Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hogging The Road

It is something that you see in Lianga a lot especially when the day is about to end and the heat of the afternoon sun is fading into the sudden coolness of the early evening. Streets and thoroughfares suddenly converted in a flash into playgrounds and playing areas for all manners of sports and games. Currently, the favorites are badminton and basketball although in one part of town I have seen table tennis tables out in the open too.

For basketball, the hoops and backboards are mounted on movable, wooden scaffoldings. For badminton enthusiasts, all it takes are two makeshift supports to hold the net and then its game on. The games often go on into the evening and played amidst the glare of streetlights or temporary floodlighting.

One can, of course, point out to that fact that there is a dearth of sports facilities available in the town for sports aficionados as the reason why the town streets are being used for such, well, unusual purposes. But the truth of the matter is that the local folk here consider the streets are virtual extensions of their houses and neighborhoods and thus their use or misuse for purposes other than vehicular traffic is essentially, in their view, justifiable.

This attitude extends to other aspects of local community life. Houses are often built with sections extending almost into the edge of streets in defiance of building codes, swallowing sidewalks in the process. During funerals, birthday celebrations, local festivities and the like, residents often arbitrarily close off whole street sections and do their celebrating and gathering on the street complete with canvass tents, plastic chairs and tables.

Rowdy parties spilling out into the street outside residences are not uncommon. Impromptu beer and liquor drinking sessions on hastily arranged tables and chairs occupying half or the whole of a street in front of houses are also a common occurrence.

Visitors from the city are often amazed if not irritated at this rather proprietary attitude Lianga residents have for their streets and roadways. They see it as a negative aspect of provincialism and a regrettable lack of civic pride and civic responsibility. But it is an attitude that is deeply rooted in the consciousness of a community that is inspite of the advent of the 21st century, remains, in many ways, rather insular, provincial and extremely suspicious of others and outsiders who may not share their world view.

Motorists after turning a corner and seeing these temporary sports venues or street gatherings blocking their way have no choice but to simply shrug their shoulders or shake their heads in bewilderment, quickly reverse their vehicles and go find another circuitous way to get where they want to go. To offend local sensibilities by protesting to the local authorities would not be advisable.

Perhaps it is just a question of balance. After all, in the normal world, motorists in their mighty beasts of metal and rubber are the undisputed masters of the roads and highways. In Lianga they happen to be the low men on the totem pole.

In this town, the ordinary guy walking or hogging the streets is still king.

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