November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

“A road is being constructed near our village which leads to the newly being built sugar factory of the Chief Minister,” said Shishira. “Was there no tar road earlier?” I asked and he said “No.” A new road is being constructed to reach the sugar factory of the chief minister! Wow! “There is some direct relationship between the road and power,” I said. It is not just a coincidence always that a road is constructed always to reach a factory or to some industry or when a Minister is arriving and is repaired when the minister is to arrive, mostly for the election campaigning. There is a direct relationship. The road is always ‘constructed’ and the question who ‘constructs’ it is always interesting!

One Duglus Lummis, in one of his essay ROAD traces the history economics and sociology of ROAD. He makes a distinction between WAY and ROAD. The earlier is created by the walking feet- human and animal- in the forests and in the villages. While the latter is constructed (haven’t we all seen the board saying, “road under construction”?) The word WAY, he argues, is derived from the word WEY to mean transport which says that a way was created by feet- human and animal- for their movement for socio-economic reasons. The word ROAD, Lummis says, was derived from the word RAD which means- to travel. Interestingly the word RAD is also the root word for RAID, he says. Now this connection at the level of the human language opens the door for us to think and imagine the connection between ‘power’ and ‘road’.

It was in the year 224 B.C. that an emperor who captured China, as a part of his programme to keep China ‘under’ him always that he started constructing roads in China. But almost a century before he executed his plans, the Romans had constructed roads for the very same reason. There in Rome, the constructed roads were higher than the normal paths and ways hence it came to be known as HIGH-WAY.

It was in late 19th century that automobiles came into existence and Lummis draws our attention to an interesting fact- these automobiles were not made according to the path on which they had to move. So initially the automobiles would move just in six kilometers per hour speed and had to have a man sitting in the front of it waving a red flag. Later on the roads were fashioned according to the needs of the automobiles while it should have been the other way round. So when roads were being constructed as per the needs of the automobiles, the humans and their needs were not the primary interest. The WAY went where humans wanted to go, but with ROADs people had and still have to go where it takes you. And if noticed properly the ones walking on the road have to wait for the vehicles to stop because the vehicles have a higher ‘right’ over the roads than human beings or rather the human beings with vehicles than the human beings without vehicles.

Once it so happened that a friend and I were standing in front of a restaurant and a car started honking because a cycle which was parked in the side had interrupted its free movement. I just moved the cycle further to the side and my friend, just as a light comment, said- you can move only the cycle and not the car hence you move the cycle to the side. Today while reflecting on the same line but looking at both cycle and car as an icon of a particular class and looking at ROAD as a metaphor I think this incident reflects who has the power to sideline whom and who claims a higher right over the others on the road.

It can also be observed that the roads are differently made when it leads us to the airport and differently made when it leads to a village. At this point I must speak of a sentence from a biographical note of C. Daanappa Nilogal where he says, “Tar road was constructed in my village for the cars of the feudal lords.” We can also see that the village roads are repaired and made ‘user’ friendly only when the Minister is about to arrive. This indicates that the road makes a clear cut class distinction which is an indicator to the fact that it is directly associated with power. (This can also be seen in the short story- Dambaru Bandadu (in Kannada) by Devanoor Mahadeva.)

23 June 2010

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