Barefoot walker's diary: Walking without shoes in Bengaluru | Deccan Herald

2022-08-26 19:56:00 By : Mr. Yaxuan Zhang

I like being unseen. Growing up, I used to piece together stories, in my mind, about the power of being invisible. In adulthood, I managed to find quiet corners in the noisiest of rooms. The idea of walking barefoot in Bengaluru and, thus, standing out in the crowd had me apprehensive.

“What’s the big deal?” a friend put my concerns to rest. He hadn’t done it and wouldn’t want to do it either.

The deal, I realised, was about adapting to the surfaces. Is this a city where the willingly experimental could walk barefoot? Not just on the manicured lawns of homes and apartments but also on their way to grocery stores and work?

Barefoot living is being endorsed by some as a lifestyle choice. They call it Earthing or Grounding. Clint Ober, proponent of the concept, espouses the human body’s need to connect with its natural energy source — the Earth — to improve health. Practitioners point to peer-reviewed research as validation of its positive effects. But how much of that could be followed by choice in a metropolis not known for its high walkability and cleanliness scores? Outside of the themed barefoot walks and runs — by actor Milind Soman included — and itineraries of old barefoot winery tours, I didn’t find references of urbanites knocking the footwear off.

The thing is I like walking and I do that regularly. But I don’t like wearing shoes. I suspect it has something to do with the shoe bites from school days. Open sandals have worked fine but there are times I feel the need to discard them, more on instinct.

I learned, as I prepared, that the earliest forms of proper footwear date to about 9,000 years ago. From the ancient leather wraparounds to the chip-laden smart shoes that track health metrics, they have covered a lot of ground since.

There was disquiet about being noticed but this was not the story, really. This was about finding out what this exercise meant to me. As the walks began, the need to discard an exaggerated sense of occasion was the first barrier!

The first look of the ground ahead throws up signs of what to expect — a squashed-out curd sachet, orange peels and bottle shards, on a rain-swept street near Vijaya Bank Colony, a residential area off Bannerghatta Road. I stay close by.

There is wariness about blisters as the feet try to adapt to these objects and uneven surfaces. Vendors, piled-up sand, debris and pits left open on the footpath after road work break the pace of the walk.

There is constant worrying about stepping on things the previous night’s rain has washed up. The word of caution from the walkers among friends — “infections” — is still playing on the mind. Eyes on the ground is the only way, at least to start with.

The first, light steps on the unpaved margins remind me of my home in Kerala during the monsoon. There are flashes from a forgotten backyard, of swaying fronds, moss on the walls, and leisurely mornings. This is a more granular kind of wetness, spaced between stings from the gravel and sharp stones on the street.

The closer view of the ground steers me to some randomness. Many of the pavements come with footprints and paw marks on wet concrete. I try to gauge brand popularity from discarded wrappers.

I arrive at the prime location of Bengaluru. The walk down the famed cobblestones of Church Street, courtesy a multi-crore makeover, feels different. So does the long, concrete M G Road tarnished by a broken grille that was repaired just recently.

The stones and pavements are hot under the afternoon sun, making the walk ungainly, but some stretches are better. Some of the litter bins on Church Street, however, do spill over and leave food waste and dregs onto the pavements.

I turn into Bengaluru’s sprawling green lung, Cubbon Park. The lawns are consolation for my feet but the uneven paths cutting across them make the walk harder than on the roads. This is the only stretch that leaves a serious ache on the heels.

More or less, the walks in the park go well. After enduring the roads and the traffic, they feel like a noise-cancelled, simulated setting. I also try walking shoeless in the park near my home. The vision is consistently angled skyward towards birds and trees. I play something on the earphone and realise that I have not hit that level of ease with walking without looking ahead. I stop then to put on the shoes I am carrying in my backpack to rush to work. I look around for a water tap to wash my feet. It’s not here or in other areas I have walked. I miss the roadside taps common in Kerala.

On Day Three, the strides are more assured, the spotting of objects to be sidestepped comes with less effort, and the pace is better, but it has more to do with getting used to the setting than the setting itself getting better. Some of the pavements are broken, some unevenly positioned; there’s the occasional hopping over potholes but that’s something I, and, all of us, have grown used to. Walking around the stretches barricaded for Namma Metro construction becomes tougher with the largely unregulated, criss-crossing traffic. Without footwear, crossing busy roads becomes seriously tricky.

On another day, on a narrow road with two-way traffic adjoining the Indian Institute of Management campus, a pile of garbage blocks the walk on the only footpath.

Do I walk a few metres on the road, circumvent the litter and then get back onto the footpath? Or do I cross over to the other side facing a steady flow of traffic? The bare feet do away with the option of continuing on the footpath even if it had to involve a bit of deft footwork around the mound of stinking refuse.

There is an unopened tetrapack of mango juice. This is new, this attention to detail for what constitutes the average weekday heap of street litter. Feet develop greater spatial awareness, I tell myself and start crossing the road as a biker speeds and stops short of knocking me down. Some gesticulation, and muffled words I can’t quite catch — the man has a face mask on — before he gets going. The rest of it plays like an animal-crossing video, slow and laboured. A car stops to let me pass. Eye on the ground, eye on the traffic, this can throw even the sure-footed off. I cross to the other side hurriedly.

In K R Market, the city’s largest and most bustling wholesale market, on a stretch littered with abandoned packing material, crushed vegetables and the stray sharp object, I see Hari and his friends with large bags of flowers. Not one is wearing any footwear. The brotherhood confers; they are here to buy material for a festival at a temple in Koramangala. The motive is spiritual, I understand. They don’t ask me what’s mine.

What’s the big deal about the experiment I am doing? The question returns as I have coffee at a restaurant in BTM Layout. The cold floor feels a bit like home. Outside the restaurant, I meet a food delivery worker from Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. Waiting for his order, he tells me how difficult it is to meet the daily targets, navigating the traffic and the rain. He does look at my feet briefly. But that’s that.

Waiting at a signal with three other walkers on a muddied stretch in Bilekahalli, I wonder what I would say if one of these strangers asked me why I was walking barefoot. This is getting too internal; of course, no one asks. Still, I decide that walking barefoot could be a lot simpler in an unfamiliar city where there’s no identity baggage to shed.

Could these walks be mass-promoted as a campaign? What could be a relevant cause? I read up on the phone as I walk in Mico Layout (another sign that this is getting increasingly casual). I swipe up on barefoot walks to fund medical treatment, to raise awareness on abuse and diseases, to highlight poor road infrastructure; there’s nothing on barefoot walking as something you just do, as experience and leisure.

I look away from the phone as I enter a Metro construction zone towards Silk Board. A frail man in his 30s is walking barefoot on the debris, looking lost. I return to the phone and the articles promoting barefoot walking. They sound good - improved sleep, reduced inflammation, lower anxiety. The search drifts to listicles on the 'hidden risks'. I stop at something about tendinitis (inflammation of tendons).

Stepping on the escalator at the Chickpet Metro Station on Day Eight, I realise my feet are doing fairly okay with the varied, inconsistent surfaces the city has thrown at me. I am standing in a packed Metro coach now, with at least four riders staring at my feet.

There is no reference point to compare but decades of civic reportage and citizen activism later, the city’s roads still don’t appear to have grown kinder to the feet, covered or bare.

Lines of people take shape for the next train at the Majestic station. It’s chaos, it’s clockwork. I look at my feet. No sprains, no twisted ankles, yet. The soles are not pretty but they feel new. I’ll take new.

The reporter walked barefoot for eight days, mostly covering parts of south Bengaluru and the Central Business District. The shortest walk, in a park in Vijaya Bank Layout, off Bannerghatta Road, took about 35 minutes. The longest, at 90 minutes, was in Bilekahalli and J P Nagar. He carried a pair of footwear in a bag for most of the walks. Other times, he left the footwear in his vehicle before the exercise.

Master artist M F Husain was called the barefoot 'Picasso'. He never wore shoes because they were reportedly bad for his knees. In a column about Husain, novelist Shobhaa De wrote that the artist was once denied entry to a South Mumbai club because he had showed up without footwear.

Check out DH's latest videos

Check out DH's latest videos

Deccan Herald News now on Telegram - Click here to subscribe

Follow us on Facebook | Twitter | Dailymotion | YouTube

Karnataka's wild mangoes are now 'cultivated' too

DH Toon | 'Publicity comes first for us, by habit!'

Explained | The Benami Act, 2016, and SC's new changes

17-yr-old pilot sets record, flies solo around world

Karnataka's wild mangoes are now 'cultivated' too

DH Toon | 'Publicity comes first for us, by habit!'

Explained | The Benami Act, 2016, and SC's new changes

17-yr-old pilot sets record, flies solo around world

Bihar govt wins trust vote

MLAs offered bribes to break party: AAP

We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve user experience. This includes personalising content and advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy.