There was a time not long ago when I used to jog like a machine. Anything less than a jog followed by a sprint was not acceptable to me then. But then things started creaking and groaning and now I have settled down to a leisurely saunter now. (But I will get back to that jog again soon, I promise.)
One of the things about jogging was that it needed a nice place which kept the pollution and traffic out. So for almost twenty five years or so, I have been going to the KBR Park, on and off, rain and shine, when I was in the rhythm. From the days that we would let ourselves in through a huge tin gate and walk past the lake, to now, when it is completely surrounded by development, roads, buildings, and by walkways, it is still my favourite place for the morning wog. But these days, since I only need to walk, and there is too much traffic even at the early hour, I sometimes just go off for a walk in streets and gullies near my house, and that is when one sees the difference.
KBR Park is in the heart of the developed part of Hyderabad - the Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills crowd walks and jogs there.Industrialists, politicians, beaurocrats, film personalities, bankers, Page 3 personalities and the cream of the society walks there. Of course it is open to all and we see all sorts, but the prime attraction are these. They move in groups sometimes, completely involved in their discussions, on politics, industry, projects and what not. Frequently we hear names, numbers running into crores being discussed as we walk by. The ones who are walking single, walk with a perpetual frown on their face, some challenging you to look at them, some worried that you might ask a favour, some worried that you are not noticing them - but definitely with an eye on what is going on around. I can make out a civil servant, the IAS or IPS officer who has retired, but still carries the pride of his job. They are normally angry and look daggers at you. Film personalities don't look at you, but if you ignore them, they shoot a glance as if to say, hey, didn't you recognise me. The businessmen lot are loud and raucous, but are probably more open, or more obnoxious, depending on where they come from. The odd firangis just whiz past as if you don't belong. It is not a place where one can make eye contact, or smile. Too many powerful people, too many things they can do, too many phone numbers on their phones. And of course they carry all the burden with them.
And now, when I walk the streets behind my house it is another world. You see the morning walkers, the shuttle players, and you hear much laughter. The canteens are up and about and the cook is already making tea and morning tiffins like idli and dosa while the canteen owner sits at the counter and urges them all on. There is much talk and banter on nukkads with chai, shared morning newspapers. In the smaller colonies, people are taking to one another with brushes and toothpaste in their mouths looking into each others single room homes. Milkmen, paperboys are at the end of their shift almost. Some shops are already open. Temples are already being visited. Beggars are queued up. And this was interesting - there is a series of lepers and the maimed - who are planted at regular intervals on their little carts. It is amazing, but planted is the word because they sit at such regular distances and intervals from one another, and in the morning when there is no traffic, they stick out for the orderliness. Someone obviously plants them, no doubt about it.
In these streets, everyone is looking at you in your eyes, almost expectantly. They smile easily if you look at them. They have a word for you. The sweepers, the rag pickers, the beggars, the tiffin centre walas everyone. I remember the beggars outside the temple asking me money and I gave them some and asked them 'Will you give me money when I need it?' They all laughed and emphatically said 'Yes, of course'. I am sure they would too.
At the KBR, eye contact is strictly avoided generally. A smile would certainly be a loaded gesture. Once, only once in all these years did I meet one really young girl who was probably still at school then, who smiled, at everyone. Otherwise it is a bunch of cold, isolated people growing even more colder and isolated. I can't even imagine talking money there - not in the manner of give and take as I did with the beggars.
But who knows, maybe it will all change. Until the next smile then. Either, on the streets or at the KBR!