I live right next to the famous Shivaji-Park in Mumbai. I go for a walk to the Park every day in the early morning. I take two rounds that takes a good 45 minutes. I walk at my own pace.
Generally, most people simply walk, they don’t seem to look around or listen. To most it’s a “ritual” to be performed as asked by the doctors or by the wife.
I walk with music in my ears. I have a good collection of albums on my iPhone. I generally listen to the oldies of the period between 70s and 80s. Dire Straits, Beatles, Kenny Rodgers, Elton John, Eagles and the like. This reminds me of my Hostel 7 days at IIT Bombay and I feel nostalgic. Sometimes I put on the option of “shuffle”. This gives pleasant surprises like suddenly encountering your “old flame”.
I see almost the same people who walk like me every day. Some are friends and some total “strangers” but yet “familiar”. When I see someone familiar, we smile and wave hands – probably just to acknowledge. This kind of “acknowledgement” makes you feel good. You feel “connected” to the world as somebody not known notices you!
I see some folks walking vigorously. These are serious walkers who wear straps on their wrists to monitor the steps taken, time elapsed, calories burnt and record the blood pressure. Some run in a group at the outer periphery of the Park. Generally, the “instructor” leads the “convoy” with a strap on the forehead. Watching them run, makes me feel energetic.
People who walk with my pace are not many. I guess they must be having couple of stents like me and so not racing their heart beats. We are the cautious walkers.
Some walkers wear fancy or expensive Tee Shirts with funny slogans or punch lines. Some wear University Tee Shirts to flout. Like University of California Berkeley, Columbia University etc. You can make out that these folks have come for 2 weeks’ holiday in India mainly to meet their aging parents. They wear high quality shoes that I feel jealous about.
Shivaji Park has two well-known temples – one of Lord Ganesha (known as Udyan Ganesha) and other of Goddess Kali. These two temples are next to each other. Most walkers take a detour and stop to pray and receive the “blessings”. I too stop at the temples every day. Sometimes I hit the timing of the “Aarati” (chanting of prayers with lights) and you feel nice.
Then there are folks who sell freshly prepared herbal juices and sometimes healthy snacks (like sprouts and hot idlies). I see many of the walkers flocking there on a routine basis. For the comfort and confidence to the customers, they use mineral water in preparing the Juices.
If you want to learn about news that does not appear in the morning newspaper, then it is a good idea to sit on the “katta” next to the primary school of Balmohan Vidyamandir. A rather special crowd sits there. Here you get to listen to all the “secret” news, rumors that you could trust and some bold and independent opinions. Most of these folks who speak are ex-Government (generally the Head clerks), Bankers (mostly cashiers) or people whose kids are settled in the United States and have left them all alone in Mumbai.
Shivaji Park Katta
I admire walkers who have disability due to a paralytic stroke or a polio from birth. These people despite all the difficulties take rounds every day. They almost crawl sometimes but continue to walk with a determination. Watching them makes me feel strong that nothing is impossible.
There are young couples who walk together every day. They talk when they walk. They look like the Double Income Category. I feel that this is the only time they must be getting to chat and in privacy especially if they live in a joint family.
Few walkers come with their dogs. Some dogs go wild when they come across each other (as if one belongs to the BJP and other Congress). They put their “masters” in great difficulty to control, tame or convince and stop barking (fighting).
Then there are walkers who are on their mobile phones all the time. Every 100 steps they complete, they receive a phone call that they cannot resist. I see them stop under a tree and get into animated conversations. I pity such people.
At some locations around the Park, we see the “malishwalas” (people offering oil massage). Many walkers with big bellies sit on a wooden bench enjoying the oil massage on their calves and knees. I see them siting in a trans or a bliss.
Each walker has a unique style of walking and I try to “read” them to identify the “bird” or “animal” behind them. If I forget carrying my iPhone, then such experiments with the science of “phrenology” keep me entertained during my two rounds.
There is a small garden in the Park called as “Aji-Ajoba” (means park for the grandparents). I see there people above the age of 60 years sitting inside. They read newspapers and have a hot cup of masala tea courtesy a sponsor. I now fit in this category but I haven’t yet ventured getting inside the Park. I don’t want others to know that I have now crossed the age of sixty. But one day sure I will.
Just last month, I came across a girl in the late twenties wearing a smart sports attire – a hood Tee shirt and three fourths shorts. She looked athletic and walked or ran at a pace three times of mine. Watching her move in a rhythm with hair bouncing made me feel healthy.
While crossing me over in one of the rounds one day, I saw that her handkerchief fell down from her pocket. She didn’t even realize that this had happened. I picked up the handkerchief as I was trailing behind.
When I saw her in the next round, I waived and stopped her. “Your handkerchief” I said while handlng over.
“Oh” She said “Thank you Uncle” (When she called me an Uncle it simply “bled” my heart). I said “my pleasure” (or I muttered something to this effect)
After that “encounter”, she started acknowledging me whenever we crossed each other during my walk. Sometimes she would only smile or sometimes she would wave. I used to look forward to seeing her (like in the movie the Joggers Park) and feel terrible if I missed her due to wrong timing…
One day, I saw her sit on a wooden bench under a tree tying lace of her shoes. She waived and stopped me. “How are you Uncle today?” she asked. We got into a brief conversation.
She told me that she works as a System Analyst for Tata Consulting Services. “Such a drab job” she said.
I told her about the work I do. She looked very excited when she learnt that I work in the field of environment. “Wow, Uncle, this must be really a fantastic field to work. I wish I could” She sighed. I thought she was pretty serious.
As she was ready to get up and resume her jogging, she looked at the tree above and asked me “Uncle, what tree is this by the way?” I had never expected this question.
I realized I knew nothing about that tree although I crossed over every day. But I didn’t want to show my ignorance. “It’s an uncommon variety of a mango like tree” I said this in a casual tone and in ambiguity like a politician. “Oh, I didn’t know that there were Mango trees in the Shivaji Park” The girl said this to me with all the innocence but a face – rather mischievous ”. She got back to her jogging.
I felt miserable. I was sure that the girl was sharp enough to see how “hollow” I was when it came to understanding the “basics”.
I decided to get a friend who knew how to recognize the trees and walk with him for a good round in the Shivaji-Park.
A thought came to my mind – how many walkers and environmentalists know enough about the ecosystem around the Park they walk every day? Do we ever bother?
I guess we shouldn’t be just taking a walk in the Park. We should be looking around, and observing the trees- and sometimes even stopping to listen to the chirping of the birds.
I conceived a program captioned “Not Just a Walk in the Park” (NJWIP) in 2006 to give people a new perspective on the urban parks they visit and teach them more about the natural environment by conducting sessions packed with fun, interactive activities. The first such program was conducted at the Kamla Nehru Park in Pune, India
NJWIP is designed in a manner where the participants get introduced to each component of the park ecosystem including the soil, plants, trees, flowers, birds, insects, butterflies and so on. The hope is that they understand their role as individuals as also the role of the community to act in terms of conservation of this precious yet undervalued resource.
Objectives of NJWIP are
- Bring citizens out of their technological world closer to Nature: specifically, Trees & Urban Biodiversity.
- Help participants learn about different species of trees, their importance and the significant role trees play in our lives.
- Help citizens understand their individual role as well as the role of community action for conservation of this precious and undervalued resource.
My not for profit organization Ekonnect has conducted five such events in three different parks of Pune city in which more than 100 children from various schools and institutions of Pune have participated. We trained Teachers from 22 schools and provided them NJWIP kits.
With an aim of bringing people closer to nature in Mumbai, NJWIP was held at Pramod Mahajan Park, Dadar on 13th March 2016 from 7:00 am to 9:30 am. Click here to read the Mumbai report of NJWIP
Do get involved in NJWIP and you won’t get embarrassed like me when questioned by a girl you admire!
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