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A Day in the Life of a Street

by Parth Pandya

What does the day look like for a busy street? Parth Pandya tells us the story of one of the hundred M.G.Roads in India.

5.30 am

The first rays of sun seeped through the crevices of the buildings. Light was upon us. Life was upon us. The sins of the previous night were being eviscerated one by one from the face of the road. A small man with a wiry frame and an old broom was cleaning up the debris from the night. It was rebirth for a small section of the M.G. Road. M.G. of course stood for Mahatma Gandhi. Or at least that was the assumption, since Mohandas certainly doesn’t ring in the greatness of the man like Mahatma does. So great was the man that every city has a street named after him. If you were to be dropped blindfolded into an unidentified city in India and if you asked for directions to M.G. Road, some bystander would direct you to it. M.G., the patron saint of street names in India.

As the dirt was wiped away to reveal a bumpy reality of the road underneath, the tar was put to the test by motor vehicles screaming by, using the emptiness of the road to test them at speeds that wouldn’t normally otherwise be possible. Life woke up with a start. Newspapers were piled up ready to be circulated, milkmen were racing around ringing the bells of their bicycles, a bunch of old retirees wearing pleasant smiles and sneakers that their kids possibly sent from abroad were heading towards the joggers’ park. The road was stretching its limbs and waking out of its slumber with an age-old weariness.

10.00 am

The road had breathed in the fresh air in the morning and decided that it was not good for its constitution. It had listened to the silent sounds of dawn and decided that it was too deafening. As the day broke in, the comfort settled in. The putrid smell of garbage being burnt, the unnecessary honking of cars in traffic that never had a chance of moving at the speed that it wished it could, the heat bouncing off the tar, all brought to the road a succour it knew and liked.

Somewhere between Laxmi Pharmaceuticals and Satyam grocery stores were lined up a bunch of vegetable sellers. These birds would have rather preferred the holding pattern, but the frequent visits of the municipal corporation truck to displace them made them migratory in nature. The freckled vegetable seller, who had made his way to this city such a long time ago that he could barely remember his life before it, sat on his elevated perch on the sidewalk, commandeering his vegetables like a general. The cauliflower sat in the middle ready to lead the charge, the cabbages gave him company on the left, brinjals shoring up his right. The periphery was flanked by the green brigade – coriander, ladyfinger etc. His army was all that stood between him and a day filled with misery.

2.00 pm

From its bird’s eye view of the world, the sun could see a thin culvert running through the heart of the city. A mass of white was emerging from one end of M.G. Road. If it were any closer to the ground, it could have heard a collective sound emerging from the mass of white. On the ground, the white parade was bringing about worried looks on the faces of the business owners. They were hampering the hope of those preparing for a relatively peaceful afternoon where the only sound interfering with their siestas would be the collective sighs of drivers on the street, expressed as honks. That particular sound, to the nearby residents, was already filtered away like white noise.

The bulging mass in white was a vociferous body. It was made up of limbs and vocal cords of a lot of members of a certain political party. They had chosen this particular day to protest against the rising prices of essential commodities in the market. Kerosene, they argued, was more expensive than the poor could afford. Rice was out of reach of those with meagre means. They were waving banners and shouting slogans, causing the fragile equilibrium of the afternoon to collapse. Traffic, that was already crawling, had now halted. People on foot quietly excused themselves from the path of the ongoing tsunami and found their way out of the morass. Some businesses, recognizing the threat of violence, promptly shut down. Others, recognizing the potential for sales, promptly seemed to roll the welcome mat.

6.00 pm

If morning was controlled chaos, evening felt like hell had broken loose. People returning from their busy lives to return to their wives and husbands and kids and parents battled the road. The frenzied warriors came to the same conclusion in their fights – you simply had to bow your head and move along at the pace that the road allowed you to. Dusk also brought out the voraciousness of the city. People headed to the street to consume. Food, clothing, experiences, all were sold at a price to an eager public. Men of all ages, grown wise by experiences and stories they heard, ensured that they shifted their wallets to the front pockets of their trousers. Women, dreading the risks that this freedom of movement brought about, withdrew into their old shell, careful to avoid unnecessary contact. Children, brought up on the constant of elevated noise and dust, took in some more smoke as they were dragged along by eager parents.

11.00 pm

The day was finally getting to a close for many of these people, though you could still find that odd restaurant where college buddies were meeting up after a period of six months. The sound died down to a whisper as the hours progressed. As the virtuousness of the city retired to bed, the sins poured onto the street in a trickle. Deals were struck for those who wouldn’t find recourse on M.G. Road in the light of day. The street refused to go to sleep. The street had survived another day and had lived to tell a tale to the city.

The morning after

The first rays of sun seeped through the crevices of the buildings. Light was upon us. Life was upon us.

Parth Pandya is a passionate Tendulkar fan, diligent minion of the ‘evil empire’, persistent writer at http://parthp.blogspot.com, self-confessed Hindi movie geek, avid quizzer, awesome husband (for lack of a humbler adjective) and a thrilled father of two. He grew up in Mumbai and spent the last eleven years really growing up in the U.S. and is always looking to brighten up his day through good coffee and great puns.

Pic : http://www.flickr.com/photos/haynes/

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