Musings of the Dawn March
The sun does not deign, in the seventh hour of a wintry anti meridiem, to illuminate the blue planet; that curiously lone sphere of sentient life in the solar system; the sphere which we call Earth. Accordingly, on the streets of a relatively less bustling zone of the city, there is not apt to be many a manifestation of the pointless voyage called life. A few such health-conscious bipeds, however, may nonetheless brave the cold to rouse their hebetudinous limbs. One such biped, indeed, is the author of this essay.
In the city of Pune, the cold is not too great a deterrent, but one should nonetheless be forgiven for the strong desire to stay cuddled in the blanket. The rested mind of yours truly, however, does not see much merit in a wakeful recline, and prefers to go about his unconsciously autogenetic habitude. The COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked the lives of many a creature, and the life of yours truly is no exception. The decline in motivation, intellect and tenacity of spirit is evident, and what better to enliven the being than a four-thousand-step march in the cool morning air? In the course of this march, it is not uncommon to come across beings unconstrained by the familiar mask. But as opposed to the conventional sentiment of contempt, one is much animated by the hope that the city of Pune, with steady steps, consigns the pandemic to chapters of the past, notwithstanding which, one does not for oneself discard the mask. For, unlike the partisans of a woke revolution in the West, one has not resolved to love the mask more than life itself.
Passing by an indifferent security man, one crosses the gates of one’s residential housing society, to revel in about three hundred paces of salubrity. Thereafter, one must contend with the familiar and execrable presence of waste — brazenly asleep on the pavement as it emits its malodorous fumes. Twenty or so paces of the average stride liberate the pedestrian from its grasp; with the happy absence of traffic, one might, for those twenty paces, profit from ambulation on the road instead, so as to keep distance from the waste. One laments the insouciance of the citizen in regard to cleanliness; tenacious despite the hortatory reminders by the Prime Minister as part of his envisioned Swachcha Bhārata (Clean India) mission. But author S.N. Balagangadhara does not view this favourably. In his helpful book “What does it Mean to be ‘Indian’?”, he questions the necessity of state action in this regard. While deeming important the projects of rural sanitation and urban waste management, he opines that cleanliness, when morphing into a state concern, sets into motion a “massive, unwieldy bureaucratic apparatus, imagining that it, the state, can teach the alphabets of public hygiene to the people.” In his view, Indians are already disposed to hygiene inasmuch as their diligence in bathing and cleanliness of private spaces is concerned, and the state had better wondered “how and why a hygienically oriented people think about public spaces so differently from private ones.” The subject, therefore, warrants philosophical assessment.
A little ahead of this sparsely lit portion of the road, one crosses a chowk — the Indian term for a juncture of two roads; therefore, a ‘+’ arrangement — and enters an area with an unusually spacious pavement to the one side of the road. The build of this pavement, with its perfectly lined trees and abundant illumination owing to numerous lampposts, might cause one to think of the area as part of another city altogether. One comes across many a shop, and is reminded of one’s dutiful inquiries in them for a shavette, driven by a desire to experience the quaint ways of shaving. Sven Raphael Schneider, founder of the online magazine Gentleman’s Gazette, has made more than a mere video on the demerits of modern cartridge razors, skin irritation being but one of them, and he recommends the comparatively older Double Edge Safety Razor instead. Conceding that the still older Traditional Straight Razor offers far closer a shave, he rightly notes that one must invest much time to perfect the technique, and it might not be the prudent recourse for a working professional. “Geofatboy” of ShaveNation agrees. But the amateur shaving enthusiast that is yours truly is hardly a working professional, and he can afford the temporal requirements of such a shave, that, many a man shall affirm, transforms the otherwise toilsome chore of shaving into a gratifying experience of smooth exfoliation. Unfortunately, no shop could afford to sell so rarely solicited a product, and online stores agree to sell them only at preposterous costs, indicating that they must all be shipped to India from overseas. Accordingly, one could settle only on the cheap imitation, without prejudice to its efficacy, that is the shavette, which functions using replaceable blades, instead of requiring the labour of stropping and sharpening that is core to the traditional straight razor.
But so thoughtful a mind is hardly engaged in the count of the paces walked, and it is with seeming celerity that one comes across the conspicuous Tanishq jewellery shop that is, in fact, at an appreciable distance from the beginning of the spacious pavement. The shop serves as an indication that a rightward turn is a prudent course of action in light of the need to return home seasonably, lest the march be too long. The path is of considerably smaller span, before one must again turn right to face a long road. In the course of this long road, one comes across a myriad of residential apartment societies, and one’s thoughtful mind is soon engaged with the fine points of social life in these entities. One cannot help but so orient one’s thoughts, given the woeful experience of the transformation of his own society, from one of lively celebration of life into a mirthless ghost of its former self. Ganeshotsava was especially an occasion one would look forward to in days of old; seemingly a past life! No longer, however, is one so enthused. In ostensible irony, while not disposed to gregariousness, one is of the view that such societies must always be home to happy childhoods and sociable adults; that those happy childhoods may feel more complete. The societies need not remotely resemble the garish Gokuldham Cooperative Housing Society of the notoriously long-running Hindi sitcom Taarak Mehta ka Ooltah Chashmah, but a considerable degree of mirth is warranted.
Halfway through the long road, one encounters one’s school, that was, over the course of the years, an undesirable chore, a delightsome destination, and veritable hell. But, notwithstanding one’s rancourous memories thereof, one finds one’s coherence of thought, and therefore lexical resources, inadequate to the task of diagnosis. Was the playground too small for one’s taste? But in stupefying contrast to the mind of the average child, one hardly, if ever, cared for the sports hour, which must explain one’s suboptimal physical build. Was it the intimidating four-fold increase in coursework as one progressed from the tenth grade to the eleventh? That was a factor indeed, but that odious invention is hardly creditable to the school. That credit is earned by the education boards, who are in turn obsequious to the caprice of cabinet ministers, who are often said to epitomize education, or more accurately, the lack thereof. They are said to be committed to human resource development — how many graduates might qualify for that prestigious, or dehumanizing, term, is a problem best left to the sullen pens of analysts, but it was estimated a few years ago that upwards of ninety percent of engineering graduates in the country are unemployable. Is the institution that is the school wholly responsible? Perhaps not; perhaps only to a considerable degree. Regardless, the very sight of that bastille of student life serves, personally, only to evoke rancourous thoughts.
Crossing the intersection, one traverses through yet another half of the road, which does not much excite the train of memories. The inexorable turn to the right, leading to a short path, is also no conspicuous store of memories, except that of a coaching class into which one was enrolled as a ninth grader, courtesy of the common hysteria amongst a few Indian mothers. At the end of this path, another right turn takes one, with but twenty or so paces, to the self-same gates of the beginning, crossing which, one finally confronts the welcome sight of a lulled society.
The liberating walk now concluded, one commences the routine of one’s burdensome existence.