I was all set to write a raving, positive account of Raahgiri Day, Gurgaon’s initiative along the lines of Bogota’s Cyclovia in which a section of the city’s roads are cordoned off and reclaimed by walkers, joggers, runner, cyclists, skaters, skippers, exercisers, dancers and much much more. However, my enthusiasm was dampened by the account in this morning’s newspaper about the death of a 28-year old executive in Gurgaon who was mowed down by a taxi while cycling to work. Ironic that I should have read that item just as I was gleefully downloading these wonderful pictures (do scroll down to see!) of people running, cycling, skipping, exercising in complete abandon free from the fear of vehicles. But it’s also important to remind us that this is precisely why we are having Raahgiri day in our city. Because we don’t want more pedestrians and cyclists dying or being injured by cars. Because the right to walk or cycle is as much of a right as any other. Because we deserve to be free from the fear of vehicles, we deserve space to be able to walk, cycle, run and just be!
Watching the children run full speed on the roads today, watching the roads teem with young people from the city’s poorer settlements, I was struck by how valued space is for all of us and how we have adjusted to living a life without adequate public space. In fact, many of us don’t really experience public space as we spend our lives stepping out of our cars into our homes and offices, only spending a few hours in segregated, manicured open areas. Public spaces where people from different classes intermingle are important for us to root ourselves in the reality of the world around us. On a day when the Aam Aadmi Party has created history by being the first debutante political party to garner so many seats in Delhi’s elections (28 out of 70), it was fitting to remember that the children from the lower income groups I saw enjoying their time at Raahgiri are the aam admi, the future of our country who we need to pay attention to. They have so much promise and yet they face the toughest challenges. Raahgiri opened my eyes to a lot more than the need to use my car less and care for the environment, it reminded me that the reality is that only an inclusive city can be the true harbinger of prosperity and growth.
There is something particularly relaxing about leaving town. Today, we drove out only about half an hour to a friends farmhouse for a birthday. We drove through a bustling little town and a couple of sleepy villages. The green fields, the trees, birds and the rocky outcrops of the Aravallis came next. With every few kilometres, I felt my heart rate drop and my senses open up more.
At the farm, the children revelled in the simple pleasures of the outdoors. Climbing, running around, setting themselves simple challenges, it was a sheer pleasure to watch and be a part of. The hostess had gone a step further and organised some extra entertainment, calling in a potter from the village nearby, a horse to give kids rides, besides a funny duo who blew balloons, painted tattoos and showed magic while getting utterly bullied by the children.
The farmhouse itself was delightful. Landscaped but not manicured, some real veggies and fruits, lots of flowers. No loo and the kids seemed to even enjoy the experience of peeing in nature!
Kudos to all city dwellers who invest their money and their time (which is a lot tougher) to nurture a getaway. I especially admired this family for keeping it a simple wholesome experience that their children are an integral part of.