It’s 7am on a Sunday and Cubbon Park is unusually abuzz for a weekend morning. Amidst the picnicking families and aspiring photographers is a group immersed in ‘slacklining’ — an activity that involves graceful acrobatic moves on a slack rubber line tied between two supports. Similar to tight-rope walking, slacklining is just one among the many ways in which the people of Bengaluru are using the serene environs of Cubbon Park to reclaim their right to public spaces. Theatre, stand-up comedy and yoga are the other activities on the list.
Joel Louzado, a self-proclaimed ‘slacker’, declares Cubbon Park one of the best venues in Bengaluru to try your hand — in this case, feet — at slacklining. “On weekends, there are quite a few lines up, and a bunch of us practising. We were initially worried whether it was safe for the trees, which we use to secure the lines. We then discovered tree protectors,” he says.
Blank Noise, a collective committed to building safe spaces, recently organised a ‘Meet to Sleep’ event at the park as part of its larger campaign ‘I Never Asked For It’. At the meet, a group of women — all participants are called ‘action heroes’ in Blank Noise lexicon — came together to nap. Catching forty winks in public is not uncommon for the Indian male, but few would associate it with women.
Jasmeen Patheja, founder of Blank Noise, says the act of women sleeping in a public space creates a new visual and memory, which “puzzles and even raises questions from passersby.” While they napped, a security guard came to tell the women to stop because it wasn’t safe for them. “We explained that we are safe, and questioned where else could we find such beautiful green trees to sleep under, thereby initiating a conversation that made him see and understand our side of the story.”
It isn’t just the ‘sleeping’ who have been scrutinised at the park. Bardolators of Bangalore, a group that recently performed Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at Cubbon, was met by curious onlookers and a brief inquisition by the security. “Their concerns were about whether we had obtained permission, and were making money out of the performance. When we explained that it was free, they sat down and watched the play along with our audience of close to 50 heads. It was good to see them make an effort to understand what we were trying to do,” says Shruthi Chandrasekharan, an actor with the Bardolators.
Cubbon is also the stage for a bunch of stand-up comedians who try out new routines in front of a floating audience. “Sometimes it’s just three of us taking turns for 10 minutes each,” says Aamer Peeran, a comic who recently moved to Bengaluru. “Even if there are few people around, I stand on a bench and announce that we’re starting the show and begin my set. People get curious and drift toward us. It’s like busking, except that we use jokes instead of music.”
In mid-March, a group called Yoga Mat-ters led a charity-driven event to raise awareness and encourage funding against child trafficking. The event saw 120 people spread their yoga mats at a tree-covered spot in the park to be guided through the arduous task of performing 108 suryanamaskars .
Radhika Chaliha, co-founder of Yoga Mat-ters, is in awe of the park’s ability to satiate so many appetites. “Even if the park is crowded at times, it’s a great green space for Bangalore. I do acro-yoga as well as conduct free-of-cost sessions for the Mat-ters. I’ve tried slacklining here, and the slackers have joined our yoga classes. We always try to clean up the area we use,” she says.
Officially known as Sri Chamarajendra Park, Cubbon regularly makes it to Bengaluru headlines for good and bad reasons. Safety of women is a major concern, as is sewage water from offices and restaurants around the park. Morning walkers have also proposed a ban on the entry of vehicles on weekends and public holidays.
So far, no official hurdle has come in the way of those using Cubbon for group activities. Despite several proposals, no entry fee has been introduced by the authorities.
The person in charge of Cubbon Park, Mahantesh Murgod, deputy director of horticulture, says, “We aim to keep the park free and we want to ensure that it is kept clean. The only restriction is the ban on commercial activity and the collection of money. We are open to everything else.”
(Tara Rachel Thomas is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru)
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