25 July 2012

A walk in the park

Bangalore is a city of parks. These are important public spaces of recreation where children come to play and adults to exercise. Walking seems to be the preferred form of exercise in India. Every morning and evening people go to specially designed neighbourhood ‘walking parks’ for their daily power walk. These green spaces seem necessary because taking a stroll on the city’s streets is not easy. Pedestrians often have to walk on the road because there’s not always a sidewalk or footpath to walk on. Then there are many obstacles to negotiate: broken sidewalks, construction material blocking the way or vendors taking up the space with their carts. Also, heavy traffic makes it difficult to cross the road. So walking parks offer a pleasant place to walk freely and unhindered and get some exercise.

Sometimes I like to take a walk in the park myself. There are four public parks within easy walking distance from where I live. I go to either the lovely and lush park in posh Defence Colony, or to another smaller park close by, in a more middle-class neighbourhood. Despite their proximity, these two parks are a world apart. Defence Colony park is quieter – there are fewer people and most of them wear Western-style clothes like tracksuits and running shoes. I hear them speaking mostly English to each other or on the phone, but also in Kannada. At the other park, the scene is different. It’s a lot busier, there are more ladies than men, and no tracksuits are to be seen here. Most of the ladies are wearing saris, while some are in salwaar kameez. Some wear running shoes for their power walk, but most wear their ordinary everyday chappals. I’ve also seen some making their rounds in men’s house slippers! The chatter I hear around me here is in Kannada or Tamil.

Parks have rules… of which there are many. These parks are for serious walkers, so playing is not allowed and walking on the lawn prohibited. Forget about having a picnic, ‘eatables’ are not allowed here, and needless to say, neither is smoking or drinking. And make sure you walk in the right direction – clockwise only!

Parks are open during set times for a few hours in the morning and again in the evening. Outside these hours, they’re closed to the public. It seems strange to me that they should not be open throughout the day, but there must be some logic to this that I’m not aware of.

It’s thanks to these many green spaces that the city’s residents can get their daily dose of exercise. Bangalore’s old moniker, the ‘garden city’, still rings true.

10 July 2012

An unexpected visitor

One thing I like about living in Bangalore is that despite the concrete jungle of the city, there’s a lot of flora and fauna sharing our living space. There’s a huge Rain Tree just in front of the house, which is a favourite hangout for all kinds of birds: the common crow, the lyrical mynah, industrious woodpeckers and huge predatory kites. I even saw a snowy owl twice. It was perched on a branch one night and turned its head 180 degrees to look at me. Another time I caught a glimpse of it in flight. During the day there are lots of squirrels running up and down the huge trunk and I’ve even seen a big lizard perched in a branch.

Other creatures are less noticeable. One morning the watchman of the building opposite our gate warned me that the night watchman had seen a ‘big snake’ slither across the road! “Be careful!”, he warned me. Later that day while walking on busy 80 Feet Road, I saw a flash of colour run into some bushes. I stopped to have a look. It was a red and yellow coloured chameleon!

One Saturday morning the crows were making more of a racket than usual. They had all gathered on one branch of the Rain Tree and were excitedly cawing to each other. I remember they had made a similar ruckus when a kite had caught its wing in a branch. So I knew something was up...

I went out onto the terrace and looked towards the commotion. What did I see? A monkey sitting in the tree! Monkeys are unusual in this neighbourhood. I ran to get my camera. When I got back the monkey was sitting in the sink on the terrace and picking something out of the bougainvillea. I managed to get a few shots of him and retreated back into the house.

I then had a look through the bedroom window to see what he was up to. I heard water running and realised that he had turned on both taps on the terrace! When I went back outside to turn them off, I noticed the branches of the mango tree shaking wildly. The monkey was feasting on the fruit. Afterwards, I found half-eaten mangoes lying on the ground underneath the tree.

It was easy to follow the monkey’s movements because the crows followed it from tree to tree, still cawing excitedly. He was now in a tree on the other side of the house and was busy tying a dupatta in its branches. I had a look at the clothesline on the roof and realised he had stolen it from there.

Later on my landlords’ daughter asked me if I had seen her dupatta which had mysteriously disappeared from the clothesline. I told her that I had indeed seen it...