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The sidewalk saga

How the wheels of public works move

I heard the first rumblings a decade ago. My siesta was rudely ended by a crash and screech. When I stepped on to the balcony to find the source of the commotion, I came face to face with the gigantic paws of what is called khooni panja in local parlance. The machine was tearing down the ramp to my neighbour’s house, and mine was to be next in line.

It is common in my region to build houses above road level to prevent rainwater ingress during a downpour. That necessitates an inclined ramp leading from the gate to the roadside.

We had been hearing about the proposed widening and double-laning of the road for some time, and it was finally happening. Excitedly we watched as the giant machine tore our concrete ramp in one powerful swoop. Destruction is the first step to renewal and the resulting dust tasted bittersweet.

In the calm after the storm we realised that our gate was a foot above the roadside. Concern replaced enthusiasm as ours is a nursing home where sometimes patients have to be driven right up to the wards. Thinking of the inconvenience and delay this will cause, we put together a makeshift platform from the rubble. It was bumpy but it worked.

The widening of the road was minuscule in comparison to the destruction it had entailed. I had thought that since they had removed the ramps the side of the road would reach our gates.

A brick job

Months went by and there was no further construction. Tired of the bumpy ride and the frantic spinning of the wheels on the makeshift ramp we got a mason to lay bricks without mortar. Easy to dismantle in case the authorities decided to go for more ‘widening’.

Nothing happened for the next few years. The bricks sank deeper with each monsoon and we could hear a distinct thud when vehicles negotiated the vertical gap. It could just be our imagination but sometimes the whole building trembled with the impact. Our mason suggested a ramp made of concrete slabs, which could be removed and stowed if needed. He ably fashioned a metallic grill for the drain which fitted into the concrete slabs. Most of it could be dismantled in minutes and worked perfectly till the next round of road work.

This time they were shifting structures from the side of the road to the middle. Electricity and telephone poles, street lights all were systematically uprooted and replanted. Some full grown trees were sacrificed, as were all structures built by us ‘mango’ people. We took out our ramp and tried to re-install it after the government workers left. It didn’t fit very well. By now we had heard about the proposed pavement to come right up to our doorstep. We decided the ill-fitting ramp would have to serve till then.

A couple of years passed, and the slim road divider replete with green plants gave the town an urbane feel. But there was no news of the pavement. And then a year ago work started in earnest. Once again our ramp was sacrificed and this time a large chunk of earth went with it. Our building was now two feet above road level but we had become professionals at this. Within minutes the makeshift ramp was put in place. Mercifully, it didn’t have to function long because the bright red and yellow pavement was installed within a fortnight.

Lesson learnt. It may take a while and entail some inconvenience, but things do get done in this large democracy called India.

dr_manjugupta@icloud.com

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 1:46:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-sidewalk-saga/article25348114.ece

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