Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Lesson in Reality at the Children's Park


It was Sunday evening and my daughter had insisted that she wanted to go the "slide park", a place I love to avoid on weekends. So we arrived at the only reasonably well maintained park closest to home with functional play equipment, a rarity in Mumbai.  

A  look through the fence and I knew that the next hour or two were going to be extremely nerve wracking with all senses on high alert. It was as if every child of whatever age in this city was there to play in the only existing park accompanied by their parents, grandparents, friends, maids, servants, drivers, uncles and aunts.

We made our way through the chaos to a multi-purpose piece of play equipment. It was part jungle gym attached to a fiberglass mini rock wall that allowed you to climb to a mini slide followed by a step up to a steep slide with rollers on one side and steel climbing net on the other. Towards the end were a spiral slide and an angular board walk with steel chain for support. Basically it was a piece of equipment that as a parent you would be scared to let your child get onto but hugely popular with all children. I must state here that safety was the last thing it's designers had in mind. I have seen at least one child being pushed off this installation from a height of approximately 12 feet falling head first. Luckily the ground surface being rubberized, there were no injuries.

Anyway there we were standing at the base looking up at the monstrosity of an exercise machine teeming with kids from the ages of 2 to juveniles of 17 all wanting a piece of action. A young mother no older than 20 who had possibly lost out on her childhood also formed part of it. Everyone was in a hurry to climb up and be the first to come down from whichever form of exit. Many of the impatient ones were going up the slide the wrong way trampling those on the way down. There was that odd maid or parent also climbing up with their reluctant wards to ensure that they were at the same growth level as their peers. Not to forget the high school students who were playing tag and running and pushing away whoever came in their way. Obviously this place was meant for all children including that inner child within all adults.

My daughter was already climbing up the steps and had become a part of the confusion. There was no looking back and my eyes were firmly on her movements. I could hear her admonishing someone for having pushed her. As she made her way to the slide, she waited till all the pushers had gone down and ensured that no one was climbing up the wrong way before she slid down. That's when I saw the real picture. This is what life is all about.

As I looked hard around the play area, it became even more clear that this is the snap shot of our daily lives. This is what one would or rather should expect in adult life.

Let me put my thoughts to spiel.

You have kids going up the wrong way on a slide trampling on those coming down and feeling no remorse about it. Pretty much the same about motorists who go the wrong way or take an illegal turn and put your and others life to danger while you stick to the rules.

Then you have those pushing and shoving others out of their way in a rush to be ahead of everyone. That's what office politics and competition is all about. It's like those who will push their way into a local train to grab the window seat. Again you are the injured one following the rules.

Then there are the much older kids and sometimes adults too wanting to play around and hogging the play equipment. This would be the big corporations entering businesses which are primarily the reserve of small scale industries or corporations usurping rights of locals. This will go on till some parent protests, others join in and the security guard called in to bring down the perpetrators. Something like what a government will do when small businesses or local groups protest.

Next you have those kids whose parents haul them up and place them on the slide while the kid whose turn is next has to wait for the slide to clear. These are the ones with influence who will be placed at the top while you struggle to get there.

Then of course there is the security guard. Old and well past his retirement age. He spends most of his time on the chair by the entrance gate occasionally questioning the single adult walking in and blowing his whistle randomly. Very few people will approach him with complaints for any of the above situations knowing that by the time he reacts, the situation may no longer exist. For those who do will be met with a response that not much can be done and the offenders will repeat their acts. Once in a while to show that he is alive, this guard will take a walk along the periphery of the rides and play equipment blowing his whistle randomly. This is like an overworked, understaffed, underpaid or indifferent management, regulator or government who is available, visible, aware but unable or reluctant to do anything. You will either accept what is going on, protest once in a while and/or simply move out.

The point I am making is that some realities lie right in front of you and you don't have to go too far to know what lies ahead. However much I may hate this place, it is in my child's interest that I bring her here so she can deal with what may come her way in her adult life. And it has worked to some extent. A year back she would give way to someone pushing her or wait till the slide clears off before she can begin her descent. Now she holds her ground. She still prefers to admonish the kid pushing her but does not hesitate to pull back someone cutting the line. Some lessons to prepare for life need to start early.

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