The road to nowhere

The residents have to be content with the promise of completion of the project soon and have convinced themselves that something is better than nothing

Gulf News

I noticed with dismay the dismal condition of the roads in many parts of the city. I was told by many long-time residents that they had given up all hope of this problem being addressed anytime soon despite letters to newspapers highlighting the need for remedial action.

Many of these roads in residential areas had become dust tracks that perhaps an off-road enthusiast might delight in. As vehicles of all shapes and sizes traversed these paths, there was a perpetual haze of dust that settled on buildings and the faces of commuters on two-wheelers without discrimination.

Then one day I noticed a change. One of the main roads in the area where I was staying had acquired a bed of gravel lengthways along one side. I was told that this was in preparation for the actual repair, but there was an underlying sense of pessimism. The gravel had been lying there for months and, instead of being crushed by a machine, it was left to motorists to do the flattening.

There was no closing of the road as there was no alternative route. So traffic continued to ply on the thoroughfare while the gravel was slowly ground down by the assortment of vehicles using that road. I admired the patience of residents who seemed to have resigned themselves to the fact that they were in for a long wait. The authorities in charge of the project were obviously in no hurry to bring in the heavy machines when the job was being done by commuters. As I watched and waited, hope of the actual resurfacing of the road taking place took slow flight.

I compared this lack of progress to the situation in Dubai where new roads seem to come up overnight with little disruption to traffic. I remember driving to work there one afternoon and being stumped by the new configuration of roads on my return journey at night.

Then one morning I was awakened by the sound of heavy machinery. Unable to believe what I had just heard, I scurried to the window and was greeted by the welcome sight of workers in action. A worker held a can full of tar and ran a distance, spilling the black liquid on the gravel. Someone commented that the tar had been watered down and would not be effective for long. I noticed several other workers wearing slippers and walking on the tarred surface. I imagined their surprise when they found themselves tethered to the ground.

However, they had no difficulty in tackling what could have been a sticky situation as the diluted tar was no deterrent. The road roller then went back and forth over the tarred stretch but no effort was made to block that section to traffic or pedestrians. A few hours later, the machinery and workers had disappeared and I wondered if I had dreamt it all.

A few days later they were back and the procedure was repeated. As an afterthought, three orange cones were placed on the road for a short while. A while later the men and machines left and the newly tarred stretch gleamed in the sunshine. But there were many unanswered questions such as when would the whole road be done and why was this being done piecemeal. The residents have to be content with the promise of completion of the project soon and have convinced themselves that something is better than nothing.

I admire their optimism even as I wonder if I will soon join their ranks, happy with whatever is done in the name of progress and accepting the situation if nothing concrete is accomplished.

But I do hear the voices of activists rising, demanding answers and accountability. So all hope is not lost.

Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.