I was up early – just by chance. I looked out of the window. The sun looked like a red dot on Indian woman’s forehead. Like bull’s eye. The silhouette outline of a local temple against the just-woken-up sun was a tempting site. I could see early life beginning to wake up – a driver cleaning a car, and a glimpse of a jogger through dense green cover of trees of a nearby park.
It had been three weeks since I used my running shoes. In fact, I wasn’t even carrying them on this overseas trip. As such, going for a run was not an option. But the temptation to go out for a walk was. It was coupled with the desire to discover the local park.
I put on my sandals and came out on the road. The park was just across. The thrill of experiencing something for the first time comes along only once. And I was excited for this first time.
As I stepped through the narrow gate of the park after giving way to five walkers on their way out, I prepared myself to negotiate narrow walkways with fellow walkers who would usually be engrossed in their phone conversations.
The sound of birds was pleasant – the quiet noise that usually precedes the ruckus that birds create once all of them wake up. This chirping of birds was the sign of early risers. It matched with the early walkers’ hustle. At that early hour of 6.45am, I could see about a hundred or more park- users. Yes, park users, not necessarily walkers.
The temperature, at 21 degrees, was closest to the minimum temperature of the day, and was a comforting precursor to the mid-thirties heat that the day would bring.
A couple of guys stood along the walkway, while another one used a long stick to reach out and break the baby-branches of a mature tree. One of them was removing the leaves from the tiny branch that they had just snatched from the tree, and the other was using the bare stem to brush his teeth. Indians have traditionally used neem tree sticks to brush their teeth. As I walked past the group, I was overtaken by two walkers – both had the neem branches sticking out of their mouths.
The walkway was unwinding like a telephone cord coil. Now I was walking below the Metro train’s overhead bridge which went diagonally across the park – almost a kilometre stretch.
There was huge banyan tree along the walkway, which provided shelter to a dozen pictures of Indian deities, adorned in marigold flowers and saffron paste. There was a man standing on the stone platform that went around the tree. The man was pulling a rope out of the ground. It seemed there was a well. At the end of the rope was a plastic bag. I could only assume that the bag contained water from the well, but it had some black contents in it.
Along the walking path was a homeless man, hiding in the knee-high grass that surrounded him. He was oblivious to the park users around him, and had an ease on his face that indicated that he belonged to the place while all of us were outsiders.
The walkway was now finished, but people kept walking on. So I followed them on a rough path. I was admiring the length of overhead train flyover that ran as far as I could see in both directions. Fortunately, I returned my gaze to the ground just in time to dodge what seemed like dog poo. The occurrence became more frequent as I followed the trail and saw a couple of teens giving in to nature’s call.
The untamed path was short-lived and I was soon back on tiled path. By now, I could not see where I had come from, and where I was headed. The trees around me had created shelter from urban concrete. There was a bit of a plain land on my right, which was occupied by 15 to 20 teenagers enjoying a game of cricket.
Along the way, few individuals and groups were practising yoga. This sight was familiar. I had seen it in earlier parks that I had visited – middle-aged men and women struggling to complete a posture of yoga. The joggers’ frequency was on the rise, but the walkway was wide enough to comfortably pass fellow walkers. I walked past a few tiny shades that resembled road-side slums of Mumbai. It seemed the park’s caretakers lived in those ‘houses’ that were waist-high and could only provide protection from the sun. The walkway was now shared by half a dozen stray dogs. Like the homeless man, the mutts were there to take a break from the mad-rush that existed beyond the high walls of the park.
I had now walked 2km, and was very glad to have discovered the park – definitely a good place for a run. Now I decided to head back, and I turned at the next ‘Y’ junction. The park was well-maintained in most parts. Ironically, the filthiest parts of the park were where the shades of the gardeners were installed. There was all sorts of rubbish piling up around it, including used condoms. It was also the least used area of the park.
As I continued, I came across a tree with Indian deities, and the man along the well. I opened my phone. I was using an iPhone App to map my walk, and it confirmed what I thought – I had entered an endless loop of the park.
I then used the GPS to guess my way back to get out of the park. As I reached the gates to get out, I noticed on the GPS that I had barely covered a third of the whole park, and I had walked 2km.
I ended my half-hour walk with satisfaction of discovering a track that I could use for a run. But at another level, I had discovered a world that existed within the confines of tall walls. A walk of life!