Sometimes life is just a walk in park.
And sometimes a walk in the park can show you what life is all about. I came to this realisation late because until recently I would always walk with an iPod clipped to my pocket, its loud music drowning out every thought, blanking out the rest of the world. But one day, entirely by accident, I left my iPod behind and had to make do with listening to birdsong instead, and taking in the life that was unfolding around me.
And you know what? It was a darn sight better entertainment than the loud rock and cheesy pop that I had been listening to until then.
The first thing I noticed were the many different species of walkers that exist in this world. Those most in evidence, of course, were the speedsters who sped past the dawdlers on the jogging track, looking faintly exasperated at the existence of such laggards in the world.
They wore top-to-toe Lycra to indicate just how seriously they take their running. There was a pedometer in place to record their daily achievements as well. And of course, a lot of sweat, which they sprinkled liberally on those they powered past, almost as if it were fairy dust. Charming!
Then, there were the rest: office workers who had stopped by after a quick change of shoes to put in their mandatory 45 minutes of exercise; young mothers pushing prams and enjoying the respite from being stuck at home with the baby; middle-aged ladies in salwar kameezes who seemed to regard gossiping as another aerobic exercise.
There were the budding sports stars who get their heart rate up with a bit of jogging and then contort themselves into all sorts of impossible positions on the grass, all in the name of toning up; young children who have the good sense to eschew a brisk walk for a spot of volleyball, cricket, football, or even hide and seek; old white-haired gentlemen who end each perambulation by settling down on the park benches to reminisce about the old days.
But what I enjoyed most, as I veered off the jogging track to ramble aimlessly around the park, were those vignettes of urban life that exist all around us if only we ever bother to look.
There’s the old grandmother, recovering from an injury perhaps, dragging herself along on a walker. She’s accompanied by a young maid, who keeps a wary eye on her, just in case she were to take another spill. The two of them walk along in silence, together and yet apart. The image tells the story of a family, doesn’t it? The high-achieving couple who are too busy to supervise the rehabilitation of an ageing parent themselves. So, they outsource it to paid staff, telling themselves that it is all for the best. The ageing parent who knows that her kids are doing their bit to look after her, but is beset by loneliness nonetheless. And then, there’s the other story; of the other family. Of the maid, who has left her own parents behind in some village in Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh, to come to the big city and look after strangers, in exchange for a small wage, regular meals and a roof over her head.
Oblivious to all this human drama being played out around them are the assorted pairs of young lovers, looking to create a moment of intimacy for themselves in the most public of places. They position themselves strategically behind bushes or tree trunks, turn their backs on the watching world, and whisper sweet nothings to one another. The bolder among them go a bit further, until their furtive gropings attract the unwelcome attention of passers-by. One couple doesn’t seem to care who’s watching, though. They sprawl on the dewy grass, the man resting his head on the woman’s lap. Her hair brushes his cheek as she leans forward to say something to him. They giggle, dissolving into one another. And for that moment, the park – indeed, the world – ceases to exist for them. Young love.
And then, their little bubble is shattered as a terrifyingly large Labrador comes crashing down upon them, his owner in hot pursuit. The woman screams, the man starts shouting at the dog owner for letting his pet off his leash. And in the time-honoured tradition of all dog owners, the Labrador’s master announces loftily that they have nothing to fear from the animal; he’s harmless, yes, he really is.
What is it with dog owners anyway? Why don’t they realise that while they may regard their pets as overgrown babies, they seem like large, dangerous creatures to the rest of us?
I walk on briskly, trying to put as much distance between me and the frisky Labrador as I can. And as I amble to the exit, I am kept entertained by the snatches of conversation that waft past me. The two young ladies out on a power walk, weights attached to their ankles and wrists, fantasising about the first ‘carb’ they would eat once they hit their target weight. A couple in their 70s (he with a walking stick, she with a knee brace) gently bickering about what to get their grandkids for Diwali. A harried woman in her 40s barking instructions to her office about some papers that must be mailed tonight.
You know what, I think I’ll leave the headphones off the next time as well. Much more fun, this way.
From HT Brunch, November 10
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