Mumbai Memoir 26- Shivaji Park-Cricket, Chit-chat & more!
In midst of Mumbai’s urban jungle, a sight of 112937 square meters of green patch seems a pleasant surprise! One feels as if one is standing over a green island surrounded by an ocean of concrete buildings! This green island is none other than Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, an urban park which is an epic landmark of Central Mumbai!
The British governed Municipal Corporation of Bombay created the park in 1925. It was known as Mahim Park then. Later in 1927 it was renamed after the legendary 17th century Maratha warrior King Shivaji Maharaj.
The park located at Dadar, has since then witnessed the metamorphosis of the city that ‘spins’ around its boundaries. A low kerb edging, surrounding the park (referred as ‘katta’ in Marathi language), acts as a sitting arrangement for all who visit the park with a ‘mission’ of their own.
The most highlighting aspect of Shivaji Park is its Sports culture that oozes from all sides of the park. Ofcourse, Cricket dominates over other sports here. Hundreds of youngsters are seen religiously practicing at the nets from dawn to dusk. Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar acknowledges the role of the park, where he attended endless hours of net practice sessions and played local school matches that he believes to have created a solid foundation for his magnificent cricketing career! Besides Tendulkar, the park has nurtured the careers of Indian Cricket captains like Sunil Gavaskar, Dileep Vengsarkar, Ajit Wadekar and thus the park is nicknamed as the ‘Cradle of Indian Cricket’!
Yoga and Malkhamb (Indian acrobatic sport) Centres and various football clubs and the Shivaji Park Gymkhana, situated at the East end of the park, offers club level facilities and tennis courts to its patrons. All these sporting activities create a lively atmosphere at the park, thus setting an ideal decorum for the park’s sporting vibe.
Besides sports, Shivaji Park serves as a socializing hub for people of all ages. As one strolls around the circumference of the park, one notices teenagers, senior citizens and middle age people chit-chatting on the ‘katta’, as they see the sun set over the park. Many Mumbai’kars have memories of the park being their venue for their first date or of wonderful time spent with friends eating light snacks like ‘Bhel puri’, ‘Vada Pav’, ‘Paani Puri’ or refreshing oneself with a ‘Gola’ (ice candy).
Throughout History, the park too has been frequently acknowledged for its political significance. Anti-colonial public meetings and rallies pertaining to Indian independence struggle and later the Samyutka Maharashtra struggle (for the formation of an independent State of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital today) had been conducted at the same park. Come sun or rain, politically driven Mumbaikar’s stood firm on its turf applauding to their leaders and their vision for promoting fair governance.
For the religious souls Shivaji Park stands host to two temples. One being the ‘Udyaan Ganesh’ temple and the other is ‘Kali Mata Mandir’. The former is that of the Hindu deity Lord Ganesha and the later of the Hindu Goddess of empowerment and energy.
On a typical day fitness freaks are seen rapidly walking or running around the park. Pet owners and trainers too find Shivaji Park as good hub for their pets to train and help them flirt around with their respective breed!
Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, urban parks all over the world, must be so much a part of one’s personal life. Personally I first visited Shivaji Park as a teenager and got to closely observe the culture that surrounds it. Later while pursuing my Master degree I interacted with the cricketers practising at the park for my thesis on Sports Psychology. It is at the same park my liking for the Bengali language got initiated. The first Bengali words that I read and understood were ‘Kali Mata Mandir’, which were written in Bengali script! I realized that the language from East India is so very similar to my own mother tongue- Marathi.
The writer in me too has gained inspiration from the park’s natural feel. Inspired by the Kali Mata idol and Shivaji Maharaj’s statue, one of my Marathi poem named ‘Aai’ (Mother), which was once read out to an all British audience at Newport, Wales, U.K, had been conceived at this same park in 2011! Here’s its lyrical presentation: https://soundcloud.com/shraddha-sankulkar/aai-saathi-angaai-geet-reverse-lori
As I walked around Shivaji Park over the last weekend, I reflected on the aura that the park radiates on to its visitors. Undoubtedly it has been weaving the culture of Mumbai in subtle ways. A quick view of the park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsbMLd98PU4 All in all, the most amazing feature of Shivaji Park is that it looks like an open air club that buzzes with people of almost all ages! Everyone is busy pursuing their private activity but at the same time is happily experiencing the unity in diversity!
I am sure Sports, Religion, Politics, Literature and personal memoirs will surely have some association with Shivaji Park, as generations over generations sit at the ‘katta’, which serves as an ultimate recreational force to move on with the ups and downs of life!
Photo credits/editor: Shraddha Sankulkar/Aditya Chichkar and free internet download source.