Having lived 25 years of my life in Ahmedabad (which is like all my life), especially close to Kankaria– the circular man-made lake- the heart of the East Ahmedabad- I have some fond memories of my childhood attached to the place. The loveliest part of evenings would be going to Kankaria with Papa, Mumma and Uncle, Aunty and Bhaiya. It was so full of life, I loved hopping around being looked at by different sorts of people.
There would be ice-cream shops, balloonwaala, horse rides, small merry-go-round (movable, managed by poor men), men moving with delicious snacks like bhutta-chana zor garam-mamra-sev puri, kulfi and the gola-waalas (I was not allowed to have gola until like college) these were the regulars.
Amongst the more aspirational (costly) ones were places like Bal Vatika (Fun Park for children with some rides, funny mirrors,etc), Aquarium and Nagina Vaadi (a small, linear island at one end of the Kankaria circle- but so small that it could be hardly 600 mtrs of a straight walk). Kankaria was our marine drive. Towards the end, I would cringe when they’d say, ‘Okay, let’s go home now?’
Interestingly, the same Kankaria would turn to be an absolutely different flavour in the morning. People with serious faces, walking like it was a part of their job, some coming just for fun, young men (including my father) touring the Gymkhana- doing some serious exercise- and then have a long (boring) chat over chai ki kitley nearby. This is how I can relate now when I see kids getting cranky around their parents talking infinitely over chai.
The morning Kankaria was not as much fun (from a child’s view) because of the compulsory exercise and running routine but still free, open, huge trees, natural breeze, lots of birds chirping (sometimes so loud that your voice could drown within it), noticing infinite kinds of people who had come to walk or the ones on the road already going to their offices- all strata, all colours, all shapes and sizes!
When Kankaria got Revamped
In 2008, Kankaria was revamped. I was still in school (12th grade) yet I was filled with the excitement of progress and the development it was going to bring. Your part of the city was being beautified; it felt special. When it was opened out to public, something about it was under-whelming. It was concrete, clean, organised (benches, lamp posts, trees at equal distances), people cleaning every now and then (especially in the morning), the fun park was the same, the nagina vadi was the same… What was different?
The cage, sorry, I mean the gates.
Now Kankaria had gates and entrances. The biggest gate was actually the one from where we used to enter. It was huge, enormous but it didn’t feel good. I tried to make myself believe that this was for the larger good, cleanliness, safety, etc. But it was difficult because the morning Kankaria had fewer birds chirping (really few, unnoticeable) and loudspeakers with bhajans playing (I have no problem with Bhajans but I didn’t want to listen to someone else’s playlist, with badly sung bhajans plus same playlist every day. I think the birds and the loudspeakers are mutually correlated.)
The evening Kankaria had ugly night lights close to its periphery- different colours- drowning your eyes into nothingness. There were designated stalls (3-4 each in 2-3 corners of the circle) with men coming close to you, screaming weirdly, calling you to their stall- like a vegetable market. When you check, you’d see that everything starting from paani-puri to bhaji pav was over-priced. Forget that, even water and cold drinks were not on MRP (something that was unthinkable in the old Kankaria). This is not it, though. I thought okay, it’s for everyone’s good, everyone will be able to enjoy this space better (somehow). But even that didn’t happen because only the entry in the morning was free. Rest of the day (especially evening), entry to Kankaria had become chargeable. This hit the shit to the ceiling. The morning Kankaria became a largely elite zone with so few of poor/lower middle-class people (not beggars) were seen, everyone without sports shoes/decent morning clothes-dressed, was being stared at. I have also noticed lesser Muslims around (as they are noticeable with their beards and burqas). The evenings became quieter and obviously less accessible to the poor. Some of the elite, highly privileged people always claim that “O my god, it’s just 10 rupees! What’s the big deal.” Well, it is a big deal. If they come with their families, they spend close to 50-60 just over tickets, and then all those child-luring things like toy-train, balloon ride (and overpriced) things inside would blow a hole into their pockets. Better to not go only!
Un-Free Public Spaces
If you think of it, what is so amazing about a chargeable public place? We aren’t talking about the world’s most amazing public places, even the ones in our country- the metro cities that we aspire to become, the communist cities that we pretend to hate- have some of the best parks; free public spaces in the country. In the end, public spaces are to be maintained from the taxes that we pay to the government. Why are we happy to pay something extra and believe it to be good. This was to be for free!
The Idea of Safety
Some of the girls scream out, ‘Oh but this is safer.’ If that’s true, that’s just really sad. You need to cage a public space to make it safer?
Why does it feel safe? It’s because of the ‘poor-the supposedly badly dressed- low standard’ people are out of it and it pleases your eyes now.
But we want the entire city/country to be safe. Okay, let’s cage everything and make it chargeable. Such a smart solution for dealing with this problem!
The Idea of Fun
What is fun? Is fun an exclusive entity for the ones who can afford it? Or is fun about having a space in the society where people can be together, a sense of culture and community? Once in a year, we see a Kankaria Carnival happening. This is the year end week- 7 days of fun-loudspeakers, lights, dance performances, band performances, yoga and aerobics workshop in the mornings (inviting people to join their classes later), crowded public life, everything- that’s once a year. Of course, let’s not talk about the extreme inconvenience and the traffic vows during that week.
Imagine, these people are already aliens to malls, won’t be liked or will be stared at and made to feel uncomfortable, other fun parks that are paid are uneconomical. The Weekend Window, Winter Affair cost 100-150 per person. Yes, Riverfront is still accessible for everyone (without loudspeakers). Not to mention the displacement of people that happened because of that, people who still are not settled or happy at wherever they were thrown. But still, the riverfront is accessible because it is free. Isn’t it a problem with the idea of the progress of a society that people have nowhere to go to unwind, and not have to eat or drink (we anyway don’t have liquor) or pay? Highway tolls also have an ending date. Apart from that, for what and until when are we going to pay for Kankaria? Are we not guilty for being priviliged while closing our eyes to someone else’s deprivation?