The Park had been there forever. It was so old that the board with its name had long since faded and fallen away. It was simply known as the ‘Cinema hall wala Park’ because it was bang opposite a Movie Theatre.
When a certain politician or political party wanted to make its presence felt the park got a makeover, a lick of paint, some pruning. While one political party had got a walking path made, another had installed a strong boundary wall and gates.
The upkeep of the park was largely neglected despite which the trees and flowers bloomed. Lush and green they provided fresh air and shade. They also provided privacy, from roving eyes and inquisitive minds.
Chaurasiya ji owned and ran the biggest sweetshop in the city. His sweets were so good that no other sweet shop in the city stood a chance against him. He boasted that he brought in people from his hometown, a small village in the North of the country. Young boys toiled in the kitchen, which had multiple stoves cooking delightful sweet concoctions that every visitor to the shop salivated over. Poor Chairasiya ji, had ‘sugar’ so he could only look at but not taste the sweet delights. However, the sweet delights he salivated over were the boys who slaved in the kitchen. Little boys who were brought from his village. Little boys who were estranged from their families and wanted to run away. Little boys with troubled pasts and addictions.
Chaurasiya ji brought them to the city where they serviced the kitchen and his lust. Mondays were the day to worship Shivji, Tuesday was for Hanumanji. Thursday was for Sai Baba and Fridays were when his wife fasted for Santoshi Maa. That left only 3 days a week for Chaurasiya Ji to do as he wished. Those were the days he took his favorite boy to the park and hidden deep within the dense darkness of the trees brought to light his lust.
He had gone unseen for years, till one day he looked up mid-act to watch a flash blinding him. Chaurasiya froze as did Raju who was on his knees before him.
He hastily zipped up his trousers and ran towards the direction of the flash and bumped into Chottu who was standing there nonchalantly. Chaurasiya ji gave him a hard slap. Chottu slapped him right back, showing him the video clip he had recorded.
Chottu was not only the boy who worked at his house but also Mrs. Chaurasiyas’s favorite. Chaurasiya ji was forced to buy his silence.
Chottu dealt with substances that were looked down on in public and revered in private. As he sauntered around the park every evening, a series of eye and hand gestures connected him to his clients. The give and take of substances exchanged for money was so quick that regular people missed it.
Indumati hurried into the park and was miffed to see that her favorite bench was occupied. She had been coming here for the past many years and had somewhere lain claim to it. She looked around for the nearest empty bench and plonked herself on it.
From her bag, she got out a bar of chocolate and a packet of chips and looked at both reverently, as she placed them beside her. Then she got out her mobile. As she scrolled down looking for a number to dial her face transformed. The worry lines smoothened out and her sour expression changed to a smile.
Every evening after she left for work and before she headed home, Indumati made her way to this park next to her office. She sat on her favorite bench and finally felt like herself. The office and her home, none of them valued her. This hour spent at the park, talking to her mother and sisters, and treating herself to her little indulgences was the best time of the day for her. Sometimes she even purchased tea from the vendor who made the rounds and at other times an ice cream.
Indumati recalled how once when she had got a Mithai ka Dabba from the office, and the expensive Chaurasiya Sweets one no less, she took it home proudly. It was empty within seconds. Her 4 children, husband, parents-in-law, and brother and sister-in-law had polished off all the Mithai without even offering it to her. The same thing had happened when Mrs. Roy had brought her a beautiful Dhakai saree from Kolkata. Her mother-in-law made her keep it aside for her sister-in-law’s trousseau. Ever since she got married nothing was hers anymore, no one was hers. Except this one hour in the park where she could do what she wished to.
Reena walked into the park and scanned it out of habit, even though she knew that there would be no familiar face around. This park was not for the rich, she thought bitterly. Today she would walk in an anti-clockwise direction. Her astrologer had told her that this month she should do everything ‘ulta’ – the other way around- and doing so would set things right. She was hoping to see results but she also hoped that no one saw her here. Her friends went to that fancy gym that had just opened. As if the fees wouldn’t burn a hole in the pocket they also hired personal trainers. She had made an excuse that her doctor had prevented her from working out, but she would not allow herself to put on weight while her kitty gang worked out to lose theirs.
So she made her way to this free park behind her house and walked for an hour every day. Times would change, her husband’s business would make money again. They would no longer have to sell their silver and jewelry to keep up pretenses. Reena was sure of that, as she chanted the Laxmi mantra as she walked.
When Niti raised the save the park petition she did not expect any support. Why would anyone be interested in raising their voice along with a bunch of college kids, she wondered. However, she had decided that she would fight for it alone. Too many parks and playgrounds had been taken over by builders in the past. She wouldn’t it happen to the ‘Cinema hall wala Park’, she vowed.
On the 3rd day of their protest outside the park, Niti and her friends saw Chaurasiya Ji coming towards them. He inquired about the issue in great detail, listening to which and a dark expression crossed his face. He promised Niti that he would see to it that this park would be left intact and right before her he dialed the local MLA.
Reena ji, the beautiful lady who lived in that sprawling bungalow behind the park also vowed to help them. She encouraged them to keep up the protest and invited Niti and her friends to drop into her house if they needed to use the restroom, and for refreshments. Chottu, Chaurasiya’s house help asked if he could get his friends and create a ruckus to stop the builder from taking over their park.
Niti had tears in her eyes. There were so many good people in this world, who reached out to help without any personal motive, and here she was so cynical about the world.