On the other side from his home on Puttusami Pillai Street, was his Ajji's house. And that's where he headed for lunch everyday after school. But today, he just couldn't cross. After what seemed like hours, with his stomach rumbling with hunger, he dashed across even though cars were speeding by.
"I saw that!" said Ajji sternly, when he entered her home. "That was a very dangerous way to cross." Manju sighed. Yes, his heart had been in his mouth when he'd run across but how long could he wait for his lunch?
A few months later, the police decided Puttusami Pillai Street would become a one-way. Ajji thought it was a good idea. Manju would be able to get to his lunch faster. But one-ways just meant that cars sped by faster. So poor Manju had to wait longer on the kerb for a chance to cross…sometimes, even half an hour, with Ajji peering anxiously out of her window all the time.
Then, the BBMP decided that the only way to ease the traffic on the busy road was to build a fly over. Ajji and Manju thought that a great idea. All the traffic would 'fly over' their heads and leave them in peace. But, before that peace arrived, a fleet of bulldozers moved into the crammed lane. And once they got to work, digging up deep trenches for the pillars of the flyover, Manju couldn't cross the road running between Ajji's house and his, AT ALL. He had to walk down about a kilometre, cross the road, and then walk all the way back to Ajji's house. And then, since his tuition teacher lived next to his own house, he walked the 2 kilometres back, making it just in time for his class.
A year later, the flyover was finally ready. But when Manju and his friends eagerly set out to play cricket under the cool shade of the massive concrete road above their heads, a crew of gardeners arrived from the BBMP. The Mayor had decided that all areas under flyovers would be parks. And to protect those parks from 'mischief-makers' they would be fenced in and locked. So Manju could neither cross the now-safe road for a quick lunch, now could he play cricket there.
"Oh, but there'll be flowers!" said Ajji excitedly. And peace and quiet…after all those years when traffic roared past their front doors. But those flowers never bloomed.
With no sunlight ever touching the 'gardens' below the fly-over, the plants soon wilted. Then the night trucks began to arrive…dumping rubble in the vacant areas where the garden ought to have grown.
Soon, Manju couldn't even see Ajji's house across the road. The piles of rubble had grown so high! Tired of walking nearly 2 kilometres to and from lunch, Manju begged Ajji to move into his family's home. Which is what she did, renting her home out to a medical store.
Years later, when Manju came home from college, his home had vanished. The City Corporation had decided that the Puttusami Pillai flyover had been a Grand Success. So traffic from adjacent lanes could be directed to it. That meant building a few more ramp-like bridges connecting the side roads to the flyover.
The Mayor said that in the name of progress, a 'few houses' would have to be demolished to make way for the ramps. Manju's home was one of the 300 houses broken down on his side of the road. And Ajji's was one of the 280 broken down on the other side.
So instead of taking Bus Route 18 D to Puttasami Chetti Street, paying Rs 14 from the Central Bus Stand, Manju found himself following his father into Bus Route No 88.
His father paid Rs 50 for each of their tickets to a locality he'd never heard of. "At least it's quiet, son," his father said, looking suddenly old and tired.
"Yes," thought Manju, grimly, "but that'll only be till the next hungry flyover comes to gobble up our lives."