The Menace of Slow Walkers

The train is scheduled to arrive at Currey Road station at 7.34 PM and leave for Thane a few seconds later. It’s 7.20 PM now and I have just left my office building in Lower Parel, all poised with shoelaces tied tight so that I can walk briskly and skillfully manoeuvre the potholes on the road and hands-free as I like to be all the time. I take a right from the exit of the building into the noisy roadside market and bam! I see the first of the type of people that is only second to the other menacing type of commuter people (the 4th person on a Mumbai local seat) you find in Mumbai: slow walkers.

I bump into several more after that first interaction, taking me more than 10 minutes (compared to the otherwise 5-minute dash during non-peak hours) to reach the station, and I end up missing the train. Of course, I can leave 5 minutes early from work if I really want to catch that 7.24 Mumbai CST-sourced train but that’s not the point of this rant. So, let’s focus on slow walkers, some of their most nefarious qualities, and why I think they are a threat to the society at large.

Slow Walkers in Mumbai City

For a long-time walker and public transit commuter like me, the existence of slow walkers is something more than a source of irritation. They are a menace to the existence and forward-movement (literally in both life and on the road) of fast walkers simply because they slow everyone around them down.

a mumbai street
How many slow walkers can you spot in this Mumbai street? / Creative Commons

A true slow walker is someone who obstructs traffic by walking at a pace lower than the average. There are several reasons why someone would be tagged a slow walker. Reasons like short legs or short strides (both usually interchangeable), simultaneous use of mobile phones or headphones (usually also making the wearer look like a nut), talking on the phone while chewing the microphone to death by bacteria, talking to another slow walker, moderate or heavy activities like munching on a burger, looking for a cell of an atom in the bag, daydreaming, and voluntary slow walking. The last one, and so it sounds, is the most annoying of all.

I haven’t gone beyond Palghar, so I don’t know what the situation is in other countries. Hence, I will talk about and for the Maximum City alone. In Mumbai, slow walkers do not realise that they are moving slowly and testing the patience of everyone currently behind them and who will be behind them in the next few seconds, not even when a fast walker overtakes them. It is pretty normal for them to take their own sweet time to wherever they are going, which makes me even madder. But that’s the case if you leave them alone and go past them without giving them the eye or a scoff.

In the case you do, you are sure to receive an invisible expletive or two, possibly in the natural cursing tongue of the city specially used for emphasis: Marathi. In Lower Parel, you may also get an English “Dude” or “Relax” or their Hindi equivalents. It’s also fascinating to see the facial expressions, a lot diverse and nuanced than those by the people who pay good money to their teachers to ace one or two as part of their Bharatanatyam course. None of them are appealing to hear, if you hear that is, because as a fast walker if you are not hitting a speed of at least 4 kilometers per hour, you are in the middle of the spectrum. And no one writes about you.

Mumbai’s slow walkers, I feel, may not be much different than those found in New York or Beijing. Of course, the congestion here is extreme and that might add to the anxiety of individuals. The only difference that I assume makes sense to point out here is that they are not just present on the streets in the forms of students, daily wage workers, beggars, beggars in a suit, Grofers delivery guys when they are on foot, government officials with the trademark black boxy side bag, and loafers to name a few but are also found higher on the vertical plane. Be it metro stations or skywalks that will break down tomorrow, cause a few casualties, and then closed down for repairs or office premises in highrises, slow walkers have marked their presence and they will pull off their same slow-walkedness with unparalleled panache and audacity. Try sprinting from your desk to the loo and you will see what I’m talking about.

A crowded Mumbai street
This is an example of what I see in front of me every day when I leave from work. / Creative Commons

According to the TomTom Traffic Index 2018 which surveyed 403 cities across 56 countries on 6 continents, Mumbai is the most crowded city with a congestion level of a startling 63%. To put that into perspective, I require an extra travel time of 63% to go from A to B in the city than it takes on an average to do it in uncongested conditions.[1]TomTom methodology: An overall congestion level of 36% means that the extra travel time is 36% more than an average trip would take during uncongested conditions. (https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/about) The difference is huge if I calculate the total extra time needed for an entire year and then place it alongside other data like the number of steps, number of kilometers walked, and the money spent on my imaginary gymnasium membership.

The Quality of a Slow Walker

A slow walker on the street is like a founder of a multi-level marketing campaign. They are themselves a blemish on Earth but then conspire to create a little gang of lesser blemishes that are collectively not doing any good to the society. Do keep in mind that such campaigns target both gullible persons and intelligent persons and they manage to convert both types. A slow walker, in sheer semblance, slows down both other slow walkers as well as fast walkers. It’s the perfect analogy.

Their quality is so contagious that the moment you come in contact with them it stops being their quality and starts becoming that of the people they affect. Take, for instance, the slowness itself. You come across a dozen of slow walkers strategically placed across the path to your destination and you bump into each one of them, hindering your pace and eventually delaying your arrival at the destination. The slow-walking quality of the six people on the street has converted into the slowness of your own strides which at once were so praise-worthy you could have won an amateur sprint race.

They also add to your exasperation, not just at the thought of reaching your destination late but also at being handed a speed breaker without solicitation. It is like those Ola and Uber drivers who have their vehicles installed with speed limiters. They can’t go beyond 80 kmph and that adds to the annoyance of the drivers as well as those that they are ferrying (sometimes without the other more essential safety standards, I should add). Ask me!

Meeting a slow walker on a Mumbai road is particularly annoying because most of us fast walkers follow a pre-determined line of path like those sprinters do in a running track. We mindmap and follow this track to avoid potholes, puddles, animal dung, relatives, and many other unpleasant things. Bumping into a slow walker means changing this track abruptly, and once that happens, you have lost your planning. The road ahead becomes an open sea of bitumen and concrete and plastic without a plan or a map, making you look like a fifteenth-century sailor out on the sea hoping to become Amerigo Vespucci. Safe to say that I now add slow walkers to that list above.

The above situation worsens if you are out there during peak time. Conditions around railway stations in Mumbai are far worse and I personally hold a record of meeting 13 slow walkers one after another outside Lower Parel station as if the whole universe is trying to conspire against me despite me simply wanting to reach where I want to be and having read the book.

In Mumbai, another variation that you see is of slow walkers in groups. Those are the worst because you can’t even give them the eye for there is the risk of being manhandled. Not much difference in a group of civilized people and a group of uncivilized people in India. These are the hard times and any group of more than two people pose a risk to an individual and other groups of more than two. Such is the complementing atmosphere colored by the recent effervescence of nationalist politics in the country. If you are a woman, things will almost surely go south because then there is also the danger of someone out of that group flashing at you or executing a more unpleasant activity or engaging in a crime like it’s routine stuff.

The streets are definitely not safe and we all know that. We don’t need one more element that makes it inhabitable.

A Threat to Society

Well, I know what your first thought is. And I agree. Slow walkers are not a threat to society. They are just innocuous beings trying to come in terms with their inability to match the average speed of streetwalkers. And the blame is not on them. It’s on us. On me.

So much rant about people walking slower than you. If such a small thing can demand such a long article, then there is a lot to introspect about where my anxieties and insecurities lie. If it takes me 10+ minutes to reach from A to B instead of 5 minutes, why is it affecting me so much? Where am I going so quickly? Of course, not to summit a peak strewn with garbage. Then what is the hurry? Why so much animosity towards my fellow brethren?

I think it is time to ask ourselves why we hate slow walkers so much and then scramble for an urgent solution to put all of it to an end. Chelsea Wald at Nautilus thinks it’s got to do with our dwindling patience levels, but she does not provide a solution. So, let me try.

a man in a hurry
If I was in a hurry and had the obnoxious habit of walking on an escalator, this would be me / Creative Commons

The easiest and the best solution is to not be in a hurry. Do half the things that you have planned for the day and then take a break in the time that you had allotted for the other half. Stipulate more time for commute and do it like you would do the waking-up chore on a lazy Sunday. As far as I know, none of us wants to be in a hurry nor there is a task that needs an urgent action.

Tomorrow, leave from work at the same time as you usually do and put a relaxed gait forward. If you have been catching the 7.37 PM train, try taking the 7.47 PM train. I never thought I would say this but the only way to stop hating slow walkers is to gradually become one. Start now.

PS – The good thing about the article is that no one identifies themselves as a slow walker. So, this cannot be seen as a direct attack on them. I’m not looking forward to receiving death threats considering the over-sensitive atmosphere that has blanketed India since 2014. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. TomTom methodology: An overall congestion level of 36% means that the extra travel time is 36% more than an average trip would take during uncongested conditions. (https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/about)

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