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Chronicles from a promenade

I have been living close to the Tiruvanmiyur beach in south Chennai since 1990. I used to jog those days, and the narrow mud road along the beach was ideal for the morning exercise, with sunrise as backdrop. Probably I could claim to be one of the first regular visitors to that beach. Very few people were living in this area then. There were no tall apartment buildings, and during December and January and I even needed a pullover, since it was very cold.

Many things have changed since then. I have added 29 years to my life, my jogging first slowed to a brisk walk over the years and now to a slow-paced stroll. Slowing down has given me more time to watch what’s happening around. The number of people living around the beach area has increased. Many are health-conscious and that brings larger numbers of people to the beach for morning exercise sessions.

The increase in the number of people has naturally brought into existence an association of ‘beach-walkers’. The road along the beach has been widened and bitumenised and it has become longer, but it is still crowded in the morning since more and more people are coming out on to the beach. Avenue trees are coming up, which may give shade to future generations, I guess.

You can buy organic vegetables and health food right on the beach. On Sundays, we can have even breakfast from the many vendors.

There used to be a laughing club, a group of people laughing in the beach early in the morning. Don’t hear the laughter these days, wonder why.

Some years back, there appeared suddenly, two big circles marked in white paint in the middle of the beach road, touching each other and making it look like the number eight. To me it appeared like an indication to some UFO for a landing. I also realised that the number is auspicious and lucky for the Chinese. The number eight in a dream means power, authority…

I had no idea who painted it on the road and who would find use for it, until I noticed a few kids walking along the curves of the number eight. Some elders were doing the same when nobody was watching.

The two painted circles faded in due course, and I forgot all about it. All of a sudden the number eight appeared again on the footpath of the beach road, embossed with pebbles this time. The ‘8’ was now bigger. Some people were walking barefoot on the pebbles forming the ‘8’. It was told that this twisted walk barefoot is good for health. Number 8 walk became very popular, in spite of a negative piece of medical advice in a local newspaper. Soon there was a waiting time to get a chance for this figure of ‘8’ walk. So, one more ‘8’ surfaced with pebbles was added. Stainless steel railings were provided around to bring some order for entry and exit. As per the custom, one was reserved for ladies and the second one for gentlemen. Now we have two ‘8’s, forming the number ‘88’ in Taiwan-Chinese style. I believe the number ‘88’ brings even more luck and prosperity.

In any case, the rush for the number ‘8’ walk is less these days, and you might be able to take an ‘8’ walk or possibly an ‘88’ walk without joining a big queue as was the case earlier. I do hope the luck, prosperity and health associated with the number ‘8’ or ‘88’ still remain.

Talking about luck, many people were at the beach on the morning of December 26, 2006. The tsunami hit the coast just after all of us went home after finishing the exercise session. I was there too, though my wife had cautioned me against being at the beach after our neighbour informed her of the earthquake in Indonesia. I remember laughing as I closed the gate.

Feeding other living beings is a noble act and this has been quite common along our beach road for a long time. It all started with somebody feeding ants, and this continues even today.

It has been reported that in Kerala, the stray dogs bite and even try to eat people up. There are many stray dogs on our beach, but here the dogs are fed biscuits. Dogs are treated with dignity here. Some people even play with them. One day I saw the dogs wearing coloured collars. Was it some sort of coding, I wondered. Dogs on our beach are well-behaved, I must say.

Feeding the pigeons near the small beach temple has been a practice for quite some time. A few months back I noticed somebody feeding crows. The crows are intelligent, they assemble at the designated spot by 5-30 in the morning every day, the early ones taking the prime spots. The crows have a habit of taking off all together suddenly without any provocation, reminding me of the Hitchcock movie Birds. And then, they settled down waiting for the (fast) food.

I was reminded of a story told by a Japanese person about feeding birds. In Japan, there is a large and growing population of ageing people and the government has been constantly trying to improve their quality of life. Under one project, they resettled a group of old people on an island, providing them with all modern facilities to make their life comfortable. The people settled down very well, playing golf and walking along the beaches.

One of the new hobbies they picked up was feeding the birds. They got different types of birdfeed from the city supermarkets. The birds waited for the groups of old people every day in the morning. The old people enjoyed the feeding sessions. The birds looked forward to the new types of food given to them. The birds even started recognising those individuals who were feeding them.

This continued for a while. And then the old people got older and started dying one by one. There were not many replacements coming. The number of bird feeders came down eventually. By then, the flocks had lost their ability to find food for themselves. The new generation of birds were not trained to look for worms and berries. So they starved themselves to death.

This will not happen on Tiruvanmiyur beach, I guess. The old people will fade away for sure, but the people of younger age group in our area will ensure that the ants are fed, the dogs get their biscuits and the birds get their food. And of course, some ‘number 8’ walkers will continue their twisty path to health.

xavierpj@hotmail.com


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 10:49:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/chronicles-from-a-promenade/article26686690.ece

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