Friday, May 16, 2008

How do paths get formed?

Babu George has given the following comment on my post Kerala photos: Village paths ‘One of my research interests ever has been the question of how 'paths' get formed. Who was that 'innovator' that treaded this path first? Given that paths are rarely straight lines even when there is a plain land between two places, what are the complex creative human urges behind the formation of a particular path? How does a vague and tentative path marked out by the first mover go through the approvals and disapprovals of the rest of the society and get its final shape?’

I consider this an interesting question. A man walks over a piece of land from one point to another. Some others follow the same route. Why? The first few who pass that way could not possibly leave a discernible track. But more footprints fall on the same route and a trail emerges.

Why do all those people take the same path? A few years ago there was, if I remember right, a relevant decision by the Kerala High Court in an easement right case. The ruling was that people tend to take the shortest route while walking on open land and that by itself does not vest any particular right on the users. This could mean that paths are formed at the convenience of the commuters.

Sometimes even on vacant ground one finds bends in a path. See the photograph (Copyright TP) below

You can see the path curving in the foreground. The reason is obvious. The way has to thread through the two coconut palms. Perhaps it was a straight line before the trees were planted. If the palms die out or are removed, will the curve still remain? It would, I think; people have a tendency to follow a set pattern.

On undulated surface how would a walkway emerge? Here also, would the convenience aspect prevail? Avoid the boulders and the steep climbs wherever possible? Compromise between the effort of climbing and the time factor would perhaps decide the trail.

According to me, the subject is fascinating. I hope that Babu George goes ahead with his research and in course of time we would have definitive answers.



Kat said...

I liked your thoughts on how paths get formed... long back I had read this poem... thought of sharing this with you.

The Calf-Path - by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made,
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ’twas such a crooked path;
But still they followed — do not laugh —
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
The road became a village street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare,
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed that zigzag calf about,
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They follow still his crooked way,
And lose one hundred years a day,
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move;
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah, many things this tale might teach —
But I am not ordained to preach.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kat, thank you. It is kind of you to share the beautiful poem with all of us.