Friday, December 22, 2006

Inclusive, exclusive

Roads, to me, are about connecting not just places, but people. And if I had to pick just three things that changed human history, they would be fire, the wheel, and the knowledge and development of roads (I know, there are plenty to choose from, but still). Roads started off as trails, which animals (and humans) used to frequently. With the knowledge of engineering (“the wheel”), roads became better.

And soon, they became the greatest means of communication and exchange of ideas that ever existed. Rome built an empire on the strength of it’s roads, till all roads lead there. The grand trunk road built by Sher Shah from Bengal to Afghanistan in the 15th century is still thriving today. The roads of the silk route allowed trade, science and religion to grow across Asia.

The growth of roads are typically accompanied by a splurge in development. First some one opens a gas station. Then a refreshment stand, or a restaurant pops up. Then some one opens a little garage next to it. Then some one else decides to open a convenience store right next to it. Soon the town is booming. People and ideas pass by, and the town learns from all of it.

Beautiful.

That fantastic animation studio, Pixar, used this simple concept to come up with the excellent Cars. Route 66 means a lot in American history. It was the road that connected the east to the west, Chicago to LA. It linked the country.

And then something happened. The interstates were built. Roads, which were meant to connect people, and link towns, somehow started bypassing them. Thriving little towns were literally “missed” by the interstates, and as people sped from one place to the other on the interstates, the little towns were lost, and almost frozen in time.

Cars, of course, is a classic old fashioned movie. But it hits home. As we rush by on the interstate, thousands of people are simply left behind. They know there is change, and they know that they are missing out on the change. But there is little they can do to remain linked to that change, and that rush towards progress.

A metaphor for a lot of things perhaps.

I appreciate the interstate freeways, but there certainly is something to be said about roads that link people, and not rush by. And I hope as India booms, there will be constant efforts to link people who are being left behind. Inclusive, and not exclusive.

(And go ahead, take a moment and watch the inimitable Nat King Cole sing Bobby Troup’s route 66)

5 comments:

Vi said...

I loved that movie myself--funny and had style.

Anil P said...

Roads can link, as well as de-link people. They could link to others but with others coming, they could de-link them from themselves. That is if we believe that identity of an individual is derived as much from self as with how the self relates to its context - the environs.

Sunil said...

Vi....I'd say it's not pixar's best, but excellent in general. "Heart warming", as the cliche would say.

Anil.....a good point. We're always a part of our environment.

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