Humour: Life is a walk in the park!
The last fortnight, I’ve been walking around with a halo over my head. My friends prefer not to engage with me at all, for when I speak, I extol the virtues of Joggers’ Park, the patch of green curving around the Carter Road seaside. Many a childhood evening have I spent sliding down its gentle slopes, which now seem tiny as speed bumps. Having rediscovered a childhood place, I’m amused to see figures from the past still thundering down the mud track, as if avoiding the taxman, or their ex-lover’s current love.
It’s a sorry fact that any talk of green spaces these days is generally in the context of environmental degradation. And so, this old private park, now under the charge of the local municipality, seems like a special grace. The ducks seem decrepit, and the clocks never work, but the sea is still doing its sea thing, seducing strollers into taking another round, if only to catch a view of the stunning crepuscular sky.
Where there is a park, there is people-watching. I’m especially captivated by one walker, who has the skills of a master strategist. Strolling gently around the track, his pace suddenly quickens, and he launches into a spirited run, just as he is passing the lady conducting her Tai Chi classes on a grassy patch. When he leaves her range of vision, his pace slackens once more. Then there is the old regular, sitting on a bench facing the sea, erupting in unholy laughter, swinging his hands wildly.There’s a lady who accosts women acquaintances while they’re mid walk, pushing visiting cards their way, peddling services ranging from wedding clothing to catering. And a group of businessmen animatedly discuss rising and falling stocks and rupee rates in between chants of ‘Hari Om’.
I’ve left my footprints in a few parks around the country. The nap under a Chinar tree at Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar, after a meal of rista, gushtaba and tabak maaz at Ahdoo’s restaurant, is a feat that I have never managed to replicate. At Cubbon Park in Bengaluru, I was somewhat less lucky: let’s just a say a man sitting on a bench facing mine should never have been doing what he was doing. And this in broad daylight, with a posse of women cops nearby. It’s not strictly a park, but I’ve had the good fortune of stepping on the hallowed grass of Eden Gardens in Kolkata a few times. And a rose garden in an Ooty guest house, with two resident beagles, took me straight into a Gerald Durrell world of furry paws and glistening petals.
Earlier this year, I was blown away by the trippy Rock Garden of Chandigarh. I had been hearing about it since I was little, but somehow I had imagined an artistically arranged assemblage of stones around little bushes. How wrong I was. One Nek Chand Saini, a government officer, began to build this absurdly beautiful sculpture garden in 1957, using industrial waste and other unconventional materials. From walls made up of disused plugs to installations made out of recycled ceramic, the park’s form and message is both playful and political. A singular and whimsical artistic achievement, especially for our over-commercialised times.
Shakespeare in the Park
While lying in the garden that faces the Eiffel Tower recently, neck raised at a nosebleed angle, my mind raced to the cities of the world that I associate with their green spaces. I revisited a beautiful evening spent watching Shakespeare in the Park in Singapore, where a friend had packed a picnic basket straight out of Enid Blyton. (My contribution was a can of ginger beer, which I duly spilled on her excellent blanket.) I relived the splendid Garden Route that runs along the eastern and western cape of South Africa. And I could almost taste the supermarket sushi I wolfed down one distant afternoon in Hyde Park.
The thing about parks is, you see people letting their guard down. (An unfortunate metaphor, given my Cubbon Park experience.) Back in Joggers’ Park, I see people walking their elderly, and often ailing, parents. Kids being tended to. Old friends laughing on park benches. Juicy gossip trickling down the track. And the ocean, like a persuasive bartender, urging you to enjoy one last round.
From HT Brunch, September 15, 2019
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