Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Walk in the Park

I’m up before the birds – insomnia, not joie de vivre. It’s still dark, so when I slide the windows open, and lean out, I can’t see enough to make my insides melt. No movement on the building-sites camped round us, yet. Even the fruit-man on the corner’s not set up his barrow for the day. In the background, the hum of a big city, breathing.
An hour later, the light’s seeping in, and I can pad about, without barking my shins on the glass-topped coffee-table. Construction workers clock in for an early start, to beat the heat of the day, as the muezzin weighs in, calling the faithful to prayer. Not to be outdone by pneumatic drills, the dawn chorus opens its corporate beak to out-decibel them all. I can’t see how anyone can still be asleep between here and Pune. In the park, down below, tiny figures, running.
Seven thirty, and the fruit man’s doing brisk trade, at his corner stall, if you were wanting a gourd or a mango for breakfast. Mr Roland risks a little consciousness. Welcome to Wednesday! We decide to take a walk in the park, aware that it’ll take more than a stroll, to whittle off three months of chapattis – basically, we’re baling out a battle-cruiser with a thimble – but the spirit’s willing....
We’re not alone. It’s a race track, at ground level. A steady clock-wise stream of walkers loops the loop, on a brisk pre-breakfast constitutional. One old man does his laps widdershins, out of perverseness or sociability, it’s hard to say.
Beds of flowers and shrubs flank the wide concrete path. Shallow terraces are landscaped within its orbit, dotted with sculptures and the odd trickling fountain. The pond’s decked with water-lilies, its level receding practically before our eyes, as the summer gathers momentum.
Children play with bats and balls in the soft light, their mothers on the sloping grass behind them, watching and chatting. Young men pose about, self-absorbed, doing stretches in sweat-stained designer t-shirts, while, in the bandstand, the parliament of grandpas convenes, to put the world to rights.
Next to us, on the path, as we slip into the stream, a silver-haired lady has her sari tucked up. She’s traded her beaded flip-flops for trainers. The man in front’s talking to himself, I think, but he’s wired up to his mobile phone, the working day already underway.
As we loop round the top of the circuit, we see figures standing on the skyline, at the top of the embankment above us. Construction workers, from the no-lakh housing estate, brushing their teeth in a row, watching us, watch them.
Nine o’clock, and the park’s empty, except for the gardener, trailing miles of hosepipe, before the sun gets too insistent. His progress is marked by wet concrete, but not for long, in the gathering heat.
In the middle of the day, assuming the Mad Dogs of Englishmen rule, the park’s closed. All animation’s suspended - even the birds are having a little siesta.
At five, I look down, and the park’s dotted with walkers again, like the Wacky Races. By eight, it’s throbbing. Powai's home, showered, changed, and out to take the tender evening air. The playground at the far end’s seething with small people, hurtling down slides and up rope-ladders. In England, they’d be long asleep (wee-teeth-story-bed), but here the sun has the last word.

Eleven o’clock, and it’s all in darkness, swept, pruned, and watered, ready for tomorrow.