The Disappearing Children’s Parks that are making a comeback

Update as of 21 January 2010

Children’s parks in Indian cities have always been the last places where children go to play. It is usually found in places that are difficult to access, closed during the daytime, have very little grass cover to protect the delicate skin of children when they stumble and fall while in play, don’t have any meaningful play equipments, except iron frames of what they should be – for e.g. a rectangular iron frame that could pass off for a football goalpost, minus the net, though it actually should have had swings on it; or short iron stumps in the ground with some dangling pieces of wood or iron bars across its top – which in its heydays would have been a see-saw. The practically barren pieces of land are most often infested with pests like mosquitoes and flies and vermin or meeting grounds for stray dogs and their feline foes, and in their midst you could find a few human couples cosying up under umbrellas or dupattas, Indian scarves for women. Amongst this neglected part of civic life, I was surprised to find an island within the island city of Mumbai which is actually child-friendly. This is a little attempt, with corporate sponsorship and patronage, of course, at converting a barren piece of land near the seashore into a lively place for children to have a whale of a time. The entry is restricted to ticket holders only and security guards frisk through bags carried in to ensure that no eatables are taken in; a bid to keep the place clean and safe. The green oasis is very child friendly and caters to different age groups in separate sections of the park. The developers have obviously kept the theme simple and ensured that all sections only have simple playthings that let the children be themselves. No electronics, or fancy gaming zones, no noisy inter-galactic wars or racing motor-bikes on video screens; just pure unadulterated fun that children love. To keep the spirit of adventure alive, they have a few deviations though, like the nature trail that showcases some exotic plants and a marauding rhinoceros that chases a hunter up a palm tree (a very creative exhibit); and a shark that has just been caught and slung on a pole for all to see, its razor-sharp teeth stained red; a result of a battle that ensued before it was caught; and cute little hippos that peek out of the lawn; or a lazy crocodile that warns the park visitors to keep off the grass. A fantastic place to take the kids to and a great place for the grown-ups too; this is a place that will make you want to become a child again; even if it is to stand on the raised platform for your turn to go on the simple slide.

The D Boyz behaved like little children today, waiting for their turn on the crowded Slide on D Street. So they stayed on the platform, but were fidgety moving forward and taking the SENSEX along at 100 points below till it was their turn to sit and slide down. That happened at around 12:30 pm and thereafter, they just went sliding down and squealed and shrieked and made all the noise they could. And it was a long slide that took the SENSEX down to almost 440 points down until at the end, like all slide rides, one slips off and then slowly stands up to dust off one’s backside and move aside; so the SENSEX also dusted off its backside and regained composure at 423 points down – closing at 17051. Some people said that the SENSEX moved down because the slide was made by a Chinese manufacturer; while others argued that some Large & Tired company did not have good news; while a third suggested that the local Bhelwala, popular Mumbai snack vendor, had spiced up the snacks outside the park enticing everyone to step out for a quick bite. Whatever the reason, it was just another day for the D Boyz at the park and they went back to their childhood and enjoyed the games and slides. They will bounce back tomorrow and forget their fall, just as little children do.

Following this example, another park opened up in Central Mumbai, this too by the seaside. Although, the monsoon tides did damage the compound walls and some play equipment mid-2009, the garden still looks spiffy and attractive. Some changes in cityscapes, like these ones, are always welcome, so what if they are crowded or have an entry fee.



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