KARACHI: “Let’s go to the park for a picnic!”
You hear the word ‘park’ and images of lush green grass, seasonal flowers between rows of nicely trimmed hedges and big trees providing shade to walking paths flash before your eyes.
On reaching the nearest one with your picnic basket in hand you are greeted by grilled walls with rolls of barbed or razor wire over them and padlocked gates. You yell out to the people you can see inside to tell you how they got in and they gesture to another gate up ahead. It is hot and you are all sweaty as you look for the park entrance. The grip on the handle of your picnic basket is no longer as firm in your sweaty hands. It’s a long walk to the right gate and everyone is tired already as you enter.
Inside there is nowhere to sit as the benches are broken or creaking. You find a spot on the grass and the kids with you scream. One has been bitten by a big ant. Another has just spotted a lizard on the tree trunk and you feel bird droppings splatter on your head. That’s it! You make a mental note of never coming back to that park again, at least not with kids for a picnic.
Why put up walls and railings around parks anyway?
Why put up walls, railings, fences or barbed wire around a park anyway? It is a public space after all. Parks and gardens are amenity areas.
Another park in Clifton, which seems to have been planned rather well initially with some nice canopies, is in a state of complete ruin. There are walls here too. And the gates, except for one at the corner around the road turning, are also closed. There are heaps of trash everywhere in this park. Plastic bags from trash float and fly with the sea breeze. It is always good to take deep breaths as you stroll in parks. Not here though, well unless you have no problem with the stench!
At another park, it says at the entrance that only families are allowed inside. It is explained to you that this is for your own safety as single young men could be suspected pickpockets or maybe they ogle at women. But what about the poor older men who may also be single and who have been advised to walk by their doctor and want to keep themselves fit?
Karachi is a city seeing a lot of vertical sprawl now. Most people here reside in flats and apartments. They don’t have the luxury of lawns in their home. Despite ‘china cutting’ where parkland is used for illegal construction, Karachi also has some of the biggest parks where people can head out for some fresh air and relaxation. There should not be any walls, fences or railings around parks, which also need good maintenance and proper lighting along with nice play areas for children with swings and slides.
At the time of penning this piece, there were several calls made to the various offices responsible for the parks in dilapidated state. Some didn’t even care to take the calls while those who did said that they were no longer responsible for the place, pointing to some other office to be approached in order to know about the neglected, sad parks of this city.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2019