By Najwa Abdul Rasheed
Right of Way is a commonly used term in the transportation lingo. But whose right of way prevails? Is it the car owners’ zooming down the widened roads or the pedestrians’ who extend out their hands while crossing the roads, murmuring a prayer under their breath? In a country with no particular demarcated place for pedestrians there exists numerous nuanced ways of crossing a road.
Though as a kid, I’ve been taught theoretically how to cross a road: “look right, then to your left and again to your right”, I was introduced to an absolutely different way of crossing during my excursions through the streets of Pune. This is what my friend who doubled up as my Pune guide instructed me: “Maintain eye contact with the driver. Once a connection is established after locking the gaze, interact with your eyes regarding your intention to cross the road and voila! You’ll find yourself on the other side of the road.” Though it seemed crude, it surely did work while traversing the streets.
At Chitale Chowk, Bajirao Road, we failed to see the zebra crossing initially because the traffic had enveloped it completely. Crossing at the apparently demarcated place, one had to jostle among the two-wheelers and four-wheelers.
The mad traffic was a contestation for space; private vehicles with buses, vehicles with pedestrians and even private vehicles with themselves. In this frenzied rush, a scooter happened to graze past a brand new Royal Enfield bike, breaking off a portion of the tail lamp, but the rider of the bike found no time to stop and look at the damage caused amidst all the commotion and cacophony.
The Gayakwad peth near Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai is always abuzz with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Walking around in that area on a weekend was a more tedious task than anticipated. One had to watch out not only for fellow wayfarers and vehicles, but also hand carts which were in plenty near the market. With the biggest vegetable market in Pune and a plethora of stalls in the vicinity, walking was more of a shopping experience.
This subway crossing at Garware Chowk, near Deccan Gymkhana, provides a respite for pedestrians from the continuous flow of traffic at the chowk. As vehicles dart across the roads above, the wayfarer crosses the road freely from beneath. Though it bore a deserted look at night, a pair of elderly people had seated themselves at the meeting point of the three subway crossings. With an informal seating arrangement in the middle, it served as a placid spot bang in the middle of a busy intersection.
The subway crossing, apart from catering to pedestrians, also served as a means of livelihood for Kamle, an earthen lamp seller, situated right at the entry point. She and her daughter place their stall at the exact spot every year before Diwali. Kamle claims that this spot has been used for her seasonal stall since she was a kid.
Here is Suraj Hajare, a manager at multinational bank, manning the traffic at Maruti Chowk, Laxmi Road, on a Sunday afternoon. He and his band of volunteers from Samarpan Foundation, ranging from students to doctors, step in to volunteer and ease pedestrian movement at Laxmi Chowk, Raman Bagh Chowk and Maruti Chowk on weekends.
As a man behind the driving wheel expressed his resentment at having been stopped at the junction, Suraj riposted, “Bhaiya, you have to stop for only 30 seconds”. Even the pedestrians are taken aback when he stops them from crossing the road when the vehicles zoom past. But Suraj says that over the span of one year during which Samarpan Foundation has taken this initiative citizens awareness has increased; they themselves would stop at the intersections and refrained from jaywalking.
There was a traffic policeman too at the junction, who was oblivious to the flowing traffic. He was nestled in a corner playing on his phone. As a driver passed by the junction, he conveyed his frustration to Suraj at the apparent lack of action of the policeman, while Suraj could just smile, shrug and carry on with his voluntary work.
Climbing atop the Shaniwar Wada, it was a pleasant shift for me from being a pedestrian to an aerial onlooker. The overhead perspective from atop this 18th century historical fortification, the seat of the Peshwas of the Maratha empire, is a grandiose scene, especially the garden complex on the other side of the ramparts. Though the roads were lined with footpaths, it often gave way to hawkers and trees, forcing the pedestrian to walk on the road while jostling with the moving as well as parked vehicles for space. Historical buildings interspersed amidst the multitude of people and vehicles allude to the history of the old quarter of the city.
Amidst all the dissonance on the streets with swarms of people moving about; some with a definite purpose and destination in mind, some in no particular direction whatsoever, there exists a harmony of sorts — an order amongst the disorder, a sequence in the chaos; and therein lies the allure of Pune’s streets.
The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit Course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.
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