I have been walking an hour every morning in a park for the last two months; enjoying the fresh morning air and the greenery, observing other people, and much more! I must confess I did not realise how exhilarating these walks can be.
There are several people whose timing matches mine, for I see them almost daily. Many are busy walking, but there are others who just come and sit down, or sit in groups and chat, or have a morning snack alfresco. I am annoyed when these snackers leave their litter and walk off, in spite of a number of waste bins all around. But I don’t let this spoil my mornings, or prevent me from observing some of the other inhabitants of the park, more permanent than people, more disciplined and hard-working than most humans, and certainly a joy to observe amidst the concrete jungle that this city is.
Besides the big and small garden ants and earthworms that cross my path, I see dragonflies, honey and bumble bees buzzing around overhead. I see the many birds and the pretty butterflies. I cannot ignore the ubiquitous crows perched on trees, shrubs, park-benches and electric wires along the periphery, or pecking at the grass in the lawns in the company of fellow pigeons and mynahs, the occasional koel singing its plaintive song and, of course, numerous sparrows.
When I see them all together, I am quite happy that they are enjoying their breakfast party collectively.
Sometimes, a kite swoops down angrily at the crows, who then scatter. These kites live in their nests atop the tall poles installed to illuminate the park at night. Believe it or not, one morning I almost had a collision with a crow that had either misjudged my gait or was taking a chance flying across my path!
I often see doves, the small and weak flyers that they are, who do not have a homing instinct like their cousins, the pigeons. I have also seen bulbuls, hummingbirds, weaverbirds and sunbirds making a fleeting appearance and then disappearing in the foliage. However, the warblers and the common sparrows can be heard incessantly tweeting, hopping from one tree to another, or skimming over the neatly mowed grass.
While in the park I cannot help feeling that the birds are attracted to Karachi about as much as the human migrants who make up much of the over 20 million people living in this vast metropolis, I also feel that if the park had some fruit trees, it would attract parrots and other colourful fliers.
Weekends bring children, along with their parents. When I saw a little girl and her brother climb up a tree with some dexterity, I wanted to applaud them with a clap. So pleased was I that these city kids actually knew the art of climbing and hanging onto the leafy branches until their anxious mother came looking for them after completing her walk.
On a quieter bench in a corner, I sometimes spot a young couple, the girl often covered in a burqa, sitting closely, enjoying the intimacy of her partner, and quite oblivious of the others.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher, poet and cultural critic. “Thoughts come clearly when one walks,” said another German, Paul Thomas Mann, the Nobel laureate in Literature. An admirer of theirs in the park management has had these quotes put up. What they said is true, and I am inclined to agree with both. But perhaps you need to be alone, with nature, in such an environment, to experience these ‘great’ and clear’ thoughts…
People come in all sorts of different attires, particularly the women. I see hats, caps, hijabs, niqabs, T-shirts and tights, shalwar kameez — with or without dupattas — and abayas. I see some carrying their mats looking for a remote spot in the park to perform yoga. Men and women also come in twos and threes. I catch parts of their conversation (in several different languages) as they walk past me. They are discussing everything under the sun: religion, politics, family news, business strategies, work gossip, recipes… Some men can be seen exercising on the lawn, or skipping rope while the older ones are sitting in groups on the benches for a heart to heart, feeding their leftovers to the crows.
A few lazy and snobbish cats can be seen lying around in their favourite spots or zealously licking their paws. They are neither interested in, nor bothered by the human traffic around them. However, they are not the only four-legged creatures to be found in this park. Nearly every day I see one or two mongoose making a quick dash into the bushes or into openings in the rocks, not giving me much chance to take a proper photo with my cell-phone camera.
The four-acre patch of green stretches over a hillock, within a residential area that includes some luxurious houses, and includes both flat and rocky portions. Like most parks in this city, it is surrounded by a steel fence, is gated and guarded, and has ‘walking hours’. Luckily the site wasn’t bulldozed and flattened. It is therefore not only refreshingly different from its surroundings, it also provides some interesting vistas. The landscape team has integrated the varied functions and made good use of the topography. It has won regular awards in the annual flower show.
The nearly circular walking track is not very long, taking me between six to seven minutes to complete a round at a leisurely pace. In this duration, however, I cannot but admire the hard work of the gardeners who maintain the topiaries and the ornamental flower beds, water the lawns, trim the hedges, and can be seen meticulously weeding, pruning, cutting and sweeping, as well as chattering amongst themselves, while two supervisors are constantly instructing and monitoring.
Someday I also hope to see squirrels scurrying up tree trunks, or a harmless grass snake slithering away. The park provides an intense but free lesson in nature, ecology, tolerance and respect for others, be they human or not.
All this, while I take my morning walk…