23 October 2003

Not Wordsworth

Only those people who have been to Little India, or lived in the Northeast in late 1999, would know what's going on... But I'm interested to know what others might think when they read this too.

Notes: final revision.

Lines composed on a bus in Little India, during a traffic jam on my way home, October 1999

Is the city an architectural space
or an afterimage of our constant motion?
We recognise urbanity only in a traffic jam.

We dragged Little India into modernity.
Its settlements hastily torn down,
the residents labelled squatters and redistributed.
Today, a commercial space of ethnic products
for the Indian community.

The traffic jam is a totally random
yet regular feature.
A persistent epiphenomenon.

Little India is a one-way street.
Migrant workers alight at Jalan Besar
whose Chinese-run motor parts and home decor stores
neither invite or entice.
The visitor crosses the road
into the no-man's land of the red-light district
and magically appears in Little India.

Once, being a pedestrian was a subversive act.
Migrant workers disregard the 'do nots' of walking:
They jaywalk, creep into the bus lane, ignore traffic signals;
stop at road junctions, on the pavements, in the open fields.
Little India is a true pedestrian mall. Unlike Orchard Road.

Because they loiter, or maybe because they wander,
migrant workers are dangerous and vaguely criminal:
Bright fluorescent lights and security cameras
shall drive them away from the jewellery shops.

No matter, we will curb them:
fences to keep them off the road
hired coaches to keep them out of public buses.

This is all history erased.
There are no migrant workers in Little India.
They are transported safely, 20 to a truck
from their quarters to work and back again.
Nevermind it violates their basic safety,
we now have a world-class traffic system.

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