It's just a fortnight under a year since I last published a post. It's been a year of excessive work. At the end of a hard day of writing for other people, there was neither time nor inclination to write for oneself. Now, with a respite that looks like lasting at least till the end of the year (unless I open my stupid trap and say yes to yet another back-breaking assignment), I'm back to blogging. And it's Shivaji Park once again.
A few months ago, suddenly, workmen started digging up the walkers' track that runs along the periphery of the park. Did someone tell us this was going to happen? Hey, which country did that question come from? Not ours for sure. We are a country of jabberers; but ask us to part with information that's going to affect people's daily lives vitally, and we are like clams suffering from a particularly bad bout of lockjaw.
But one takes life as it comes, and we did. So everyone who was used to walking on the walkers' track, poured out onto the pavement where many like me walk. Thereafter it was constantly bang, dash, bump, trip, excuse me, sorry, damn and grrr around the park. Not pleasant first thing in the morning. And worse because they called the whole exercise "beautification".
Now this beautification plan included a couple of friezes near one of the park entrances showing Shivaji Maharaj being coronated etc. Okay, why not? If you're a Marathi, you are morally obliged to find the idea beautiful.
However, as everybody knows, there's a pair of cousins in politics who don't see eye to eye on anything; and when it comes to Shivaji Park and the great warrior king after whom it is named, they fervently believe their respective parties hold the exclusive title deed to both. When their eyes lock over these properties, they get so severely crossed that only the whites show, the pupils deserting their sockets in sheer fury. So, with one cousin doing Shivaji friezes, the other had to cry foul. Being smart, he took care to cry foul legally.
That is how the public came to hear about how the entire beautification project was commissioned by the BMC, ruled by the Shivaji frieze party, without calling for tenders. This made some residents of Shivaji Park very angry. They upped and filed a PIL calling for a stay on the entire project. A stay was duly brought. Only Shivaji Maharaj's coronation frieze managed to wriggle free of the embargo by virtue of its requiring only a few finishing touches. These done, Bal Thackeray was able to unveil it as scheduled, on May 1, Maharashtra's 50th happy birthday. Whether the frieze adds to the beauty of Shivaji Park or not is not under debate right now.
What's under debate is the rest of the "beautification" work. The stay has stayed that work for what feels like 18 aeons. So what do we have now? We have the track along the western flank of the park fully paved. Halfway down the north end, the paving gives way to a dug up stretch. Round the corner on the east, as well as along the south, some stretches are piled with rubble, others are under sackcloth, and still others are half paved with some paving blocks still scattered around waiting for the stay to be lifted. As a result, walkers who cannot entirely give up their inner track habit, do a kind of slalom in and out from track to pavement and back. Where they come out is where we go into the bang, dash, bump, grrr routine.
The most beautiful part of this beautification story is the parapet. The BMC's idea of beautifying a parapet has always been to paint its stone sides in regulation yellow, blue and red. That has been done. In addition, the top of the parapet has been painted green. Now, if BMC had spent just a few minutes at Shivaji Park observing walker behaviour, they'd have noticed that people sit on the parapet after their walks for a chinwag (and occasionally jalebis and ganthias) with friends. So the thing to do would have been to paint the parapet at the dead of night with paint that would dry in two hours flat. This they didn't do with the result that hopeful parapet sitters spread sheets of newspaper on the wet paint to prevent their posteriors from going green. Today the parapet offers an interesting archive of local, national and world news of the time in four languages.
The current situation is something like this. The chaps who commissioned the beautification work without calling for tenders are sitting at their desks swilling tea or killing flies; the filers of the PIL are happy atop their moral high horse; the judges in their wigs (do they still wear them?) have blissfully forgotten to unstay the stay; and the public that wants nothing more than to walk for its health, is frothing unhealthily at the mouth wondering which of the above to clobber to get the action going.