The RK Salai flyover

These are days when Chennai that was Madras is in the grip of a cold wave – well, the temperature is below 30 deg C and that is freezing as per our standards. The band of morning walkers that The Man from Madras Musings usually sights everyday is literally festooned in monkey caps, mufflers and earmuffs. Anybody would think that arctic winds are blowing around in this, our city. But if our fellow citizens aspire to such things, who is MMM to object?

A doctor and humourist whom MMM walks with on most days also drew attention as to how the numbers of those walking up and down flyovers early in the morning have thinned out, no doubt owing to the extreme weather conditions on those icy slopes. That naturally turned the conversation to some of the regular characters that MMM and friend end up seeing each morning on the flyover. But before that MMM also needs to tell you about what walking on the flyovers is all about.

It all began during the first lockdown when the Government for reasons best known to itself, decided to close flyovers for traffic, along with beaches, parks, cinema theatres, auditoriums, restaurants and malls. Perhaps there is a scientific study that has shown that the COVID virus propagates on flyovers. Whatever be the reason, flyovers were closed and then, when the phased opening up began, these continued to remain barred at nights, as they still are. That naturally led to walkers scaling the heights so to speak, early each morning. The slopes get the blood pumping and there are, it must be admitted, some glorious views from up top. You almost feel like stout Cortez’s men, silent on the peak at Darien. You can see sunrise, birds flying from treetops, and then looking down you can also see men relieving themselves under the pillars. 

Naturally, not everyone gets on to the flyovers and it amuses MMM no end to see some of the regulars look askance at newcomers who dare the climb. It is almost as though those who have been making it to the top since say June 2020, resent those who have begun doing so in ­October of the same year. There seems to be a view, so prevalent in starchy social clubs of the city, that only those who make the cut should be allowed in. Extending the same logic a little further, these old timers also resent the policeman who promptly at 6.30 am, pushes away the chicanes that block traffic access to the flyover. It is almost as though the regulars puffing away to the top feel that the flyovers ought to remain for pedestrians only. 

Looking at it from another angle, this may not be such a bad idea after all. Given that the pedestrian has no space for him/herself on the roads, what with the footpaths taken over by hawkers, makeshift shops and squatters, and the carriageways being full of vehicles, flyovers as walkways is something that can be explored. That way those getting about on foot can be assured of safety (provided they don’t attempt bungee jumping or paragliding from the top). If implemented, it can also be another instance of how Chennai has managed to stand every road rule on its head. After all, flyovers were once meant for vehicles were they not?

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