Barefoot in the park

Barefoot in the park

Photo for representational purpose only. - Tribune file photo

Maj Gen Raj Mehta (Retd)

I WOKE up at dawn to see leaden skies and the gentle pitter-patter of rain — a magical combination of sight and sound that transported me to yesteryear.

Struggling into a T-shirt, tracks and Keds, I opened our wrought iron gates, no longer an aged umbrella-armed veteran with a back playing up but a cheeky whipper-snapper fervently seeking a joyful rainy interlude with peers.

The halcyon ’60s had come flooding back; mornings when being barefoot in the park in the pelting rain was an entry requirement for 10-12 year olds; pesky whooping Red Injuns storming the sprawling Polo Grounds of Lucknow Cantt for playing football with a jugaad rubber band-wrapped newspaper ball with upended bricks or mum-given duck-back rain capes as goalposts; wrestling bare-chested in the gooey mud, playing gulli-danda; racing leaves in contrived water streams and puddles or catching red/black beetles in small punch-holed boxes as trading assets for Dell comics, marbles, tops.

It was awesome to sometimes watch nature’s primeval orchestra explode with thunder and lightning, then unleash waves of rain with a rare slash of rainbow. Sometimes we would play-act as ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ in rain-forested Africa, shimmying up mango and fig trees minus Jane. Our sisters were rain-shielded from joining us. Comic-exchanging, catapult-armed and adrenalin-filled madcaps, most of us lived around the Polo Grounds; school-mates, innocent pre-teen rascals.

We’d clean up at the tubewell to escape scolding by mothers for muddied clothes and shoes. The stubbed toes, cuts, scratches and odd black eyes were covered up by mild yarns.

Back to today, the sector park is unlike the Polo Grounds where we would fight out Colonel Custer’s 1876 Last Stand in Montana, becoming Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, who fought and won against Custer’s 7th Cavalry Regiment. We couldn’t get any one of us to be other than Red Indians doing their victory war dance with mud streaks marking faces and hair, and with gulli-dandas for hatchets.

Revisiting the park after a long hiatus, I discovered it has two features. Linear, it is carved under high-tension electricity pylons that soar above. Below the pylons is the huge storm drainage, covered by a pathway of interlocking paver tiles. Every monsoon, the path invariably caves in, exposing the flooded storm drainage and causing inconvenience to users. Skirting one such caving-in, screened off casually with scrub/twig detritus, I wondered about the consequences of being swept away unawares by the force of the drain-water stream on a rainy day.

Faujis aren’t given to worrying beyond a point about life’s challenges. I had completed my walk to the accompaniment of steady rain when I sat down, barefoot and bareheaded in the park. I was once again a Red Injun, a feisty, rascally kid. On returning home, I was walking with a smile, a ramrod-straight back and memories.

Tribune Shorts


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