met with stony silence.

The family has learned to not meddle with his walking. If he is feeling low, he goes to the market and walks around for a couple of hours, and then returns empty-handed. He walks with the same passion in a new city as in one he knows well. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he knows more people than I do in the neighbourbood where he is a visitor and I am a resident. He has made many acquaintances while walking — from the cobbler at the street corner and the tailor who has agreed to mend his shopping bag to the resident on the fifth floor who sends him WhatsApp audios of his songs. Walking is an affirmation of his freedom and independence, his rebellion and time-pass.

Then, dear Editor, a microbe turned his world upside down, or rather brought it to a standstill. On March 25, when we decided to stop a rampaging virus by locking gates, shutting doors and staying in, father lost his purpose. Walking was not a healthy habit any more, but a borderline unlawful activity. In the guidelines drawn up every few hours by the Residents’ Welfare Association (RWA), the new power centres in every gated community, walking was taboo. Father was suddenly left with very little ground to cover. Let alone four km, even 40 metres were a luxury and required the consent of all and sundry, in triplicate.

He sulked, and the mornings turned into a nightmare for the rest of us as he bristled at the injustice of it all. But old habits die hard; a few days on, he ventured out, rather furtively, the disdain for new rules hidden behind a mask.

The guards, mindful of their camaraderie before the lockdown, now gently steer him to a vastly restricted walking space. He clocks a few thousand steps and gets back in, but without a sense of triumph. The proclamations and the finger wagging are gone, but there are updates on redrawn borders, of pathways blocked with flower pots and of those who still weave their way past them. I detect a quiet envy for the rule breakers.

But now that infection is on the rise in the vicinity, the RWA has clamped down on walkers, yet again. As the flip-flop on rules continues, father despairs: A man has to walk, he says.

I agree. But you’re grounded for now.

Yours in shared despondence,

A non-walker

(Yours Sincerely is a weekly record of grudges and grumblings from an anonymous reader)

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Published on June 05, 2020
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