The case against walking

Why taking a stroll may not always be good for you, no kidding

By P.g. Bhaskar (Life)

Published: Fri 14 Mar 2014, 9:25 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:39 PM

People pass snide remarks about how Dubai residents have almost forgotten how to walk. One writer noted that people in Dubai walk only the distance between and their car and the lift. Another commented that the only people in Dubai who ‘walk’ are somnambulists. The last time I went to India, I had put on a little weight; just the merest ounce, I assure you. Yet, for all the taunts I had to contend with, you’d think I was bulging in all directions. “You have become overweight,” a relative declared, running a gratified eye over me. Another nasty thing sniffed scornfully and added, ‘That’s because they don’t walk in Dubai. Just drive air-conditioned cars.” This is not entirely a myth. I accept that. But the thing is, walking in Dubai is not easy. It is fraught with difficulties, even perils. I have tried it. On several occasions, friends have stopped their car and rushed to me enquiring solicitously if my car had broken down. “I’m walking,” I reply, stiffly. They look at me in an odd manner and go on their way, shaking their head sadly, as if to express regret that a close friend has gone cuckoo.

Recently, I went through a harrowing experience. My son was having his final exams, which meant that like in any typical Indian household, everything revolved around it — what we did, when we did it and how. He was being waited upon by anxious parents. One evening, he wanted a particular brand of ‘masala’ noodles. Still smarting from the taunts about my weight, I decided to make use of the last few days of Dubai’s ‘winter’ and walk. So, tucking my stomach in and puffing my chest up, I trotted across to an Indian store a kilometre away from home. The walk there was event-free, except that some barricades and a new pedestrian crossing meant that the distance was actually well over a kilometre. On the way back, I took a different route, a ‘short-cut’ through a paved pathway between two desert patches. On the side walls of this pathway, many middle-aged women sat and chatted, some young mothers stood around. A few maids walked here and there pushing perambulators. Kids were running around, a few were cycling. Suddenly, I heard a loud wail.

“No!! No mummeee! No-ooo!!”

His mother responded: “Come on, beta (son), see, everyone is cycling. You must try.”

“No-ooo! I will fall!”

“It’s okay to fall, beta.”

“It’s NOT okayyyy! Waaaaaaa!”

“Beta, then how will you learn?”

“I will NOT learn.WAAAAAAA!!”

By this time, I was very close to the scene of action. I looked at the kid. He stared back, tousle-haired and wild-eyed. Suddenly and unexpectedly, with the fervour of a drowning swimmer, he flung his arms around my leg and held on for dear life. Clutching my masala noodles with my left hand, I tried pushing the kid gently away with my right, but he had got an iron grip. Our eyes met. He looked at me pleadingly, with tear filled eyes. “Naughty!” he bawled, pointing at his mother. I went pink and tried to look away. “Naughty mummeee! Bad mummee! Scold my mummeee! You scold her!!”

From all sides, several pairs of eyes were fixed on the scene. A dozen young cyclists rode in my direction. One of them rode on my foot. Some kid kept shouting “Uncle! Uncle!” Young mothers giggled, maids made twittering noises, older mothers laughed heartily. The shouting kid now grabbed my arm and yelled, “Uncle! His mummy is forcing him to ride. That’s why he is crying!”

Wrenching myself from the powerful grip of the young one, I strode away, red-faced and sweating. I think now I know why people in Dubai prefer to take the car.

P.G. Bhaskar is the author of Corporate Carnival and Jack Patel’s Dubai Dreams

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