“Modern” Salem


It has been more than a year since I relocated from Chennai, to the small City of Salem in Tamil Nadu, which is near my native Sembiyanoor Village, Bommidi, Dharmapuri District. I settled here, after having ‘lived well and in style’ in Puerto-Rico (USA) and the big cities of Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Gurgaon/ Delhi – prior to the Chennai stop-over. Luckily, I had squirrelled away my earnings sufficiently enough to buy a brick & mortar house in Salem – for commercial gain – never once imagining that I would ‘settle down’ (that’s a much used word in these parts) with my life’s inventory and spread myself vertically in the second floor two-bedroom Flat. The Apartment holding the Flat, is located in quite a serious, law conscious neighbourhood: near the Collector’s Bungalow, beyond the District Courts and Central Prison, on the road to the nearby Shevaroys Hill-Station of Yercaud, which does message me some cool evening breezes and offer Technicolor sunrises! It’s not a Flat any longer: it’s now a place called Home!

Salem derives its name from the fact that it is surrounded by, or among, Hills on all four sides. It is said to be the birthplace of the ancient Tamil Poetess Avvaiyar: maybe, I should search for any roots to a possible poetic ancestor? Salem is also the home of the once famous, now defunct, Modern Theatres, where many a Kollywood Tamil movie was successfully shot: especially the James Bond and gun slinging Western kind. There is even a River called Thirumanimuthaar naughtily flowing through Salem, which is now one great open sewer stream!

While studying in boarding School, at Yercaud, I had to find base at Salem to climb the hills, kissing the twenty hair-pin bend ghat road – there being no other approach, at that time. Salem is well-connected to most parts of Tamil Nadu, and the Country as well!

I found that Salem was still stuck in the small city syndrome, refusing to grow-up: narrow roads – barring a few broad-way ones; open sewers; a congested people-infected-lake-turned-into Bus-Stand; a busy Railway Station; dingy superbug infested Hospitals; Less-than-5-star Hotels & Boarding Houses, a choked 1st & 2nd Agraharam, Bazaar prime shopping area; railway crossings with hardly any flyovers; cattle grazing or sleeping on the roads; and, the typical Indian traffic crawling slowly on all four legs. People seemed to be everywhere, collecting and shipping off bits & pieces, like an army of ants, except that there was no sense of orderliness. On the positive side, there is a half-hearted waste collection system in place with ever overflowing green garbage bins, and stiff ‘keep Salem clean – this is your City’ hoardings, and a work-in-progress underground sewerage system! Cheers! This sure is some sign of future greatness?

I’m no Town planner or City designer, but I believe that a City is primarily meant for people, to move around effortlessly ‘on their legs’, without obstruction; and, clever infrastructure – in every dimension – to complement the walking. How do you modernise Salem? I shall start with one skeleton solution and pad it up with a few more to give it some flesh and muscle. This one thing that could bring about remarkable change, is to build PAVEMENTS, pedestrian walkways – like crazy – all over Salem, wherever you can, and especially on the streets where there is scope for people to hustle & bustle. We must construct large pavements to guard both sides of the street and squeeze the automobiles giving them just the tiniest possible space to ply in single file, or at best, in a two-way drive. A great City should encourage people to walk: it would keep them fighting fit!

There isn’t one decent pavement – except maybe around the Collector’s Office – to speak about, and the few ‘attempted sidewalks’ you can find have been hacked either by animals or temporary pavement Vendors and permanent Dwellers, or simply made unusable with earth and dirt dumping.

Now, the padding: Parking space is hard to come by and the traffic Police have brilliantly put up ‘No-Parking’ Boards (typically, 50m either way) on almost every area, where you wish, you could naturally park. Let me give you an example: Whenever I come over to shop in the Agraharam Bazaar, near the Old Bus-Stand, I park my car in the Corporation Paid Parking, in front of the Fort Temple, on the banks of the River Thirumanimuthaar – perhaps the most noisome region of Salem – where you can experience the heavenly sounds of just about everybody either “passing the one’s or exiting the two’s, aiyho! (it has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary). A holy collection, I swear! I then walk to the Bazaar, through the Town Police Station, the front of which, if sufficiently policed, can serve as a clever parking area (with free security by and of the Police); we can also build a futuristic vertical! Further, we should provide well-marked and controlled small distributed parking spaces for the two and four wheelers, wherever there is space, to fit them without mowing down the walking pedestrian.

The next is the flesh & muscle, actually a bundle of three applications to keep the pavement concept alive. First, cleanliness – with garbage bins placed at vantage points and collection religiously monitored. Second, superb public transport – Buses best suited at this stage, stopping & starting in clock-wise precision, only at pre-determined Stops and with fully closed doors  – to feed the shopping and commercial business areas with the public transport Terminus’s of the Bus-stand(s), Town Railway Station and City Railway Station. The objective should be to discourage private vehicle movement. Thirdly, efficient & handsome policing, with the citizen made to mindfully respect every signal and zebra line, without honking, and prevent the pavements from being occupied by stationary men and hard-to-move beasts. Without strict discipline, even the best-laid plans may go awry and the Police should be called to duty on enforcing this one, with a stinging whip!

We should be able to beautifully thread the leg-walking with the wheeled public transport system to get to anywhere in the busiest part of the City! Modern theatrics can come alive again to make Salem a smart City!

Footnote: The picture at the head of this essay shows the busy 1st Agraharam Shopping area, hobbled with Street Vendors occupying nearly 50% of a seemingly broad street. They should all be sent packing for illegal-occupation of the tax-payer’s territory!

Noise, sourced from automobile honking, and the Loudspeaker menace emanating from the ‘Houses of Religion’, are my other favourites topics, which need to be vanquished, if not throttled to make Salem peaceful. Then, there is the need of the city oxygen-generators of parks and greenery; and, maybe a statute of poetess Avvaiyar, along with some artistic ones thrown in, to beautify the City. I shall visit this in another essay! Meanwhile, let’s pave the way for a modern Salem!




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