By Munira Dalal
As a result of a habit that has been an inherent part of me; I am up at 6:00 am on most days of the week. One of the first things that I do, again out of habit, is to open all the windows of the house. For most Mumbaikars, the last quarter of the year is the most favourite as the city experiences a drop in temperatures and we get some respite from the heat and sticky humidity that the city is so notoriously famous for.
However, in the last couple of weeks, I have noticed a distinct change in this trend. On three consecutive mornings when I opened my windows, I was greeted by a curtain of thick smog that was hanging dangerously low and threatening to swallow up everything that crossed its path. It would be vital to mention here that I am usually privy to a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea and the Eastern freeway from my window, which was completely missing. This isn’t too surprising as Mumbai is currently almost bursting at its seams both in terms of foot and vehicular traffic. The air seemed stifling, almost claustrophobic!
This change in our city’s breathing space got me thinking about why a year and a half back we decided to move out from the Sobo and relocate northwards. Why did we give up 1700 square feet home and moved into an 800 square feet apartment? The answer was apparent; we were looking for open spaces and gardens. We wanted a place in which our 9-year-old daughter could run about and play without a care in the world.
This ever-swelling city is constantly losing its open spaces and gardens to pave way for gated communities and to accommodate the increasing demand for wider roads as our traffic situation worsens.
Open spaces such as parks and gardens have now become a rare commodity in Mumbai. It is no longer a recreational facility that was once considered a must-have for the residents of any city. For cities like Mumbai, they more like luxuries that most can’t really afford. While I to attempt pen down my thoughts, I am trying to think of at least five of the better well-known parks and gardens in our city that have stood the test of time, urbanisation and overpopulation.
The first park that came up to in my mind is the hugely popular Hanging Garden or the Ferozshah Mehta Park at Malabar Hill. The area is also popularly known as Hanging Gardens because of the existence of the park. It gets its name from the fact that it has many terraces and levels. While the park doesn’t have any specific recreational facilities for children, its mere existence is a source of pride for residents of the area. The flora and fauna in the park are well preserved and it is popular amongst the early morning joggers as it offers one an opportunity to breathe in pure oxygen from the many plants and trees that are a part of the garden. The garden also offers a beautiful and bird’s eye view of the Arabian Sea and Chowpatty Beach close by. Considering the fact that the park exists in one of the older parts of the city, the park too is also quite old as it was first built in 1881.
The Horniman Circle Park at Ballard Pier is my personal favourite as it is located in the very heart of central Mumbai. As the name suggests, the park is indeed circular in shape. The construction work for the garden began in 1821 and took 12 years to be completed (1842). It gets its name from Mr. Benjamin Horniman who was the editor for the newspaper ‘Bombay Chronicle’. This garden has a designated play section for children while the walking tracks are lined with street lamps that go straight back to the British era. The park used to be a favourite amongst the Parsi community during the pre-independence period when a local music band would often perform out in the open within the garden’s premises. Currently, the garden is often used as a venue for lots of art and cultural programmes usually associated with the Kala Ghoda Art Festival.
For budding athletes, amateur lawn tennis players and lovers of the sea, the Priyandarshini Park at Nepeansea Road, is a dream come true. This park is a one-stop for all sports and nature enthusiast. The park boasts of two lawn tennis courts where children can receive coaching and can practice. It also has a 400 metre, 8 lane Olympic style running track. Several south Mumbai schools rent out the park’s premises to hold their annual sports meets. The best feature of the park is the fact that its outer periphery touches the shoreline of the Arabian Sea. One can sit on the boulders and bask in the glory of the rising or the setting sun. It provides the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. All you can hear is the sound of the crashing waves and the sporadic screech of the eagles and crows.
One of the more recent entrants amongst the parks in the city is the Mahindra Park at Breach Candy. This is by far the most child-friendly park amongst all. Just like the Priyadarshani Park, this park is also located adjoining the Arabian Sea. Cool winds from the sea greet you as you enter and you can taste the saltiness on your lips. This public park charges a minimum entry fee to its patrons that go towards the maintenance and up gradation of the park premises. The best feature of this park is the fact that it has been divided into age-appropriate zones. Each zone has specially designed activities that cater to all the requirements of children belonging to that particular age group. The park is well maintained and clean. An added bonus is the fact there are multiple eateries right outside the gate that serves some delicious Mumbai street food at reasonable rates.
The BPT Gardens or the Mumbai Port Trust garden is located at the most southern tip of Mumbai at Colaba. This garden is maintained by the Mumbai Port Trust and assistance from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). While the garden does not offer any swings or slides to keep children entertained, it is still worth paying a visit to. Its wide open spaces and well-maintained walking tracks appear inviting. One can easily get used to going for the walk there every day. The park houses a wide variety of plants are trees that are even labelled. It offers a sense of serenity and calm where one can easily forget that one is amidst one of the most densely populated and busy commercial cities of the world. The park’s premises succeed in providing its patrons with a space for a temporary escape from the city’s anarchy.
I have realised that while Mumbai is slowly but steadily turning into a concrete jungle, there are still a number of green patches within our city. What we really need to do is to be aware of these green havens and attempt to visit them as often as our busy scheduled permit us to do so. If nothing else, it will attempt to calm down our nerves and bring about a semblance of sanity in our increasingly fast-paced and chaotic lives.
Munira Dalal is a content writer, a storyteller and is also involved in theatre for children and she loves to travel. She is a Graduate in English Literature and a Diploma in Mass Communication from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
She is one of our students at The Lifestyle Portal Online Writing Program.
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