Walking and freedom








It took a while to get to India Gate. I’d set out to walk to Jantar Mantar. Google maps said it would take 19 minutes. That was fine with me. However, two minutes out of the hotel I was stopped by one of its employees, who warned me not to walk on the road I was walking on, not to walk to the place I was walking to, and that it would be closed now. Later investigation suggested that none of this was true, but as I didn’t know that, I allowed myself to be bundled into an auto-rickshaw to be taken somewhere else.

By the time I managed to get out of a baffling and frustrating situation of being hurtled around and forced to take photos on demand, and not being allowed to get out, I was crying tears of rage. I clutched at the suggestion of India Gate, because Aparna had told me there was an open space there. This gave me the courage to force the driver to stop, pay him a vast amount to go away, and take a walk by myself as intended.

The freedom of walking is a precious thing.

This open space was full of people – boys swimming, women sweeping, men lying on benches. I walked through shade and through sun, only occasionally bothered by the boys shrieking wittily ‘How are you? How are you?’ Red flowers stuck up from spiky leaves. People sold dry, crispy snacks, the last things you’d want to eat. India Gate shimmered ahead.

I decided to walk up towards the gate, then double back down the other side of the Rajpath.

As I did so, I saw that there was a stage erected, and a large number of Sikh children were lining up on it. Curious, I went nearer, and saw that the event marked the centenary, today, of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, a public garden walled on all sides with only five narrow exits, some kept locked. The British Army, under Colonel Dyer, shot a thousand unarmed citizens engaged in a peaceful independence protest (although many were simply passing through from the temple or cattle market).  Targeting the narrow exits, it was impossible to escape. Intending not to disperse the protest, but to punish insurrection, Dyer staged a deadly performance of imperial power, using scenography as a weapon.

I’m sorry.

Let all the gardens be open. Let everyone walk in peace and freedom.