Walking is an art. I have nothing concrete to substantiate my claim except to say that my beloved naturalist Henry David Thoreau also says so in one of his essays. I know walking to be a creative prompt. (In rare moments of observation, during a morning walk, a bunch of mangoes hanging from a tree can appear as something divine!) But a couple of days ago, as if to communicate a much-needed secret, a thought popped up in my head to call walking an art.
How can walking – the simple act of taking one step after another rhythmically – be an art? Ravelstein, a novel by Saul Bellow, is an art. V.S. Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur is an art. T.S. Eliot’s poetic drama, Murder in the Cathedral, is an art. How can walking, which needs no talent, be termed an art?
Such a question might offend Thoreau. He calls it sauntering and gives a profound meaning to that word. According to Webster’s dictionary to ‘saunter’ is “to walk about in an idle or leisurely manner”. The word is derived from the term sainte terre that means holy land, writes Thoreau. When it comes to Thoreau though, it gets transformed into something poetic. To walk or to saunter is ‘to go on an adventure into a holy land forgetting one’s kith and kin’, says the American naturalist, who had walked for hours. Such a walk must indeed be an art as one walks with a mind that has nothing that causes worry.
For Thoreau it might have been easy to let go and walk miles. But what about ordinary men and women who are weighed down by reality? The metaphorical holy land is far away for common folk whose reality is dominated by the regrets of the past and the anxiety of the future.
Taking an evening walk to Nageswara Rao Park (my holy land) negotiating the hurdles of Chennai roads and streets, I mused over Thoreau’s ideas of a walk. It’s not only frightening, (what other emotion can abandoning loved ones evoke?) but too idealistic. Thoreau could experiment with his life for he lived like a recluse. Whereas I’m a common man carrying the contents of the common consciousness of human beings: worries, anger, desires, fears etc.
Such a heavy weight I carry on my head yet I find great freedom in an hour’s walk. A brisk and attentive walk drives away worrying thoughts and keeps me glued to the present. In the present, motor bikes, autorickshaws, and cars whiz past, pushing you to sides of the road beyond which you cannot move. In the present children play in the park unmindful of the uncertain world. In the present a flower falls before you from one of the tall trees. And walking gives that present moment, which is full of life and also the freedom to experience it.
In such a freedom bestowed on us by a leisurely walk, art flowers, doesn’t it?