The long walks that I so often take or have taken in the past, in the cities I have lived or am living, has a word for them. The word is flânerie and the one who keeps himself interested in regular flânerie is called as flâneur. Recently, I came across an article titled The Weekend Flâneur, and read it with great interest. Not that I am off to New York for a weekend flânerie, but the word ‘Flâneur’ interested me greatly. Not only did I come to know about a much-needed word for my weekend excursions in the city streets, but also the fact that flânerie is a much intellectually and philosophically explored subject. I am obliged to the author of this article, since through his article he has instilled, in me, a certain sense of ‘pride’ regarding strolling about the streets of a city, an activity which I so often do on weekends. The author of that article has called flânerie being an act of classy laziness. And I agree. It is indeed an act of laziness. To stroll about a city and watch the people, buildings, streets, cafe, and other happenings nearby with intellectual curiosity is indeed an act of classy laziness.
I have been an ardent and passionate flâneur throughout my life until today and would continue to be so. I have always preferred a slow lazy walk [my slow lazy walk is faster than many people’s average walk] towards a destination than hiring a cab or getting into a bus to reach there. These walks are always full of taking random roads, going through less known streets, eating at lesser known outlets, and discovering new routes. I vividly recall my long walks to my alma mater, Imperial College London, when I was a student there. And London has a certain charm about it that no other city has that flânerie appeared to be a very natural activity, and not something forced on to me by myself. While I was studying at Imperial, I stayed at three different places. Once, for a brief period, at Stratford, then at West Kensington and finally at Sussex Gardens.
While residing at West Kensington, I could afford a daily walk to Imperial. The shortest distance from my flat in West Kensington to Imperial was about 3 KM via Cromwell Road. In future sometime, I would describe my typical Cromwell Road walk to Imperial. It was regular for me to change route either while going to or coming back from Imperial. While coming back from Imperial, taking High Street Kensington, stopping by at Patisserie Valerie for that cup of Hot Chocolate, and then again continuing the walk along the bylanes and into the little streets that joined the famous high street of England was normal. Each time taking a different road, a different street, sometimes the one along the Pizza Hut while walking towards the Holland Road, and once I entered Kensington Palace Gardens [without knowing that it was KPG] and it is a pitch dark street after the sun has set, because of little illumination on the street. I “boldly” strolled through the dark street just to find myself on the Bayswater Road. Another of my favourite flâneries was the one from Shepherd’s Bush [from a library there] via Uxbridge Road via Hammersmith Park to my place at Sussex Gardens. There were many walks that I took sometimes in favourable light of the day and sometimes during the odd timings at the night, all intellectually enriching and dipped in the sweetness of solitude and laziness.
Owing to its pleasant weather, walking in Bangalore is pleasant too. The Indian cities are not adapted for a passionate flâneur like me. But to my good luck, for most part of my sojourn at Bangalore, I stayed at its outskirts or near to outskirts – but not exactly near the main city- but near to place of my work. And here, yet again, I walked to office. While I couldn’t take different routes every day to office, but while coming back from office, and after the gym, I would often go on long walks and strolled about the city, mostly on Fridays or Saturdays or sometimes on Sundays too. However, while walking in Bangalore, I was not alone, I was solitary walker but not an alone walker. I had a company. I also have had fortune of flânerie in Mumbai, apart from in Delhi. In Mumbai, I was mostly accompanied by my roommates and these walks were mostly in the night, especially the ones we took along Marine Drive and Colaba. And while securing my admission at an evening MBA course of a top-notch B-school, I would often stroll about that area of city and through my walks alone I explored South Mumbai like someone living there for at least 5 years would have. I am willing to wager on my claim that I know more streets/routes in South Mumbai than someone living or travelling there daily for five years. Currently, I am living abroad once again, and I have been on flânerie, at least 10-15 times along different routes and streets, and mostly on weekends.
On my lazy walks, I have tried to see the people, to admire an oddly built cafe, to admire a small time restaurateur, or a small time barber, or a roadside vendor of delicious burgers. I have seen through the hypocrisy of mankind and I have also seen through its magnanimity. I realise that magnanimity may be a one-off expression, hypocrisy and frivolity is what is natural and is in permanent flux. Through my eyes, I have seen a small time restaurateur feeding a dog, but beating a hungry child, and then next day same restaurateur being beaten by some younger and better-off young men. Through my eyes, I have seen a part of a day in the life of a street dog, the one I followed along a long walk. I had no idea where to go and I was particularly looking to go somewhere totally unexplored, and followed this dog. Through my eyes, I happened to see how a small shop transformed into a bigger business over 7-8 months by sheer hard work of that shopkeeper. I have seen transformations, regression, progressions, success, failure, sadness, happiness, anger, bitterness, violence, peace, camaraderie, fall and rise of supposedly insignificant men and women, sometimes trees and animals. I have seen certain plants growing to a respectable height, giving much needed shade on a hot day, only to be rooted out for paving a new road/street/pavement, perhaps, for flâneurs like me.