By Amit Bhanot,
Family, friends, familiarity and …….. grass? Of all the things that I thought I would miss about home, I never imagined grass would be on the list. I guess it’s easy to take for granted something which is in abundance and all around. It is the recalling of freshly cut grass and the accompanying aroma that stirs nostalgic memories of home whenever it comes into my mind. Where I lived for nearly four decades in a small corner of South London, I was surrounded by acres and acres of open green areas, with no gates or opening/closing times limiting my access. As a child I was used to frequent these parks, playing football, cricket and badminton or just running around crazily like any free youngster would. If I didn’t feel like taking the short walk to a local park there was the option of going out to play on the lush green grass of our huge back garden. Weeks of summer holidays would pass so much quicker with these open spaces to play in with friends and family members.
Unfortunately when I was a little older, my father decided very suddenly to take out all the grass in our garden and replace it with concrete paving slabs. One day over dinner he explained to my three siblings and I; ‘It will be much easier to look after a hard surface than all the grass and trees, which have to be cut and maintained on a regular basis’. At the time it seemed a logical decision to make, after all I was aware that my father was a busy guy, working double shifts in his job as a bus driver, trying to make ends meet. So he faced no resistance from us, only a surprised and bewildered look from my mother. We all willingly took turns participating in the removing of the grass and uprooting the many trees in the garden, one by one. The first to fall was the large apple tree, followed by the pear, peach and plum. Even the poor grape vine, no big nuisance like the tress around it, followed suit. Our once green and tree filled back garden was now transformed into a bare space consisting of just dull coloured concrete slabs. Still it made a good space for me to practise tennis and at least there was the option of local parks to play in.
Here is Mumbai it’s not that there is no grass or green spaces, in fact there are some public parks containing green areas, the problem is they are few and far behind and have a limited amount of accessibility being restricted by opening times, cost and in physical space. There are also times of the day when these parks are open but for health reasons you would not want to venture out due to air quality, or lack of it. There is the alternative of visiting private members sports clubs which have plenty of facilities and usually include some green spaces, but cost makes it inaccessible to visit these every day. The idea of kids playing in the areas around their homes is also unrealistic in most parts of Mumbai as I have personally found out. I was surprised to learn after moving in that playing in the area outside my apartment was forbidden, a rule that was strictly enforced by ‘the society’. The surprise went to shock when a neighbour told me of his arrest by local police after he had taken part in an ‘illegal’ game of cricket with some children from the building on one previous Diwali celebration.
The diminishing of green spaces, especially in urban sprawls has led to some new initiatives and actions. Two years back the U.S city of San Francisco made a law requiring many new buildings have some plants and greenery on their rooftops. Soon after France also passed similar legislation for buildings, combining the requirement of green spaces on rooftops with solar panels. It has so far been a success and so other cities and countries are sure to follow this trend. The benefits of green spaces to both the environment, in terms of air quality, and in turn to our health are massive. With the lack of space and premium cost of land, such an initiative would be of great value in a city like Mumbai. However, the idea of relaxing in my own patch of green space in Mumbai currently seems like a distant dream.
The availability of regular sunshine was a big factor in helping me decide to take the move to India, but summers in Mumbai are the start of monsoon so we will be returning to London for the holidays. I intend to make the most of the green spaces there by visiting as many parks in and around the city, especially some of my favourites such as Greenwich and Hyde Park, parks that were historically part of royal owned palaces. So when my daughter asked me last week what she would be doing during her school holidays I informed her; ‘the same thing I used to do when I was your age, running around in the park making the most of the freshly cut grass and the few months of sunshine’. I ignored her concern about getting bored of this activity, something I found unimaginable for a seven year old child, especially one with so many friends and family to play with on her return. In any case if she gets fed up of running around on grass there is always the hard surface of her grandparent’s extensive garden, which interestingly has been recently renovated. My father has installed a small patch of artificial grass, something he is proud of adding, a full twenty five years after painstakingly removing the real thing with his ready and able little accomplices.