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A love letter to parks

My grandfather loved going to the park. He would pretend to go for a walk, but he had his gang of friends that he’d hang out with in the park. They would all walk half a round and then sit down to chit chat and read the newspaper together. Sometimes, one of them would bring a flask of tea from home. Another would bring a few packets of kurkure. If he could help it, park time was not to be missed.

My parents inherited this fondness for parks. When my mum was heavily pregnant with me, she’d go to the park for a brisk walk everyday. Two couples who also walked there were so worried about her pace that they thought she would go into labour right there. They ended up becoming great friends and are practically extended family. They are also perpetually shocked that the foetus is now a fully functioning adult, aka me.

This love for parks runs in the family. I have a whole carton of park memories, some so fresh that it feels like it happened yesterday.

I learnt how to cycle in the park. A few days after the training wheels were off, I took a sharp turn and tore my lower lip on the cycle’s bar. I remember bleeding and howling and my sister stupidly telling me to stop crying as if that has ever worked.

I remember walking Choti, my masi’s dog in the same park, and then fainting because I tripped on her leash and hit my head. I woke up to my dad throwing water in my face but I can’t seem to forget that there was a man next to him, looking very concerned and my first thought was, “why is this man walking in the park in just a banyan?”

I had a school friend who celebrated her birthday in Nehru Park every year. February was the perfect time to be out and about in Delhi — it wasn’t too cold and just right to soak in the sun. You’d see old women in a salwar kameez and sneakers, you’d see some workers from a construction site nearby and a bunch of school kids, all come to enjoy the winter sun.

When Shuffle came along, taking him to the park was a much loved routine. I’d happily pick fights with all those who told me I couldn’t walk my dog in the park, just so he could stop to smell the flowers and roll in the mud.

Even as an adult, I loved parks so much that I made a date walk for nearly 45 minutes in the most beautiful park in our neighbourhood. He didn’t seem to mind at the moment, but we didn’t meet again, so I guess that says something. One Valentine’s Day a few years back, after a nice dinner at home, my mum and I walked in the park for hours, sipping Rosé out of a sipper bottle.

The happy memories outweigh the not-so-happy, but they lurk around too in my mind. Once, I got into a very heated argument with my parents and stormed out of the house, only to realise that as a 19-year-old living with my parents, I didn’t have a lot of options. I went to the park, cried on a bench and grudgingly went back.

As recently as a few months ago, I couldn’t sleep the whole night and decided to go to Cubbon Park at 6 in the morning. As I walked alongside Cubbon’s morning regulars, I gave myself a (silent) pep talk so that I could get through the day without losing my mind.

And I guess that’s the lovely thing about parks — they don’t discriminate. You could be happy or sad, alone or with someone, young or old, rich or poor, but you are welcome. Come anytime (with the exception of Bangalore’s parks, which strangely have a closing time) and you’re guaranteed some peace or at best, a memory you can look back upon fondly.

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