Coronavirus Lockdown: Why Children Parks Remain Shut?

India’s coronavirus lockdowns have had several iterations. From Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 4.0, as cases rise, so have the relaxations. However, as far as children are concerned, two aspects have remained constant. The first aspect is the push, rather the shove for online education/learning. The second is the continued closure of parks – open green spaces to play for children.

When I refer to parks, I neither mean the places with rides nor the places with slides/swings. The park might as well have these things. However, I mean parks as a place where children can chase squirrels, collect twigs, leaves, seedpods etc, roll and slide over the grass, snoop on the centipedes, and more. All these activities happen under the shade of trees accompanied by the light wind to ensure that there is no sweat even in this weather.

I fully respect the lockdown measures imposed by the Government. At the same time, I also feel that the easing of relaxations pertaining to children is not getting the importance it deserves.

A plethora of relaxations, but not one for the parks

The industries have resumed. All sorts of offices have started functioning. Trains, flights, buses, taxis, autos have started. All the shops are open. Resumption of liquor outlets grabbed the national headlines. However, the parks remained shut and continue to remain shut till day.

For reasons beyond my understanding, parks are spoken about by Government in the same breath as malls, theatres, religious places, restaurants, educational institutions (barring conducting of examinations) etc. All these places are closed and congested. Majority of them are air-conditioned. All of them require disinfectants to get rid of the coronavirus and all the other organisms.

In comparison, the park is open to air place. It gets sufficient sun-light as a natural disinfectant. There is enough and more place to maintain social distancing norms. Even then, a park is nowhere getting mentioned as a candidate for immediate re-opening.

A multitude of options for other relaxations, but not one for the parks

The Government has come up with social distancing norms for offices, factories, shops, public and private transport etc. In some states/cities, shops follow odd-even dates for opening. There is a safety SOP/protocol for almost everything. However, none exists for parks.

Similar to other relaxations, the parks could have also had their recommencement protocols. The park could have different time-slots for children of different ages. A time-slot of 6-8 am for children below 8 years, time-slot of 8-10 am for children from 8-10 years and likewise. The parks could have odd-even dates, odd for children with parents, and even for the elderly.

I mean, if there is a will, there could be a way for re-opening of parks. Just that, the Government does not seem to consider a park as an essential service.

The push for online learning, but not one for the parks

The Honourable Minister for Human Resources Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal, has been unequivocally prescribing online learning for children of all ages so that they do miss out on their valuable education. Every private educational institution has logged on to virtual classrooms for their students.

However, not one of them has advocated/spoken up even once for opening up of the parks. Seemingly, for them, the learning for the students happens only in the confines of the classroom, physical or virtual. They would not even consider parks as a recreational option for their students; else even for that the Cabinet Minister/educational institutions would stand up for its re-opening.

To be honest, even in the best of times, hands-on experiential learning in the lap of nature for children below 8 years was never an option in Indian educational context and it is not even now. Similarly, for children above 8 years, reinforcement of their classroom learning never happened in the outdoor context and it continues to remain so.

In nutshell, well-fed online education has many parents, promoters and care-takers. In comparison, a park is a mal-nourished orphan and continues to remain so.

Parental decision

The detractors of opening up of parks can say that children can contact the coronavirus in the park and pass on to their parents/grandparents. Why should they be put at risk? Spot on. For that matter, why should an adult go out for work, contact the coronavirus and put their children/parents at risk? Well, the adult has to work, everybody agrees. Well, the children have to play in open green spaces, nobody agrees.

There is every probability of things to go wrong, which anyways are going wrong, even without opening up the parks. Moreover, it has to be parents who have to decide whether it is safe for their children and them to go to a park. Why a nanny state is needlessly getting into these minute details and deciding on behalf of parents? This has lesser risk vis-a-vis much other stuff that the state has already opened up and put the entire nation at risk.

Summing Up

Coronavirus lockdown could have been an opportunity to resurrect the importance of parks in the growing up years for children.

Just that, there is no entrenched lobby to speak up on behalf of the children or the parks.

Mrugavani National Park: Feed A Sambar Deer For The Whole Day

Mrugavani National Park is recommended for a visit should your children/you can spend an entire day feeding one sambar deer. Now, one may wonder if feeding one sambar deer can be the sole purpose of visiting a so-called national park? Yes, it is. And, children can love the experience. Just that, it could have been a lot better.

Do not believe me? Read on. The below is basis the Mrugavani National Park visit in February 2020 with my five-year-old twin daughters.

The Area

Wikipedia page says that this national park covers an area of 3.6 square kilometres or 1211 acres. Telangana tourism website reiterates the same number. I suppose, 1211 acres have to be huge, really huge. Well, the visitors are limited to about less than an acre, or an acre or whatever, that one can walk through in 8-10 minutes, all possible directions.

No hard feelings, though. Nature is better left alone, away from humans. In which case, there is no point in going if the visitors are limited to such a small space.

The Flora and Fauna

Telangana tourism website informs that the park has been home to 600 species of plants and animals. It also mentions that the fauna is as varied as they come. It mentions about some animals as the most striking species for the curious traveller.

Well, they have to be taken at the face value. There is nothing to satiate the curious traveller, that s/he could walk in 10 minutes flat. Whatever trees that are present in the visitor area, none are named. Leave aside, further information about them.

My daughters asked me about the flora and fauna, that they were promised basis my google search. I told them that nature’s gems are better-kept secret. They asked back, then why are we here?

Jungle Safari, Watch Tower, Environmental Education Centre & Museum

We asked for the jungle safari. The driver told us that we will not be able to see anything apart from dry trees. In his suggestion, it was a waste of money and time. We dropped the idea.

We went to the watchtower. The steps were dilapidated and the railing was broken on both sides. It was not safe to climb for five-year children. We dropped the idea.

We went to the Environmental Education Centre. It was locked. There is a Forest Department office within the visitor area. Upon enquiry, we were told that the centre is opened only when someone asks for it. After some 10 minutes, it was opened. A person kept snooping behind us to ensure we do not know what. The information inside looked like a google copy-paste job, fit for a school project of 12-14-year-olds but not for the consumption of five-year-olds. After looking at some animal replicas, the children lost interest in 10 minutes, we walked out and the doors were locked again.

Wikipedia page mentioned a library, a museum, an auditorium and nature walk with guides. I suppose all these were hidden and locked from the visiting public, should they run away with them.

The children and I were getting exasperated.

The Sambar Deer

The girls noticed a sambar deer in the enclosure in the visitor area. They rushed towards the animal. The deer looked expectantly at them. The girls asked if they could feed the animal. I asked a staff person walking by. He shrugged his shoulders and asked us to proceed with leaves as food.

That was it. The girls started. They would have started feeding around 1030 or so. The next time, I looked at the watch, it was 1630. They went on and on and on. There were numerous leaves on the ground, they tweaked some leaves from shrubs, I pulled some leaves from the trees and that is all that we did for six full hours. I fed the children during lunch, and they fed the animal – breakfast, lunch and snacks, all rolled into one.

The sambar deer obliged for the entire time. S/he kept walking along the enclosure railing, but not even once went inside. The girls kept getting company throughout the day from other children in feeding the animal. The other children came and went, and B +ve and O +ve were nonstop.

The Children

It was tiring for me. But, for the girls, it was sheer delight. As an adult, for me, it was like can you please stop now? As children, for my daughters, it was like there cannot be anything better than this.

This is what and who the children are. I got them to visit the national park and all its paraphernalia. Not a single aspect worked, as promised. The adults screwed it up. The children found their amusement, what they ought to be doing as children, which we adults would never comprehend.

We left at 1630 as the guard pushed us out. It was Mrugavani National Park closing time, at 1700 hours.

The girls felt blessed to have got an opportunity to feed one sambar deer for the whole day.

What’s more to life than that?

PS: If it is more for you, please do not visit Mrugavani National Park, it is an outright dud. Trust the Government to be a complete killjoy by making it zilch experiential and ensuring that nobody takes any interest in knowing about the environment, leave aside the conservation.

Travelling In India With Children, Alone, Is Not For The Faint Hearted

India is not a place for the comfort and the safety of the elderly, infirm, differently-abled when it comes to travelling alone (though surely there are exceptions). So, when I whine about the issues faced by me as a father who wants to travel with my children – five years old twin daughters, I know that I come at the end of the priority order for the convenience expected.

Washroom

For the Girls: This is not about travelling per se. However, the fact is that travel cannot be done in isolation without an accessible and hygienic washroom. Finding a functional washroom is a task in itself. Even if I find one, I have realized that it is of no use for me. The girls are not at the age to use the washroom independently in a new place. Also, the washrooms are not designed to cater to the needs of girls going around with their father, alone.

For me: A man cannot travel alone in India with his young daughters and expect to use a washroom. The simple reason is that there is no place for his daughters’ safe-keeping whilst using the washroom.

Bus / Trains

The RTC buses in Hyderabad have back-door ear-marked for men and front-door for women. The seating is also demarcated – women in the front seats and men in the rear ones. With my two daughters, I fit nowhere. We did try to travel in non-peak hours in relatively empty buses. I realized that the steps are very high for the girls to manage by themselves. So getting in and out of the bus for us takes too much of time for the driver’s comfort and we just get honked out.

With people hanging out of the local trains, there is no way that we can even think of sneaking in.

Once I did successfully undertake a 3-hour journey in a train – general class 2S. Just that, I could not get in and get out of the train on my own. The trains arrive late and people rush in hoards to get in even before the passengers get down. Where is the place for a man with luggage and two kids in this mad rush? I have come to understand that unless travelling with a full-fledged family, Indian Railways do not welcome children.

Metro

Hyderabad Metro ferries 3 lac travellers per day in 800 trips in trains comprising 3 coaches. This gives an average of 125 people travelling in a single coach. So much for the profitability of Hyderabad Metro, not for a traveller other than an able-bodied adult.

 Auto

Due to the difficulties we face in travelling by buses and trains, autos are our go-to option. Hyderabad autos don’t work on the meter. When the auto drivers see a man with two young girls, they see a victim vulnerable, who can be taken for a ride – figuratively and literally, as they understand the option less situation that we are in.

Crossing the road

Hyderabad traffic police have declared Zebra as endangered species. Hence, for its protection, Zebra crossings have been removed at all traffic junctions.

I have my heart in my mouth whenever I have to cross the road with my children. Roads are too wide and the time allotted has gotten way less for crossing unless you are a 100 m sprinter, which we are not. And whilst we are racing across to cross and save our lives, there have hardly been occasions without a vehicle jumping the signal and coming straight for us.

Walking on the road

Whenever we are out, the girls prefer to hold my hand whilst walking which means that I have to keep them on my either side. This means that one of the girls is always on the side of the traffic and it is just so scary.

Arterial roads are not designed for even two people walking next to each other and here, we are three people walking. Even the main roads do not have the footpaths or wherever they are, it has been occupied by the hawkers. So, we are perpetually walking on the road trying to protect ourselves from the onslaught of vehicles.

Anyways, as mentioned in the beginning, we are the last priority and if our nation does manage to make what comprises travelling – washrooms, public transport services, roads, footpaths; truly accessible to the old and the differently-abled people, then we will surely suit ourselves in.

What is your opinion about travelling in India with children, ALONE?

PS: We have refused to buy a vehicle. Conscious of our carbon footprint and also not wanting to add to the traffic chaos, we have always been ardent believers of travelling by public transport. And now, I am just a father with twin daughters who finds it way too difficult to exercise our freedom of movement, safely and securely.

Every Walk With Children Is A Nature Walk

The most engaging activity with my twin daughters. The activity that never fails to amuse them. The activity that the girls are never tired of. Also, the activity that shows up my inadequacy as a parent. It is actually not an activity at all. It is just a walk. We start the walk outside the house and the activity begins – The Nature Walk.

Our five years old twin daughters do not go to any formal environment, not yet. We do not have a TV at home, either. So, what do we do? We just go outside the house and the girls keep themselves busy at least for an hour, if not more. We go out for running errands and we bring back much more than what we had gone to buy. Every time we step out, the girls make a new discovery or build further on their last. What is it? The Nature Walk.

To be honest, the girls do not even see this as an activity. They are not even conscious of it. They just do it. There is, after all, nothing better to do than this for them.

A Disclaimer: When I mention Nature Walk, Nature refers to any and everything that is not man-made. Nature does not mean that it exists in isolation, it is pure and pristine, it is difficult to reach. Rather, nature is any and everything around, that adults take for granted; at least I did earlier.

Clouds and Wind

Earlier, we stayed in an apartment on a busy main road. We used to go to the terrace and the girls had a great time looking at the clouds, their colour and shapes, their moving around and different hues of the sky.

The most under-rated aspect of nature – Wind fascinates the girls. How and why the wind blows? From where does the wind come? The wind also brings them their collection – leaves.

Trees and Plants, Any Vegetation

Large trees are few and far in between in big cities. Whatever and whenever we see, the girls keep asking questions about the trees and its eco-system: leaves, twigs, branches, buds, fruits, flowers, birds, insects etc. They collect whatever they find underneath the tree.

Not as much as trees, they have made great friends with plants around in our new neighbourhood. They find Beggars Tick in plenty and use their thumb to make it fly around. They love to swirl the Pinwheel flowers. Yellow Bells and Oleander flowers are a must to collect for them.

They love to eat Wild Sorrel. Also, to drink nectar from Ixora flowers. I was stunned the first time I saw them doing this. Later, I got to know that my wife, who runs an experiential travel firm – Dirty Feet, had taught them this.

 Animals and Insects

Again, like trees, animals in a metro city are hard to come by. However, moving around with my daughters, I have learnt that the fun and the size are unrelated. The smaller the animal/insect, the higher the interest levels of our daughters.

How long can one look at a millipede/centipede? The girls find them fascinating to keep a tab on them till they crawl out of sight. I never find a crawling creature on my own, but somehow the girls have a knack for finding them all around. Be it a snail, dung beetle, ants, spider, mantis, grasshopper, caterpillar and host of others whom I do not know to identify.

As soon as they see one, the girls take out their magnifying glasses to have a sneak peek into the lives of their discovery.

Birds and Butterflies

In our new neighbourhood, we do get to hear bird sounds once in a while. Though, sighting them is very difficult. Girls are learning to guess the bird from the sounds they make. Pigeons are the only birds they get to see in the city. No sparrows, no mynahs, no crows, no other birds; apart from their books.

The girls have a collection of peacock feathers. They are planning to make a dye out of blueberries and write with the feathers. Let us see how the plan unfolds.

The bumper prize – Sighting of the butterfly and running after the butterfly until it flies out of sight.

Stones and Pebbles

The girls have been collecting stones ever since they started taking their tiny steps outside the house. Whenever we go out, almost always, the girls come back home with a stone each in their hands, if not more.

The girls pick up stones from the footpath, from the road, from construction sites, from demolition sites, anywhere and everywhere. If we step out of the house twice in a day, then we have double the collection.

We have boxes and tubs filled with stones at our house. At times, I fear that municipal officers might levy penalties on us for our girls’ stone-lifting.

The Nature Walk

My wife and I believe that the nature walk keeps the child in our twin daughters alive.

I hope and pray that their fascination with nature continues. Fingers crossed.

Nature Appreciation: My Inadequacy As A Parent

A child asks interesting questions. Our twin daughters, B +ve and O +ve, are no different. They are inquisitive and curious to know about whatever they observe, feel, hear, smell and eat. This involves a lot of questions about nature.

Unlike a child, I, as an adult, take it for granted about the nature that surrounds me. However, for my children, everything is worth exploring, knowing and befriending.

I have to admit that I have no answers for their questions related to nature. I know zilch. My educational qualification says that I have completed 18 years of formal education. However, when it comes to identifying a tree, a flower, an insect, a stone, a leaf, a seed, whatever my daughters bring/show me – I am clueless to the core.

Leave aside appreciation of nature or knowing about it. I realize that I am unaware of the existence of nature herself.

The girls are just five years old. Their questions are no rocket science. They just want to know the basics of things around and I have no answers for them. I do take help of Google but the pace at which I am thrown the questions, I cannot match it. At times, I cannot even figure out how to phrase the question.

Come to think of it, unless for the questions of my children, I would not have even realized what I am missing out on and what I do not know. I see all these around me daily, I breathe around them, they breathe around me and I do not know anything about them.

I have realized that it is not just about answering the questions, my inadequacy goes even further. The girls collect a lot of stuff – fallen leaves and flowers, fallen buds and petals, feathers, stones, twigs, seedpods, dead insects; what all and whatnot, and I have no idea what to do with them. I know that each one of them can serve an educational purpose. Leave aside education; we can have lots of fun with them. I do not know that also.

I am trying to change and learn about my surroundings. However, I am not able to find any reference material. Whatever I find, limits itself to identification, that too is not at all user-friendly. Also, help for the identification of trees, insects, seeds and rudimentary details about them are very hard to come by.

I do not know how and why all the teaching material of children talks about maths, language and some weird thing called the environment. This environment has information on names of animals and birds, vegetables and fruits, vehicles and service providers. However, this environment is completely silent about what surrounds us – nature. There is no mention of what children encounter and experience around them for every second of their living.

I know where all the above is leading my children to. They are destined to become like their father – oblivious to their surroundings and ungrateful for the rewards of nature.

What would be your inputs on and about nature for my children and me?

5 Ways For Children To Enjoy The Train Journey

The very mention of the train journey leads our twin daughters to jubilation and excitement. B +ve and O +ve look forward to train journeys as if we are going to a second home. Their reaction is like the brand ambassadors of the adage – It is the journey that counts, not the destination. For their interest lies in the train journeys, like none other.

The Railway Station

Our children love going to the railway station. Leave aside our train journeys, we go to the railway station to wave goodbye and say welcome to any of the family members that cross Secunderabad railway station. We wave to not just departing family members, but to all the passengers looking out of their windows and doors, guard, TTEs, pantry staff and sundry.

Even though the train has departed/is yet to come, we loiter on the railway station inspecting the escalators, sweepers, food stalls, trolleys, large rats scavenging on the tracks, leaking water pipes, pigeons and crows, and of course the stray dogs. The girls do want to have a peek inside the engine but the government staff does not believe in giving hands-on experience to children.

At times, we have taken food from home and gone to the railway station to have our meal. It has been a worth-while experience for our children just being at the railway station.

The train journey – Outside of the coach

We used to travel in AC class when the girls were young. However, after they turned two years, we realized that they are not enjoying the view behind the glass. So, we moved to the sleeper class / general class.

Whatever the girls see outside the moving train – trees, flowers, fields, crops, barren land, hills, factories, cattle, people, railway stations, dried river-beds, sky, birds and of course the garbage that accompanies the railway tracks – is a topic for discussion. The children want to know about each and everything that passes by and why it is the way it is.

Whenever the train has an extended stoppage at any station, we get down acclimatizing ourselves with the new place.

The train journey – Inside of the coach

The girls love to walk through the compartment. They are not comfortable crossing the coaches yet. They make acquaintance with the fellow passengers and run around merrily in the walking aisle. As I walk behind them, people get to identify me as the harried father of the two bundles of energy.

The girls love climbing up the upper berth. As they monkey around – up and down the upper berth, I end up standing in the aisle for an extended duration so that they do not fall in the moving train.

No matter what the Railways claim about the bio-toilets and the cleanliness drive, the wash-room is a big thumbs-down from the girls. Unless it is an over-night journey, they would not step inside.

The vendors

The girls chant cha-chai coffee-coffee whenever the vendor passes by. We have tried out almost all the snacks – non-packaged and non-branded, bhel, vada pao, samosa, kachori, soup, cutlet, idli, vada and the local fruits that otherwise would not be available at our doorsteps.

The girls have seen the beggars at the traffic junctions. However, seeing the handicapped people sweeping the compartment and begging, women going around with medical files, people coming and singing yesteryears Hindi songs, eunuchs asking for money etc is a different experience altogether for the children.

At times, we have asked ourselves if we should change our mode of travel to shield our daughters from this experience. The answer has been – Indians ought to know India in all its avatars.

The games and the food

When we travel to my home-town Rajkot, it is a 28-hour train journey one way. All the above loses its sheen after the 18-24 hour time. Then, it is the time for the blocks, books, play-doh, activities that we carry along-with and of course the toys, that we buy along the way.

Needless to say, the children get hungry more on the train journey. We carry a good amount of food to keep their little tummies full.

Summing Up

Indian Railways is not at all an easy place to travel in with children. We have a tough time sleeping in the night with the two girls. The wash-room invariably stinks and the girls refuse to go. It was difficult feeding them and changing diapers when they were young.

Now, the girls are enjoying themselves in the train and at the railway station, come what may.

I suppose they have internalized the Indian Railways train journey.