As per Wikipedia, a public park is an open space to offer recreation, it is a green space for residents with a playground for children as a common feature, among others. Having parks nearby urban residents within a 10-minute walk provide multiple benefits. Sounds innocuous, what can be wrong with this?
After taking my daughters to public parks on a weekly basis, I have concluded that public parks are a necessary feature in India to make adults out of children. These parks ensure that kids understand their surroundings and necessarily build their adaptability and coping mechanisms, at the earliest, for their survival in India.
Travel & Traffic
We stay in Hyderabad, which I suppose is among the 10 largest cities in the country. Our house is within 2 km radius of Secunderabad Railway Station, this would make it nowhere near the outskirts of the city but very well within the city limits. Yet, the closest public park is more than 3 km from our place. Girls have learnt that we have to take a ride for a minimum of 10-15 minutes one-way to reach any park, and have to travel in the company of the city’s burgeoning traffic and the consequent high pollution levels to spend an hour or two at a green space.
All the public parks in the residential areas in Hyderabad close at 10 am and reopen at 5 pm. They are actually supposed to close at 9 am and reopen sometime after 4 pm, but the park attendants are almost always late in executing these tasks. Why should the public parks be closed in the day-time at all? For what reason? Girls have learnt that public utilities in India serve their own purpose and are not meant in reality for the public, at large.
The play area for children does not take into account the population that it caters to. Most residential public parks will have two swings, one slide, two see-saws, one monkey bar and one jungle gym. Children at any point of time will far outnumber the available resources, similar to IIT seats. Girls learn that they have taken birth in an over-crowded nation.
Queue and taking turns
As the girls learn that the available infrastructure is less than the intended beneficiaries, they get trained to stand in queues, to take turns and to jump the queues as well for out of turn promotion. I am sure that very soon, the public parks will also equip them to push, shove and jostle around to get their way ahead – mandatory survival skills in our nation.
Difficulty in using resources
At any point in time in any public park, at least one swing will be broken or its chain will be in some sort of tangle to make it uneven. Slides come in all sorts of gradients to slide down, most of the time inappropriate for children below four years of age. See-saw will have either the seat or the handle to hold broken. Even the monkey bar and jungle gym will have some rods missing. Girls use their imagination and learn to make the most of the available resources – they learn “jugaad”.
Our imagination is limited to swings, slides and the likes, which are of course required. But, beyond that there shall be no open places for a free play or some other stuff like sand pit, mud pit, water pit or good old tree climbing. Girls learn to think out of the box within the box – more of the same.
Public parks do have trees but nowhere near the children play area. So, all the play area accessories, made of pure metal, will be too hot to handle in the Indian climate for most of the time. Girls have learnt to deduce that trees are for lip-service to environment, somewhere in some corner, and not for providing shade where it is required. Anyways, only a handful of public parks can really boast of trees like the banyan, neem, peepal, tamarind which offer a cool shade.
None of the residential public parks that we have been to have restrooms. Girls have learnt to have better control for most of the times, and at times, I have been shouted upon by elderly park patrons for making a public toilet for my daughters behind a tree. Now, please tell me, how is it expected to have 100% control for three-year-olds? But I suppose, it is about time for my daughters to learn that their country expects them to hold on to, whatever time they are in public spaces.
Indian public spaces do not encourage special children to come out and enjoy with their peers. My daughters do not get to learn that there are other children also with whom they need to take the initiative to share. Compassion and empathy are not necessarily associated with us, as Indians, and non-inclusivity of public parks ensures that children learn this first hand.
Once the sun sets, children find it way too difficult to handle the mosquito menace at the parks. I have never been able to figure out why the municipality cannot make adequate efforts at mosquito control. Girls learn that once the evening sets in, it is better to get back to home. And in another 4-5 years, they will also learn that it is not just the mosquitoes, but the security set-up in India as well that requires women to be at home after dusk.
The most favourite activity for both the girls is running and jumping. We stay on the 3rd floor and the girls are restricted to indulge in their favourite activities because of complaints from the neighbour who stay below us. Even at public parks, they are not able to run and jump as there is hardly any place for them to walk without getting trampled upon.
At an overall level, my daughters learn that access to green public spaces is a privilege in India. Even after you do reach the so-called green space, you need to be an innovator to make use of whatever is available. And there will always be a push from behind.
Welcome to the Indian way of life, my dear daughters.