Park Encounters
By Sanjay Pinto

Show me how you walk in the park and I’ll tell you who you are! In the course of my daily ‘constitutionals’, I’m at my judgmental best, sizing up the different folks who come here to unwind. It does take all kinds to make a Park. Not the sort who prefers a tan, I end up going at different times of the day. An hour after after sun rise or just around sun set. My schedule makes for a wide and varied sample size!

Radiant Retirees:

Sprightly and opinionated, especially on all that’s wrong in society, with instant remedies, including geriatric health tips, they can be heard before being seen! Roaring laughter and animated round table discussions ranging from Modi to Dhoni, money matters and marriage and indeed all that’s trending, sets them apart from the rest. Scenes of their camaraderie are endearing enough for a movie. And welcoming enough for new entrants of their age group. And a sign of things to come for the middle aged.

Association Authorities: 

To supplement what they consider ‘inadequate’ maintenance by the municipal body, this band of eager beavers is always on the look out for new members. They wear their enthusiasm on their Notice Boards, with announcements and invitations to park dinners and events. Strutting around with an air of authority, pulling up their appointed minions for not watering the plants enough or messing up the sump motor, they take pride in their voluntary community service. Of course, some are a wee bit over the top, treating these public spaces as their personal fiefdom, even imposing their own curfew, or worse, attempting moral policing.

Mannerless Motormouths: 

Two may be company, but three is more than a crowd. It’s a noisy lot. Some of them come across as attention seekers, deliberately using more lung power than is necessary for routine chats. Probably influenced by prime time tv debates. Probably due to their headphones. Or just a matter of getting carried away in a group. Remember how people used to scream into the telephone receiver while making ‘trunk calls’ and ISD calls in the good old days?! You get the drift.

Bothersome Blokes:

Make no mistake. They own the Park. Or think they do. Manifestations of ‘ownership’ include full stretching of the arms horizontally along the track, regardless and unmindful of others walking alongside, or behind and poised to overtake them. For inspiration, they sway to music on their mobile phones on speaker mode, clearly not having heard of accessories like headphones. The guideline to walk on the side facing oncoming traffic is applicable to the road, not the Park! With little common sense or concern for others, some of them stride along at a brisk pace in the anti clockwise direction and almost collide head on with the others, breaking their rhythm and startling them at the bend.

Petulant Parents:

The lack of public spaces for children to play may be a genuine problem in our cities,  more acutely felt during the summer vacation. But most Parks have separate play areas for kids. Parents who accompany their children to the Park, deliberately take their eyes of and don’t advise them not to run races along the walking track in the opposite direction, or worse, not to play badminton there! It’s natural for a Mommies Group to be formed and the visit to afford them a much needed break to chat with their ilk. But not monitoring their kids and allowing them to create a nuisance for others is just not on. Try politely pointing it out only if you are prepared for a mouthful.

Taunting  Teens:

Cocking a snook at the 10 plus age restriction to use swings, see saws and slides, there will always be a regular bunch of fifteen or sixteen year olds acting like kindergarten children and literally throwing their weight around, breaking play equipment and scaring away those for whom the area is meant. A stern reprimand from a regular walker will trigger an argument or a sarcastic, disrespectful retort and serve no purpose.

Cuddly Couples: 

A clear product of the demand – supply gap in terms of appropriate private spaces for   courtship, almost every Park will have its share of Romeos and Juliets, some with their faces half covered with dupattas or helmets and caps. As long as it doesn’t translate into something obscene, especially with small children around, this category is harmless. It’s a different matter that some of them may give you disapproving glances when you stay on a little longer to burn a few extra calories. You may also end up feeling like you are in a crowded restauarant with people waiting for you to settle the bill and leave! There are walkers who have a ‘been there, done that’ glint in their eyes as they pass by!

For all their foibles, these folks make our Parks eventful and lively in sharp contrast to the regimental routine of many of our gyms. 

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate at the Madras High Court, Columnist, Author, TV Political Analyst, Public Speaker & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)