Through a park, hand in hand

Janice Pariat | Updated on April 26, 2019 Published on April 26, 2019

A fine balance: Being in a park involved being communal, in a public space, but also being on one’s own   -  The Hindu

It is in its lung spaces that a sprawling and crowded city is at its most gentle, accepting self

Ever since I started work on a new book earlier this year, I’ve been wondering: How do writers keep fit? All that sitting, being sedentary, for hours, years, can’t possibly be healthy. How does one keep at bay the dreaded writer’s bum? It doesn’t help that gyms disquiet me — all those mirrors and space-age exercise machines — and that I vowed I was done with running after years of waking up at dawn to prance around a field in boarding school. I wasn’t about to spend a thousand dollars on a treadmill writing desk — there is such a thing, I swear — or a hundred on a balance ball chair to encourage “active sitting”. And while I happily partake of at-home yoga sessions (almost) every morning, I found this wasn’t quite enough. It was time then to do the very Delhi thing of going to a park to walk. Admittedly, I found the thought of joining legions of uncles and aunties on their determined evening march a little embarrassing.

Hadn’t I vowed at some point never to do this too? No matter. We lived in a house with three parks near us. There was no excuse.

I chose the largest. A DDA (Delhi Development Authority) park, sequestered in a corner of Sarvapriya Vihar, edging the Ring Road, though thankfully buffered by trees against the traffic.

On one side an open lawn with a children’s play area, in the middle a bandstand, and lush tropical-esque tree cover, and on the far side a clearing with worn grass and benches. A cement track snaked its way all around the park. And so, with the help of an app called “Map my Walk”, I walked. Those were winter days, with short, swift evenings, and cold, which was why perhaps the park was mostly quiet. This, I had to admit, wasn’t too bad. It was pretty under the trees, and in the flower beds, marigolds were beginning to bloom. I listened to music, thought about my book. If I found running unsustainable, walking was definitely less so. First, I began to recognise the dogs, taken out for a walk by the help. A couple of eager beagles, a fluffy chow chow, a flat-faced bulldog, and the usual parade of Delhi favourites, Labradors and Golden Retrievers. Mingling, I was happy to see, with the friendly colony desi strays, Julie and gang.

Then, I began to recognise the human regulars.

Twin sisters, with bouncy curly hair, walking, always on their phones. A young specially-abled girl, with her nanny. An old couple who sat on a bench under the trees. A hippie in his flared cotton pyjamas and colourful kurtas. An inexplicably well-dressed elderly gentleman with a beret, also diligently doing the rounds. Over the weeks, I too, for them, must have become a regular.

As winter receded, out came the couples. Snuggling at the bandstand or on benches, sneaking in surreptitious kisses. Students, probably from the coaching centres in nearby Kalu Sarai, lounged around on the lawn, with their guitars and strong-smelling joints. Children gathered at the swings and seesaws. It felt like something coming back to life. My favourites were the aunties — in their saris and salwars and sneakers, who walked around and then spent the rest of their evening chatting in a circle. Sometimes, there were corporate workers, out of place in their shiny shoes and suits.

In time, I also glimpsed a man and his dogs who looked exactly as I’d envisioned one of my characters in a story from Boats on Land, the unnamed narrator in The Keeper of Souls. How strange and wondrous. I’m touched also by the sight of an elderly gentleman helped on his stroll by his son, and another septuagenarian in swanky shades and a dashing silver-topped walking stick. These days I regularly pass an earnestly running dude in a t-shirt that proclaims EVERYDAY (sic) IS A GOOD DAY FOR A RIDE and a young girl who wears sweaters on her run. I’ve started saying hello to my character from my story. I smile at the nanny, and ask her how she’s doing. I’ve dodged dog poo, squashed mulberries, picked up fallen flowers, found a bouquet of seed sleeves, and marvelled at the way light filters through the leaves. Sometimes I sing Blur’s song, ‘All the people / So many people / And they all go hand-in-hand / Hand-in-hand through their parklife.’ It’s true.

Here was a rhythm of life all of its own. It involved being communal, in a public space, but also being on one’s own. The curious position of inside and out at the same time. Here we all were, emerging from our caves at the end of day, from our vastly different lives, sharing a patch of open land in a vast and teeming city. Something about it felt precious.

I hadn’t before realised how parks were for the vulnerable — the aged, the young, the specially abled. That amidst harsh urbanity they could be gentle, accepting spaces. Regardless of receding waistlines or weighing scales, here we could all share in a bit of soul.

Janice Pariat   -  BLink


Janice Pariat is the author of The Nine-Chambered Heart; Twitter: @janicepariat

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Published on April 26, 2019
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