New constructions have gobbled up the footpath on his street without any sense of shame, says Bishwanath Ghosh

Going to the gym has increased my awareness — about my own street. Let me explain how.

The gym is barely 300 m from home, which means each morning I walk the entire length of the street twice a day, at a leisurely pace, and in the process notice details that would otherwise miss my eye.

I notice, for example, how a handful of old houses, built 70 or 80 years ago, are still holding their ground in a place like T. Nagar, where residential neighbourhoods are fast caving in to unabashed commercialisation. They stand like mute emissaries of simpler times when man was driven by need rather than greed.

These houses are all single-storeyed and stand a good 10-15 ft. away from the boundary wall, leaving sufficient space for a small garden. Outside the boundary wall runs the public footpath, wide enough for two people to walk alongside.

The footpath, alas, exists today only in front of these charming old houses. It has disappeared from the remaining stretches of the street because newer constructions have gobbled it up — without any sense of shame.

The owners of the house adjacent to the building I live in not only demolished their portion of the footpath but also barricaded the public space by growing plants on it. The space, in effect, now belongs to them.

A highly celebrated music director, whose songs I love and who happens to live down the street, has done just the same: he has barricaded his part of the footpath with iron railings so that lesser mortals don’t get close enough to his boundary wall.

The story doesn’t end here. Once upon a time, my balcony overlooked a handsome two-storey house right across the street, and on the rare occasions I managed to wake up early enough to sip my morning tea in the balcony, I would fondly gaze at the house and tell myself, “I will buy this house if I have the money someday. There is something very peaceful about it.”

But a jewellery giant beat me to it — not as if I was ever going to have that kind of money. The jewellers, who are also in the hospitality business, not only bought that house but also the one next to it, and flattened both to create a parking lot for their customers. I still remember the noise — and the heartbreak — I had to endure when the two houses were being reduced to rubble.

Soon after the demolition, the footpath abutting the two adjoining houses also vanished. Today, that space of sidewalk has been cordoned off by iron rails and saplings are growing in the enclosure.

Who has given these people the right to grab public property? This is one crime that does not even require serious investigation or tomes of evidence in order to be proved: all one needs is a pair of eyes. So, is the Chennai Corporation blind — or turning a blind eye? We need to know.

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