Thursday, March 14, 2019

A splendid road

If you run an online search for good roads in India, you might come upon a question someone asked on Quora: Why aren’t the roads in India as good as the roads in Pakistan?

It is, like all things India-Pak, a touchy question that draws spirited responses from both sides. People have posted pictures of the best, smoothest highways from across the two countries. There are photos of rain-washed vistas, Marine Drives, sun-kissed or snow crusted mountain roads. There was Mumbai’s famous sea link and the distinct curliques of the Lahore ring road. All these roadways looked quite splendid and it took me a while to figure out the secret of their beauty – it was the fact that there wasn’t much evidence of traffic. In other words, roads look great as long as they aren’t being used.

I’ve been thinking ever since about the beauty of modern cities, and our ideas about it. In every pretty picture posted of a great road, there is little or no vehicular transport visible. The photos suggest quiet, openness, easy access. Looking at those photos, you feel you could go anywhere at all, and nothing could stop you.

Where motor vehicles are visible, they have been carefully framed so that you see just one truck, or a handful of cars seen from a distance on a road that, in South Asian cities, would most likely be choked by a few hundred cars at any time of the day.

The more impressive photographs are taken aerially. But who among us ever gets to look at our roads from an aerial perspective? What we see of our own roads is, in the day time, a sea of car bumpers, and a moving river of light at night. If you want to live the fantasy – open, empty, wide road, smooth enough that you want to gulp it down – you have to be out between midnight and dawn, when you can hardly see anything of the city.

Apart from emptiness, there is one more thing that makes roads appealing: nature. Trees and flowers, lakes and canals. Water in any form immediately improves the picture. So does a touch of green hanging overhead. Roundabouts and road dividers look positively cheery when blooming with bright pinks and yellows.

Trees and flowers can make any street corner look appealing. Put an untarred road next to a big, green park and chances are, you won’t notice the quality of the road’s surface.

Just looking at such photos should tell us how to make urban lives beautiful. We need to plan the city around water, and to create large waterscapes in and around the city if they do not occur naturally. We need to limit motor transport. Above all, we need trees.

It goes without saying, of course, that trees and flowers cost time and money to maintain. It also goes without saying that this sort of expense is not spared in the enclaves of the rich, although a lot of this beauty is funded by ordinary citizens. Delhi is beautiful in late winter and spring, but much of this beauty is limited to the corridors of power – the diplomatic enclaves, the President’s residence, the ministerial bungalows.

On another Quora thread comparing India and Pakistan, commentators have truthfully said as much, that village roads in both countries are mostly bad, that expressways on both sides look much the same, and that the roads serving “VIP houses” are excellent. There is little need to say more. The beauty and limited access of VIP enclaves contains every other truth.  

First published here

Friday, March 01, 2019

"ईश्वर को एक भारतीय नागरिक के कुछ सुझाव"

केदारनाथ सिंह की आज बहुत याद आ रही है। ये कविता आज ख़ास सुनने का मन किया।

"ईश्वर को एक भारतीय नागरिक के कुछ सुझाव"

ईश्वर, अगर दुनिया फिर से बनानी हो
जिसमें देर हो रही है
तो मेरे कुछ सुझाव हैं

अधिक नहीं , बस पांच या सात

सबसे पहले
अणु बम को पृथ्वी से उठा कर
रख लेना स्वर्ग में
स्वर्ग का तो शायद कुछ न बिगड़े
पर हम पृथ्वी वासी
एक भयानक दुःस्वप्न के आतंक से
उभर जायेंगे

पैसे को दुनिया से ले लेना वापस
और हवा को बना देना
उसका विकल्प

बदल देना ब्रम्हांड का जर-जर पहिया
और अपनी पुरातन घड़ी को
मिला लेना पृथ्वी की धूप घड़ी से

यहाँ शहरों की गलियाँ अब पड़ रही हैं छोटी
इसलिए कुछ ऐसी जुगत करना
की पृथ्वी के बच्चे
कभी कभी क्रिकेट खेल आएं
चाँद पर

भारत का सृजन अगर फिर से करना
तो जाती नामक रद्दी को
फेंक देना अपनी टेबल के
नीचे की टोकरी में

बनारस को रहने देना
वरुणा और गंगा के बीच के दयारे में

पर दिल्ली को ?

यहाँ बहुत धुंध है
यहाँ से उठा कर
यमुना और क़ुतुब समेत
रख देना कहीं और
ताकि केंद्र को मिलती रहे
हाशिये की रौशनी

इस उलट फेर में
बस इतना ध्यान रहे
मेरा छोटा सा गांव कहीं उजड़ न जाए
और दलपतपुर चट्टी की बुढ़िया की बकरी
लौट आये घर

सुझाव तो ढेरों हैं
पर जल्दी-जल्दी में
ये अंतिम सुझाव

इधर मीडिया में
विनाश की अटकलें बराबर आ रही हैं
सो पृथ्वी का कॉपीराइट
संभाल कर रखना

ये क्लोन समय है
कहीं ऐसा न हो
कोई चुपके से रच दे
एक क्लोन पृथ्वी

   - केदारनाथ सिंह

For those who cannot read Hindi, you can listen to this poem and some others, recited here:

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