I heard the first rumblings a decade ago. My siesta was rudely disturbed by a loud crash and screech. When I stepped into the balcony to find the source of the commotion I came face to face with the gigantic paws of what is called khooni panja in local parlance. The machine was tearing down the ramp of my neighbour and mine was next inline. Let me elaborate for those who are not familiar with the ways of this part of the world. It is common in this region to build one’s house above road level to prevent rainwater ingress during a heavy downpour. That necessitates a small inclined platform leading from the gate to the roadside. This ramp also bridges the open drains which are still a feature of small town India.
We had been hearing about the proposed widening and double laning of the Railway Road for sometime. Seemed it was finally happening. Excitedly we watched as the giant machine tore our concrete ramp in one powerful swoop. Destruction is the first step to renewal and the resulting dust tasted bittersweet. In the calm after the storm we realised that our gate was a foot above the roadside. Concern replaced the enthusiasm because ours is a nursing home where sometimes patients have to be driven right upto the indoor wards. Thinking of the inconvenience and delay in medical treatment this will cause we got our staff to put together a makeshift platform from the rubble. It was bumpy but it worked.
The widening of the road was minuscule in comparison to the destruction it had entailed. I had thought that since they had removed the ramps the side of the road would reach our gates. Months went by and there was no further construction. Tired of the bumpy ride and the frantic spinning of the wheels on the makeshift ramp we got a mason to lay bricks without mortar. Easy to dismantle in case the authorities decided to go ahead with some more ‘widening’.
Nothing happened for the next few years. The bricks sunk deeper with each monsoon and we could hear a distinct thud when vehicles negotiated the vertical gap. It could just be our imagination but sometimes the whole building trembled with the impact. Our mason suggested a ramp made of concrete slabs which could be easily removed and stowed if needed. He ably fashioned a metallic grill for the drain which fitted into concrete slabs. Most of it could be dismantled within minutes and worked perfectly till the next round of road construction.
This time they were shifting structures from the side of the road to the middle. Electricity and telephone poles, street lights all were systematically uprooted and replanted. Some full grown trees were sacrificed, as were all structures built by us ‘Mango’ people. We removed our removable ramp and tried to re- install it after the government workers left. It didn’t fit very well. By now we had heard about the proposed pavement which was to come right upto our doorstep. We decided that the ill fitting ramp would have to serve till then.
A couple of years passed, the slim road divider replete with green plants gave the town an urbane feel. But there was no news of the pavement. And then a year ago work started in earnest. Once again our ramp was sacrificed and this time a large chunk of earth went with it. Our building was now two feet above road level but we had become professionals at this. Within minutes the makeshift ramp was put in place. Mercifully it didn’t have to function long because the bright red and yellow pavement was installed within a fortnight.
Lesson learnt, it may take a while and entail inconvenience but things do get done in this large democracy called India!
( published in the Hindu on 28/10/2018)