Eavesdropper’s evenings

(From  archives)
I am not an early riser. The sun always beats me at it. So, morning walks are a non-starter. But I do walk into the sun-sets, not just to bid goodbye to the sustainer of life on earth, whom I failed to welcome, but also to keep fit. And also because evening walks are entertaining and even enlightening exercises.

Morning walks are less so, at least by my experience on those rare occasions I have broken dawn. Of course, that is the best time in terms of health and habit, catching the air and light afresh and beginning the day on a brisk note. But morning walks are mundane affairs, the walkers, just off bed, in meditative mood, keeping to themselves and their karmic cycles. Silence is the order, with the exception of nature’s noises if in a park or the cursed blares of college bus horns that pierce the streets and senses right from Six AM.

The fruits of laziness ripen by evening to yield a juicy, heady cocktail as you head for the destination. Mine is a big park in my vicinity but the story is more or less same in all walking venues. Those who walk twice a day will vouch for the sharp contrasts in human behaviour that, besides light and dust, marks out dawn and dusk. If morning walks are an exercise for the limbs in soulful solitude, evenings are an endeavour that yield eyefuls and earfuls. That is if you are not wearing headphones or dark glasses, like … well, forget it. And of course, ready to break some, er, privacy barriers. Statutory warning: Overhearing is not a decent thing to do and so make a vow that your intention and indulgence are only to expand knowledge of the world and its workings and not to pry or spy.

The crowd and the chatter is what strikes one first. Demography and decibels are captured at their peak. The young outnumber the old while the gender balance is well maintained. And not without reason. The parks reflect the reputation of twilight as the apt time for tingling romance as also the churning that is on in society. Couples dot the landscape in huge numbers. Some, often girls, can be found in school uniforms while college students and ‘office’ pairs occupy the benches and all available niches. A typical regime of ten rounds spread over just 40 minutes would offer a variety of vignettes that no number of movies can dish out.
Hand-in-hand lovelorn ‘jodi’s, oblivious to the ogling observers, anyone of whom could be their father’s friend, is an expected scene. But there is a rising number of estranged pairs trying to settle a petty issue, often as petty as not returning a missed call. A short stop to tie your shoe lace would give a gist of of their quarrel, but don’t lament or linger. For, by the time you return to the same bench on the next round, the pair would have either patched up or parted, the latter being the case, when the issue is not a missed call but a messy competitor. Unlike law, love these days takes a faster course, one way or other. But feminists can feel happy that statistically there are more guys beseeching girls than vice versa, though it is no proof of a general gender reversal.

Now, getting back to brass t(r)acks, spacing your stride is very critical if you want to get optimum results. In the evenings lone walkers are less than groups, which could be at least two and so gossip and useful news are both guaranteed. And quite update since it is day’s end. The info flow can come from behind or ahead and managing the steps smartly but in all stealth is the secret of success. Every fellow walker is a teacher educating you on some aspect of life, from material to metaphysical. From taxation to land deals to cooking or health tips, to politics to religion and what not, everything under the sky, literally, is there for the asking, nay, hearing. Every tree is bodhi dispensing abundant elderly wisdom while culverts, benches and grassy oases host wannabe writers and movie aspirants, tech whizkids buried in laptop screens etc as also jilted lovers, frustrated characters, aimless strollers and mischievous stalkers on balance.

But it is not just a ‘walk in the park’, always. Perils abound. Maximum caution is required if you fall in the path of women, for if you do not manage the distance or body language, innocuous eavesdropping could land you in trouble for intimidating eve-teasing. Rest assured, the voices will reach you even from a longer gap. Kids running amok pose a grave danger, since at below eye level, you may miss them in your overhearing zeal. Gangs of boisterous youth habitually walk abreast and can block you off from a juicy quarry; this touchy barrier has to be breached with tact. And there are those who trot anti-clockwise raising the risk of head-on collisions. Worse, you get to confront them twice!
In all, this ‘pedestrian’ matter is pregnant with practical and profound purpose.
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Jawahar T R