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Urban Junkie

Friday, October 07, 2005

Hide and seek

I want to know why cities are laid out the way they are. Why one-ways always lead away from the direction you want to go in. Why they change direction overnight just when you’ve managed to crack the code. Why U-turns are so few and far between and always creep up when you’re on the extreme left of the road. Why house numbering systems are so virulently illogical. And why a right turn is not allowed just on the street you want to turn into. Having arrived there, need I add, after a long, befuddling and frustrating journey.

As you can see, it has been an unrewarding day.

And this is an ode to all those who have ever set off in search of an unknown address in our maliciously designed cities. May the force be with you. There are many, many tricks our city planners have up their sleeves to lead you astray.

Take, for example, the odds-and-evens game. You will usually encounter this if you are hunting for house number 55 and find yourself in front of number 54. That’s when you hear your malicious city planner say ‘gotcha!’ Because – of course! – this is the ‘evens’ street and number 55 is on the ‘odds’ street across the road. For victims of this game, there is consolation in the thought that there are worse plights. There is, for example (shudder) the-road-ends-at-the-house-before-the-one-I-want scenario. How roads can end just before any house you are looking for is beyond me … they are obviously designed to alter themselves in accordance with (or in opposition to) the needs of any house hunters in the vicinity.

Then there is the skip-an-alphabet game, especially popular in Delhi. If you happen to be looking for P-55, you can be pretty sure that P does not exist at the place where it is supposed to. This is where O ends, that is where Q begins … shouldn’t P be somewhere right here? Aaaah, you poor naïve thing. There is no explanation for this, but P is located right after K, in a completely different colony.

As a child I lived in a house in the unfortunate block P. No one could ever find their way to my house because it was the only block that was an aberration in the otherwise neatly alphabetical sequence. As a result I had very few friends. Kids who couldn’t find their way to my birthday parties imagined I had played a nasty prank on them. When I was older, of course, I learned how to use this unfortunate location to my advantage – but the trauma of childhood never does fade.

And, of course, there is the renumber-the-houses game, especially popular in Bangalore. Stunning in its audacity, this one is designed to outwit the few talented house-finders who do manage to get past previous obstacles. If you happen to successfully find your way to house number 1274, you will in high probability find yourself face to face with an elderly lady who looks quite different from the person you were expecting to meet. Isn’t this 1274, you ask in bewilderment. Yes, she says, equally puzzled. Until light dawns and she asks – “oh, but are you looking for the old 1274 or the new one?” This, you see, is the new one. When people give you addresses that go ‘old 75, new 11’ disregard them not. There is a hidden message there.

I know there is a meaning to this, which will dawn on me some day. Meanwhile, I am becoming skilled at the game, having abandoned the alphabet, numerics and logic in favor of the best direction-finder of them all : instinct.


  • Anjali, quite simply, superb!

    I've experienced the trauma myself when i landed in Bangalore. I sooooo empathize with what you have written! So please bear with this rather long comment.

    I arrived in Bangalore 7 years ago (fresh out of B-school), straining at the leash, to find my 'first-ever' office and make my name in the corporate world! The address was ofcourse deceptively titled 11th Main, 4th Cross.

    When i asked around, i was told it would take me fifteen minutes from where i was put up, to reach my new office!

    Needless to say, i left a full 2 hours before 9AM (reporting time) and reached office at (i kid you not) 10AM. This, after multiple phone calls to the office line and speaking to a harried receptionist who very helpfully said
    '4th cross is after 3rd cross madam...just before 5th cross...right in between'. Not her fault! Apparently if I had asked her where 11th main was, she would have told me
    '11th main is just before 12th main, which is right after '9th' main from the main road'.

    'Ah...so that's why the main road abruptly cuts into 12th main after 9th main.' And here i was, wondering if 10th and 11th mains had disappeared!

    It took me several years of earnest pleading for my seniors to believe that i had not intended on making an 'attitude' statement that day by coming in 1 hour late!

    By Anonymous tprabhakar, at 8:39 AM, October 08, 2005  

  • A classic read, and u call urself the urban Junkie? ;) Have a wonderful week~~

    By Blogger arvindiyer, at 8:19 PM, October 10, 2005  

  • Anjali I loove your blogs and keep coming back for more..

    By Anonymous Ayesha, at 11:05 PM, October 10, 2005  

  • Anjali, did you ever figure out why the unfortunate K & P blocks were in a neat little package across the road from where they should have been? They were a wedding gift from a young bride (the developers daughter),to her husband, whose initials were K P !!

    By Anonymous a fellow sufferer, at 5:50 PM, October 14, 2005  

  • tara: yes, the strategic dissapearance of mains and crosses is another Bangalore specialty :)

    arvind: i guess I'm an optimist - I name myself the urban junkie in the fond hope that I will indeed manage to crack these codes and transform into one!

    ayesha: thank you :)

    fellow sufferer: welcome to my blog. and thank you for solving that mystery. It's good to finally get to the bottom of things, even 20 years later.

    By Blogger Anjali, at 8:50 PM, October 14, 2005  

  • uh oh..i've never been to bangalore, but ahem..i am a planner myself:D uh oh..

    By Blogger Shilpa, at 3:05 AM, November 01, 2005  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Shilpa, at 3:06 AM, November 01, 2005  

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