Ladies park…a place to rejuvenate body and mind in Simla of the Sixties
Long before I learnt the word lady as feminine gender for “gentleman” or learnt plural of the word as ladies or worse still use of apostrophe added to the word lady or with ladies to make it possessive noun, we, the kids of the Sixties, living in Lower Bazaar called it “Lady Park”!!!
And the word Lady Park still connotes to my aging heart the feelings of excitement, freedom, enjoyment or in one word…to go wild…
Going to Ladies’ Park would set our hearts abuzz with excitement. With running feet we, the entire group of kids of the mohalla, would march towards the place that was our very own…the Ladies’ Park.
We never felt lack of open space to play… Perhaps our brain was not conditioned to think about open or closed spaces the way it is now!!! Closed spaces, like small houses of Lower Bazaar would mean coziness and warmth to us whereas any open space would mean freedom and ecstacy to us.
There was open space in abundance in the entire Lower Bazaar or this was how we thought it to be. Come evenings and we would run to Arya Samaj Mandir or the Chhota DAV school premises, both having good open space for all the games that we played. The open area outside the General Post-office and running towards Banthony was entirely our fiefdom to run and play. There was plenty of places we lived to explore for new excitement.
Ladies Park was our favourite joint on Sundays when the elders at home would encourage us to go there and play perhaps to have some free time to themselves. And all the kids would run towards Ladies’ Park.
The solid wooden gate, painted green, would be the first spot to play. I would jump to stand on the big wooden plank at the base of the gate and try pushing the gate inwards or someone would help to set the gate in motion and it would be moving inwards and backwards while I would be enjoying “jhoote” on it.
Then we would run towards the slides…the much sought after playing place. There were two slides in the park but we preferred the first one. It was made up of solid wooden planks and these had become soft and slippery because of so many kids sliding on it for years perhaps. Some would walk up the stairs to reach the top of the slide, while I would try to reach it from the hillside, sometimes। The arduous but shorter route. Kids would stand in queue to take their turn at the slide. The beginning of the slide would be very steep but gradually at the end would become a little slow. The moment we touched the ground with a big thud, it would be like accomplishing something great. And would rush back to the top to slide down again and again. There would be so many kids at this slide but the other one towards the east end of the building would have few kids. It was very steeply inclined and there was not much support at both the sides for holding our hands to. But some big and daring kids would slide down this one as well. Steeper the better it was for them but I would prefer the more lively and the safer one.
Once done with sliding to our fill, we would rush towards the swings…the big ones held with very strong iron ropes. Some daring ones would take their swing higher and higher, much to flutters in my stomach….I would be afraid! Sometimes a duo would enjoy swings in standing position and how would they thrust their body forwards to give further movement to the swing…up towards the sky!!
The east end of the park had grass on it and at the farthest side was a tap outside the washrooms. This side was the loneliest and secluded as it sided the Combermere side with stories of Churail Bauri that I was so afraid of. No one would go to drink water alone…we went in twos or more towards that side. And peeping down the wooden railing would give us goose bumps!!! It faced a deep gorge, the same that ran under the Combermere bridge. The gorge was dar deep and shadowy as compared to sunny, open and lively park.
We would run back as fast as we could and then roll down on the grass to get the blood running smoothly in our body. Grass was aplenty towards this side of the park and we could sit, play, lie or roll down on the grass.
There was another favourite spot and it was a small building, mostly locked, at the side path going down from the middle of the park. It had soft grass and the gradient was soft, too. We would somersault at this patch…..rolling down making our bodies a big round mass by holding our knees, folded towards chest, with our hands… head buried near to folded knees!! A perfect foetal position to safeguard us against any injury…no one told us about it though, it came to us so naturally, like the wild flowers swaying proudly, raising their head from the grass, we were like the wild ones as compared to the flowers in the neat beds on the upside of the park!!
I owe suppleness of my backbone and flexibility of limbs to this very game that we so loved. Who cared for the dust and heat and the sweat!!
When tired of playing we would perp through the building between the two slides where some women training center worked during the weekdays, learning stitching and cutting. But Sundays would be our day…as there would be none there. One room was for small kids…I learnt rhe term cretch for the very first time at the Ladies’ Park…otherwise the concept of delegating duty of looking after babies, apart from Naanis and Daadis, to anyone else was unheard of in Simla of the Sixties. As it was at the ground floor do we would peep inside watching so much paraphernalia stead around.
It was not that ours would be the only group to have reached Ladies’ Park… there would be many children from different localities having come there to play. Sometimes we made friends with them and sometimes played in our own group. The choice was purely on free will and as per the convenience. Kids are the smartest when it comes to making new alliances!!
Initially each group would be an island of its own but as the games progressed from one to another, many barricades would be broken…. And by the time we would leave the gate of Ladies’ Park, we would be best of the friends with promises made to meet next Sunday…same place, same time!
It was not that we could behave like unbridled kids in our ecstatic momrmts in the Park…the caretaker’s omnipresent eyes would follow us everyehere. Though on the face of it there was no one to look after us, the kids, in the park but the feeling of constant gaze of the strict gardener who lived perched high on the hillside, was enough to discipline us. At the entrance side of the park, up a few stairs, was a small house where the caretaker cum gardner had his humble abode. There was a water tap as well but we would not go there in the fear of being shooed away by him. The beautiful beds of flowers on the entire hilly side, under the Ritz road, made up his domain where he ruled the reign. No kid could as much as touch those flowers, leave alone plucking one…such was his terror. Looking back I am so envious of that man….how fortunate he was…doing what he loved the best, living amongst all that he was instrumental in producing….and above all having all the open space, the most enviable to anyone living in Lower Bazaar, to his own self once the gate of Ladies’ Park closed, every evening.
And I am sure that strict, though he seemed so to us, he sure had a heart of gold tending to flowers and the children with same love and concern. Ladies’ Park was surely a place to rejuvenate body and mind of kids living around the Mall the Middle Bazaar, the Lower Bazaar, and even further down the slope in Simla of the Sixties making us learn that all kids are same cutting across lines where they come from!!!!