City Hangout – Chekhov’s Promenade, South Extension-2
A lane to breathe.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Very often restless people have the habit of pacing to and fro in their living room or on their terrace, if they have any. Such an exercise is said to bring clarity to the thought process. That same pacing can also be executed on the dream-like walkway here.
If the redesigned Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi can be celebrated these days for its new pedestrian-friendly ambience, what’s preventing people from singing about this airy promenade, just outside the South Extension Metro station in South Extension-2?
This late afternoon, the paved stretch is soaked in a soothingly warm sun. A young woman is repeatedly trying to click a perfect selfie with a stray cat under a lamp post. A young man is reading that timeless classic ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. A woman in long skirt is… well, pacing thoughtfully. Two boys are strolling in circles, their arms on each other’s shoulders. And then there are other people, probably Metro commuters, hurriedly ambling along the avenue, immersed in their daily tensions.
There’s no other place in Delhi like this. The stretch (made of tiled and untiled portions) is almost as broad as the Ring Road that divides the locality in two halves. It’s definitely wider than the circular corridor of Connaught Place (CP), another superb pedestrian destination. The promenade is spiritually superior to the CP roundabout (and even to the one in Chandni Chowk) in the sense that it is situated far from showrooms and storefronts, freeing the walker from the distractions of window shopping. Opened simultaneously with the area’s Metro station some years ago, the walkway is too short. But why crib on that point—one ought to be simply grateful that a public infrastructure that would be taken for granted in any great city of the western world has found a breathing corner in our city, otherwise so hostile to pedestrian civilisation.
A cynic might point out that nobody’s stopping anybody from enjoying a walk in, say, Lodhi Gardens. But walking this avenue is profoundly different from walking in a park. In a park, one enters to escape from the city, but here one enters right into its heart—yet remains secluded from its irritants. The current easy-going buzz in fact resembles that of a tourist town’s car-free plaza, filled with weekend dwellers. While hanging out in this walkway, one’s eyes instinctively search for a Delhi counterpart of the lady with a little dog, the lonely Russian heroine in a famous Chekhov story—the story begins with her sighting in a seaside promenade. Meanwhile, the lady with the cat is still trying out various selfie poses.
We, the pedestrians