Tales from a narrow lane

A layperson’s take on life in lanes where cars or emergency vehicles cannot pass through

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘sankri gulli’? It refers to a narrow lane, though one online dictionary translates it as a ‘low lane’. Narrow, low. The sort of lane that makes you want to stretch out your arms, right and left, and push hard. Push at the brick and wood of the houses on both sides of the lane, so that they are no longer poking their noses into each other’s business. Though it could also be the sort of lane that shows up well in tourists’ photographs. It can seem romantic, with a cart of bright citrus fruit or a fisherwoman’s basket. It can be rendered soft, even mysterious, by the dappled sunlight and the odd figure who may or may not be going home.

There are some lanes so narrow, you will not even stretch out your arms. You can just about walk upright here. You cannot walk alongside a friend without bumping into them every few seconds, so you often walk single-file. You cannot run into foes without risking a stare-off. The houses on either side are practically in each other’s arms, and the long file of passers-by seems to be the only thing that pries them apart.

Perhaps you have been in such a lane. If you have, you must know that it is not a romantic experience. You may have noticed that, in India, such lanes are often held in place by a seam of open gutters. Or rather, women often do their laundry on the doorstep, right above that gutter. People live with the knowledge that if they get sick, the ambulance will not be able to enter this lane. If they call a hearse, the hearse will not be able to reach the doorway. And if they died at home, it would be very hard to bring the funeral arthi in and out of the door. A narrow lane requires a great deal of adjustment. It can be something minor, such as needing to twist your torso as someone approaches from the opposite direction. Or it can be something big, like having snatched a chain or purse, and making a run for it, and then realising that you’re being chased and you do not have much of an escape route. It could also require a major adjustment on the part of police personnel. In Delhi, according to news reports, 70 cops will be expected to ride bicycles to patrol areas where cars cannot go. In Kolhapur too, there is a plan to get cops bikes, so they can get into narrow lanes. These are interesting developments. For one, it will be a refreshing sight to see cops on bicycles. It’s been a long time since I saw such a thing. In fact, I believe I have never in my life seen such a thing.

It will also be interesting to see how they’ll negotiate traffic on wider roads. Since there are no dedicated bicycle lanes, will they be wobbling and cursing? Will they form little clumps of solidarity with the rickshaw pullers, the hand-cart pullers, the delivery guys, and the oddballs who could afford motor transport but still choose to cycle? Or will they carry their bikes in the back of the police vehicle, only unloading them at the entrance of the narrow lane that they must reluctantly patrol?

The author is a writer of essays, stories, poems and scripts for stage and screen

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 10:48:20 PM |

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