A couple of years ago, I was assigned the task to accompany my brother during his SSC board exams. I would take him to this school in Dadar where he did not study, but only wrote his exam papers during those 10 days. Each examination was for three hours and I would wait for my brother till he left the examination hall so that I could take him back home. What would I do during those three hours? My exams were approaching, so I would study. But there was one problem. I was not allowed to sit anywhere in the school premises. Also, I couldn’t stand on the pavement because it was occupied by vendors. One day I walked down the lane and was surprised to see a park. It was 11am, and I headed towards the entrance. However, I wasn’t allowed to enter as the park was not open to the public. I had to have a membership card (which I clearly didn’t). So there was no place I could go. That same day, I found a cyber café in the adjacent lane and I spent those hours reading news or researching some topics.
Mumbai lacks open spaces. It’s very difficult to find a place where no fees or paid tickets are required for entry. Some months ago, I was meeting a group of friends and we decided to just go out and have fun. We wanted to play games and sit by the sea. The first place to come to our mind was Jogger’s Park in Bandra. When I was a kid, my siblings and I were taken to this park every weekend. It was the only place we could play games and is well maintained. But no one can enter Jogger’s Park without paying an entrance fee.
I live in Andheri, so if I want to go out with friends, it’s either Juhu Beach or the nearest mall. While the former is always congested and noisy, the latter may not be a public space but malls do serve as open spaces. It’s okay if you don’t shop for anything. Window shopping is luckily not a crime.
Bandstand, Carters and Jogger’s Park are the highlights of open spaces in the suburbs. If you go towards South Bombay (SoBo), you will find Metro, Hanging Gardens, Horniman Circle, Chowpatty and the very popular Marine Drive (Queen’s Necklace) where one can hangout without being bothered.
Mumbai has over 13 million residents, where being jostled in crowded places is part of daily life. On the other hand, Goa has a lot of beaches where one can sit for hours. It’s still not as crowded as Juhu Beach or Chowpatty. Open places are clean and well maintained in Goa. When in Goa, I can visit a park, garden, a church or temple without having to pay a fee. The biggest challenge to open spaces in a city like Mumbai is that these places are misused, abused and neglected. Generations to come may have to open their wallets every time they want to enter a public space. Let’s just hope this never happens.
(Please note: This is my weekly column that was published in The Goan on Saturday)