Society

Chennai children brush up on their skating skills

At Perungudi railway station road, devoid of cars and traffic, children brush up on their skating skills

If Swamy and his friends were to find their way to 21st Century Chennai, they would find refuge at the Perungudi railway station road.

The path has an old-world vibe to it. It's nearly dusk when I reach there; the 4.30 train races past me, bringing in another dash of breeze in an already windy area. This wide stretch is filled with skaters, joggers and cyclists; the absence of car honks and traffic is conspicuous. It's a curious case of happenstance that turned this area into a community space.

Work on the service road connecting Taramani and Velachery was started way back in 2009, and given fresh life again in 2015. However, due to a culvert in the middle, the road from Perungudi to Velachery is still incomplete. Since the past couple of years, residents of Perungudi and Velachery have thronged this cul-de-sac for a few hours every morning and evening.

The trains shuttling nearby drew VR Annapragada to cycle here every evening. “I like watching them zoom past. They remind me of happy times in Pune when I would take my wife to the movies on a cycle,” he reminisces fondly. The 65-year old cycles daily for 45 minutes on the Firefox bike gifted to him by his son. “It's also nice watching the kids learn how to skate,” he adds, pointing towards the sea of children wearing colourful helmets.

In fact, M Gnanamurthi, founder of the Good Luck Speed Skating Academy, affiliated to Tamil Nadu Skating Association, is partly responsible for the popularity of this place. “We wanted to set up a new branch in Perungudi and we reached out to community centres first. But we got no response, so I thought why not teach here, in the open? There's hardly any traffic early mornings and evenings,” he says. Gnanamurthi conducts skating lessons for nearly 80 children as well as adults, from 5.30 to 7 am and 5 to 6.15 pm.

Chennai children brush up on their skating skills

And, there are some who use the space to learn driving. Mallika Sundaram is carefully turning her Luna around. “My son is three-years-old, he's just starting school. I need to learn this to pick him up from and drop him at his kindergarten,” she says.

“The only problem is the wine shop,” says her husband Meenakshi Sundaram, referring to the one near Perungudi Station, frequented by alcoholics. People here also have to make do with not having streetlights; they leave before sunset. “It would be nice if the Government were to finish the work and increase connectivity, but then... we would lose out on this place,” says a conflicted Annapragada.

The station road also sees regular joggers and power walkers. Twenty-three-year-old Aravind M, who moved to Chennai only six months ago, is one of them. “I've found that you can make friends through exercise,” he says, still a little out of breath. “I would see another regular, an 83-year-old man daily and one day, I started speaking to him. We bonded over fitness and soon, started talking about our lives as well,” he shares.

The last traces of sunlight are fleeing the sky and the koels in the trees on either side are singing their evening songs. It is now time for Aravind as well as the other families and groups of friends to wrap up their mini-breaks from their hurried lives, and reluctantly go back home.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 4:03:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/chennai-citizens-turn-unfinished-road-into-community-space/article24152713.ece

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