Public Parks in India: 5 Parental Observations

We have been visiting public parks on a regular basis. This has led to the post of Public Parks – A 10-point survival guide for children. Also, the post of 5 must-do activities for 4 years in Parks. As I keep visiting the parks often with my twin daughters, I keep realizing a few perplexing issues which as a parent, I myself, am not able to comprehend. The issues relate to what the public parks connote and stand for.

Food:

This issue has been cropping up in high-profile public parks – where the foot-falls are high. Since last 6 months or so, we are getting stopped at the entrance by the security and told to deposit all the eatables at the baggage counter. Now, staying in a park for a period of 2-3 hours, at the minimum, means that B +ve and O +ve are going to ask for food. So, we always carry a good amount of home-made snacks. Now, we are being told that we cannot carry it inside. I have tried to reason out with no avail. We have been told that there is enough food stalls/food court inside to feed my children.

I am not able to decipher this. Is the Government running a public park or a multiplex? I suppose people go to parks to focus on their health. If they want to munch something, they would want healthy snacks and not the run-of-the-mill samosa / pakoda / french fries etc.

Food has to be a matter of choice in a space like public parks. Here, it is getting imposed on the visitors that they can only have from the food stalls inside – which is not at all reasonably priced and more importantly – unhealthy.

There is no way to argue or reason out with the mighty Indian State. Hence, we have decided to stay away from these public parks. Now, we only go to the public parks which are not in the limelight, where the rule of not allowing the outside food is not enforced.

(If the Government is not allowing food inside the parks on the pretext of protecting the environment, they need to apply to the food stalls inside too, and also to the food vendors that roam all through the park).

Children not allowed in the mornings:

This is another peculiar issue. We have been driven back a couple of times from the entrance for coming before 8 am. The park opens at 5 – 6 am, but only for morning walkers. The reason given to us is that children disturb the tranquillity of the place by making noise, so the morning walkers get disturbed. Hence, the children are allowed only after 8 am.

Children seem to be the lesser mortals.

Complete lack of interactive/experiential set-ups in any of the Parks

Once inside the park, the girls want to know the name of each of the trees, flowers, insects, seeds, birds – basically whatever they come across. My inability to answer my daughters for their queries inside the park is leading me to wonder why the park cannot have a name for each of the trees mentioned nearby, for each of the tree parts and also for the insects roaming in the parks.

Why cannot we have a nature-walk on demand / a person who can answer questions about the park and its inhabitants, the upkeep, the history? What all can be done in the park area and what it contributes to the society at large? Too much to ask, I suppose.

Leave aside this as learning of basic science, this is where I believe the inquisitiveness of a child gets killed and s/he becomes what we are.

Whatever is put up, minimum 50% will be unusable

At any point of 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. The height between the ground and the slide would be such that two-three children can fit in. 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”.

Of course, no means to raise any complaints about these to anybody.

What are you doing in a park?

The girls are asked the perpetual question. What are they doing in the park when they should have been in the school? Well, they have not even turned four. People expect them to be in school all the time that they see them. To be honest, when we are in the park, there are hardly any children their age.

For me, the question needs to be flipped around. The children need to be in the parks. If they are not, the question needs to be raised – Where are they? Rather, we are being asked – why are you in a park?

I suppose I need help to figure out what the above observations imply.

5 must-do activities for 4 years old in Parks

Indira Park has been a favourite destination for O +ve and B +ve since their first year. It is not close to our house, yet the attraction of the greenery all-around and the complete freedom to wander makes it a preferred outing location for the girls, almost once every 2 weeks.

For the last 3 years or so, the girls have made their acquaintance with quite a bit of the park space. As the girls turn 4 years old, I have listed down the 5 time-tested must-do activities for B +ve and O +ve in Indira Park that makes it a much-loved place for them.

Chasing the squirrels:

The girls are in awe of the hop and running, getting up on the tree, running after each other, standing up on hind-legs, putting food in the mouth – whatever the squirrels do. They want to participate in each of the squirrels’ routine affairs and run behind them to be a part of their team. Alas, no squirrels have come to terms with their idol status with the girls. They jump and run away to protect their space to themselves.

It is O +ve’s fervent desire to caress the squirrel’s tail. Needless to say, she has been a complete failure in this task. Yet, she pursues it with total commitment each and every time.

Rock climbing:

Almost twice a week the girls tell us that we should take them out for rock climbing. I am unable to understand from where they get their fascination with rock climbing.

Before you visualize that there would be large rocks in Indira Park to get the rock climbing enthusiasts going, it is none of the sorts. Indira Park hardly has 8-10 rocks, most of them 3-4 feet in height. Our little rock climbers scramble on these rocks from all possible directions and claim their supremacy on reaching the summit. The descent is by sliding down the rocks into the sand.

Snooping on the Centipedes

A wild-life in any form is sure to get the girls excited. None better than a centipede. Like an eagle that can spot her prey on the ground from the sky, both the girls can catch a sight of centipede from a distance. They are occupied tracing the movement of centipede on the ground, following the insect all along till it decides to get swallowed into the ground. The girls have actually tried counting the legs of the centipedes but to no avail.

The girls have not been brave enough to hold the centipedes in their hands. The day they do it, we are sure that they would want to bring it home as their pet in their small flower pots. BTW, a snail is also as charming as centipede to the girls.

Collecting leaves, twigs and seed-pods

This is a major activity for the girls anywhere and everywhere, particularly in the parks. They carry their nature bags with them and start hauling their collection once they step into the park. They understand not to pluck the flowers from the plants. Hence, their attention has always been on dried leaves, twigs of all shapes and sizes and seed-pods lying on the ground. This collection gets used for their colouring activity and other arts and crafts everyday stuff at home.

The girls want to know the names of each and every tree and seeds and flowers and fruits, how and why a leaf’s design is what it is – what all these should be called. I realize with each of their questions that I am no good in my botany or biology.

Rolling and Sliding over the grass

The girls engage in this activity when they realize that their sojourn in the park is coming to an end. It is a pleasure to watch the girls rolling in sliding in the grass without inhibitions – unabashed.

The best a child can be.

It is not that these activities that can be done only in Indira Park. Any of the public parks with a green space to run around will suffice for the 4 years old girls for their 5 must-do activities.

A joy to watch the 4-year-olds at their best.

PS: Public Parks also double-up as a survival guide for children by teaching life skills.