Aimless Walking: An Act of Revolt

I hadn’t realised how much I liked walking until two years ago, when all movement was restricted. Initially, when the lockdown had just started, I wasn’t even allowed to go downstairs to take a walk in my society garden for the fear of contracting the virus.

I had understood this fear and had obeyed my parents. Later, when I was allowed to go downstairs to take a walk, I felt so free.

With each step I felt as if I was in-sync with the world; as if the world had missed me just as much as I had missed it. Every day I began my walk by listening to The Beatles’ ‘Free as a Bird’. The wind blew fresh on my face, the sky seemed to have come a little closer and the leaves of trees rustled as I walked past them as if it was their way of welcoming me back.

I felt content as I took these walks every day. There was nothing else I wanted, no desire in me for something more in that part of my day. I knew that I enjoyed walking so much because at that time of the pandemic, it was the only time of the day I could move my body a little.

But I also knew that there was one more reason I enjoyed these walks so much.

The reason was that I had no objective in my mind when I went on these walks. There was no purpose to the walk. I had to go nowhere, I had to be nowhere, I wasn’t even walking because of its health benefits. It was just a walk. Nothing more, nothing less.

Also read: Walking in the Times of Corona

Two years later, now that I’m about to graduate and have more or less accepted that in a capitalist society, a man’s worth is mostly defined by the income he generates (Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman), my feelings towards walking have only consolidated.

If you’re only getting out of your house to go to work or to university or school, then somewhere subliminally you’re telling your mind that this professional relationship is all that you share with the outer world.

If your interaction with the outer world is limited to the commute to your office/university and back, then you may start to feel that this is the only aspect of your life that matters in the outer world. After all, it is only when you’re commuting for this professional duty that you’re interacting with the outer world.

This cyclic routine pushes forward the capitalist notion that your professional identity supersedes any other social identity that you might cherish. Questions of ‘the meaning of it all’ become easy to pop up in our minds if we feel like we’re only making our presence felt when doing something related to work.

Living this life every day can feel almost dystopic and may even introduce feelings of severe existential dread.

The antidote to this for me has continued to be aimless walking. When after coming back from my obligatory commute, I step out for a walk without a purpose in my mind. I’m building a different narrative between me and the world.

I’m telling myself that I don’t have to have a professional goal or purpose in order to just interact with the outer world. In fact, I don’t have to have any purpose whatsoever. The world is always out there, ready for me to go and interact with it.

This is the same reason why films like Before Sunrise where people just go on aimless walks for hours, work so well. They feel like a reminder that there is more to this world than work.

Even my favourite vacation memories have been from Mall Road in Shimla. No vehicles are allowed on this road and so once the sun sets, all one can see on these roads are people taking a walk on this street with their loved ones with no apparent specific purpose. Just seeing what the world has to offer.

In a society that is so occupied and obsessed with value generated per unit of time, an aimless walk almost feels like an act of revolt. It becomes a statement. A cri de cœur against the identity that capitalist society builds for you.

So, I take my walk. And the world continues to welcome me with a fresh breeze and sounds of rustling leaves because both the world and I know that what we have between us is more than just professional.

Mikel Dufrenne put it better than I ever could: “We are made for this world and the world is made for us.”

And I’m sure we are made for much more than that commute to and from work.

Shrey Shantanu is a student of Calcutta University. When not watching films, he can be seen taking a walk or reading a book.

Featured image: Frank Busch/Unsplash