Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The people in the park

There's a tiny park where I go to walk my daily 1-2 miles. It's not bad as municipal parks go. Given the ratio of open space to residents in Mumbai, it's predictably crowded enough that running (as opposed to walking) would be dangerous. I like people-watching there. Usually I go in the evenings. First of all, there are plenty of ladies, ranging from thin North Indians in gaudy polyester saris to heavy Gujarati matrons in cotton saris. A few young ladies in salwaar kameez, and many in burqas and headscarves as well. Some are leading kids by the hand. One led a kid, as well as supported an elderly man, apparently partially paralyzed, on her shoulder. A few women wear western or semi-western dress -- linen blouse, kurti, etc. Some wear gym shoes, some wear light canvas shoes (sort of like pumps), some wear chappals, and some are even barefoot. You can hear some of the women come up behind you, as their anklets jingle.

With the men, there's a similar sort of range in terms of age, class, and foot gear. This morning I saw five old paunchy men in khaki shorts, doing what looked like an RSS drill, but minus any caps and lathis. They looked rather comical. There were also people seated on the grass in a loose circle, doing pranayam. A slightly crazy-looking sadhu type was rapidly and jerkily doing uttanasana -- with his knees bent! It looked like a ridiculous waste of time.

The kids are mostly cute. In the eveings, when they are playing, they sometimes don't look where they're running. They often get in the way of the "joggers" (read walkers), but it's hard to get mad at them. Once I told a kid to stay off the running track so nobody would get hurt, but you can't do that all the time. They have so few places in which to be kids -- I recall that as a child I had this park, the beach every weekend, and all the summer hangouts with the mamas -- S. K. Patil Udyan, Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan. I sometimes see hawker-kids on relatively empty commuter trains, hanging from the straps as though they were Roman rings, and I really wish they had safe places to play in.

There are residents in the park, too. A black dog with a white-tipped tail, and four shy, scrawny cats who hang out on the steps of the pump house. Since yesterday, I've seen a skinny puppy too -- yesterday he was on the kerb outside, and today he was inside, asleep on a pile of dry leaves.

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