Once upon a time, roadside pavements were meant for the use of pedestrians so that they could safely traverse the length of the road without being knocked down by traffic. That is why the Americans (as in the US of A) call them sidewalks. Indians have adopted and adapted to this Western concept to suit their own environment and, in the process, mangled its original purpose beyond recognition.
It all started in Bombay, when the city received its first wave of migrants from the hinterland and did not have enough space to house them. Those who did not find accommodation in the slums found refuge on the broad pavements of the metropolis. That was the genesis of the pavement as residential real estate and the term “pavement dweller”.
If houses are there, can gardens be far behind? This time, the innovation came, not from the indigent but from well-heeled residents of Noida, bordering the national capital, New Delhi. The bungalow-owners there have decided that pavement space is too precious to be wasted on a mundane purpose like pedestrian pathways.
So, they have chosen to be environmentally conscious and extended the reach of their compounds to enclose the pavement in front and convert the acquired space into gardens.
The other distinguished pioneers of alternative pavement use in India have been the roadside vendors. Being micro-scale business persons, they have leveraged the low-occupancy cost of the pavement spaces to outcompete the regular shops in the buildings bordering the pavement.
And how can we forget the pavement as the food court of the “aam aadmi”? In fact, some of the street-based food vendors have become legends, drawing in even the well-heeled gentry. Old Lucknow residents will, I am sure, recall the line of limousines queuing up near the kerbside vending carriage of the “King of Chaat”.
The latest invasion of pavement space has come as a consequence of the automobile boom of the last two decades.
A deluge of vehicles has flooded the Indian streets and found parking refuge on the pavements. Complementing this takeover are the myriads of two-wheeler repair shops, which have no hesitation in appropriating the pavement as their workshops.
Jostling with these are the building contractors, who convert wide chunks of pavement to storehouses for building material and workshops for “bar-bending”. So swift and dominating has been this invasion that the older lot of occupiers is now beginning to grumble about being robbed of “their” livelihood space.
Readers must be wondering where do Indian pedestrians go after all the above. Very simple: they just merge with the road traffic. Of course, if some do not emerge from it, that is their “karma”!