The Dingy Road Taken

A routine reporting assignment last Tuesday saw me traversing the length of Chennai from quaint Taramani to the hustle and bustle of K.K Nagar. My destination was the Commissionerate for the Welfare of the Disabled, where I hoped to get a quote from the designated official regarding a recent development affecting the disabled community in Tamil Nadu.

With the trusty Google Maps App as my navigation companion, I steeled myself to bear the scorching heat of the noon as I set off. A half hour of driving amidst the dust and heat saw me nearing my destination. I parked the scooter at a decent spot in the shade and set out on foot.

The directions dictated that I had to turn into a lane towards the left and go 100 metres before reaching the office. But as I neared the lane it seemed to be anything but a perfect spot for a government office. It had ramshackle houses on both sides with a distinctly dingy look as the lane progressed. Not wanting to take anything at face value, I stepped across a puddle of waste and cautiously walked on. I should’ve realized that I was in the wrong lane when I started eliciting quizzical looks from the people, which meant it was unusual for anyone even as moderately dressed as I was to step foot into their colony.

I glanced nervously at Google Maps. It showed the office plumb to the right of where I stood. I looked up from my phone only to behold a dilapidated house that looked like it hadn’t been inhabited in decades.

I felt a tap at my shoulder and a bearded, middle-aged man asked me what I wanted. Though his bearing wasn’t threatening, his question was worded in a very slow manner, indicating suspicion. In broken Tamil, I explained to him as best as I could that I was looking for the Commissioner’s Office, tapping my leg to indicate disability.

He replied asking me if I was looking for a hospital for the disabled, which he said was right around the corner. I again repeated my question, this time carefully enunciating my words. His confusion was cleared when a lady behind him said, “I know it, the Commissioner’s Office is inside the hospital compound. This fellow does not know a thing about this place.”

The man quickly regained his composure and exuberantly said, “Oh that! Sure I know the place! There was a road to it through this colony. It was shut a few years back and that gate has been fenced off!”

I was thankful that my navigation wasn’t too off. The man offered to guide me around the corner, and I accepted.

“That gate was closed because the people of this colony started creating a lot of issues. Y’know, this colony is notorious for murderers. Y’know, the hack-for-cash kind. Several men were picked up the police. Myself, I’ve done 10 murders so far!”

I had to will myself to not stop in my tracks. Ignoring the incredulous look on my face, the man bid me goodbye with a cackle and a wave as he crossed the road. I wondered whether he had been joking or telling the truth.

 

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