Barring a few pockets, India’s cities are no-pavement spaces. Even where they exist, they are often either poorly maintained or occupied by hawkers, parked vehicles, garbage, and stray animals.
And yet walking is India’s most common means of intra-city travel.
This makes life perilous for walkers. As the voice-over in the video articulates, “My head hangs low not out of shame but out of sheer necessity.”
Urban designer Nikhil Chaudhary, who works with World Resources Institute India, a non-profit and environmental think-tank, blames the lack of attention to pedestrians’ needs. “The traditional model of urban planning favours personal transport first, which panders to mobility through vehicles. This is why you see wide roads with long distances that the pedestrians cannot cover,” he told Scroll.in.
An “obsessive doodler”, Chaudhary decided to get his message across – and communicate the crying need for solutions for pedestrians – through a comics and animation trilogy.
While the first two parts are in form of comics, the third work is an animated short tiled I, Pedestrian (video above).
Having grown up in various cities in India, the Nagpur-born urban designer depicts the infrastructure in his sketches in the sameway American super-hero comics glorify urban spaces, such as the city of Gotham.
“In my sketches, the city is more than a backdrop – it is a setting which triggers a series of dialogues amongst the common pedestrians,” he said. The violently laid out open spaces shape the way humans interact through their walks and their vehicles, which says a lot about India’s road rage culture.
Chaudhary’s work magnifies hazards like uneven platforms, which, he said, “can sprain the foot of the fittest person walking on the path as well as children, the aged and the disabled”.
Each comic ends with the need to reclaim the space, citing examples from community initiatives such as Raahgiri and Equal Streets with active local participation.
Chaudhary cited his inspiration from comic journalist Joe Sacco’s works Palestine (1996) and Footnotes in Gaza (2009), and Chris Ware’s Building Stories, a graphic story which breathes life into a mere structure of blocks.
If road safety is all about the technicalities, Chaudhary’s comics are about the humanising of artificial spaces – through the lens of sensitivity.
Last year, the record of pedestrian deaths by the National Crime Records Bureau was believed to be misrepresented – while the data made the figure out to be 5%, a study pointed at numbers between 35% and 40%.
With the surge in two-wheelers and four-wheelers in India’s claustrophobic cities – 53,700 vehicles were registered every day in 2015 – it may soon become difficult to differentiate between a road and a pavement.
Till then, pedestrians will continue crossing the busy road with just a show of the hand, hoping to halt rushing vehicles, and weave through visible and invisible dangers.