For a population of 25,000, there is just one park in Aluva and even then, it doesn’t seem to enjoy the pride of place.
Here, children have 10 creaking play equipment past their use-by date to choose from. They have the hobbling merry-go-round, whining swings, and don’t-know-what iron frame that now serves as a health ladder for springy-footed children.
The backlog of repairs and upkeep over the last 10 years has pushed the municipal park into a museum of junk pieces. The park, which sits on the banks on the Periyar and at the dead-end of a residential bylane, remains out of sight of most neighbourhood residents and, to an extent, from the eyes of municipal authorities.
Anuradha Nair frequents the park with her 6-year-old son Aniruddh. She doesn’t trust the play equipment and can’t stop being nervous or let herself unwind. “They are such a creaky old stuff, but I can’t stop him from climbing up that slide. When he is done, I go through his hands and legs to make sure that he hasn’t scraped himself against some rusty surface.”
Ms Anuradha restricts her son to the play area and yanks him back whenever he squirrels out into the unkempt parts of the park. “It’s so scary out there. I have been coming to this park for so long, but haven’t seen the park well-lit. Who knows what’s hiding in those bushes. I can’t even see what I’m stepping on,” she said sitting on the circular walls of a fountain, where the name of Federal Bank is fading out. The bank probably sponsored the structure once upon a time. “The guard of the park told me that it used to work brilliantly once. And there was a statue, think it was a mermaid, in the centre.”
Except for the two or three sodium vapour lamps, nothing works in the park spread across 2.25 acres of prime land. Bulbs hang out of the broken lamp shades like gouged-out eyeballs dangling on veins. In the winter, when darkness sets in faster, the friendly smile of the co-walker is hardly visible and everybody eyes everybody else with suspicion. Though it borders one of the major rivers in Kerala, the park doesn’t even have a pipe water supply to slake the thirst of sweaty children.
Like most things, the park too had a near-perfect past. Under the stewardship of former chairman of Aluva municipality M.O. John, the park was born in 1995. “The municipality brought the land from Joseph Andreper, a landlord on the wane. The land then cost us Rs 20,000 per cent. It had a jetty, paddle boats and water scooters,” said Mr. John.
The boats and scooters were shifted out by loss-making contractors, but the jetty still remains as a tell-tale sign of its hey days. When Mr John came back to power, he added a traffic section to the park complete with children’s scooters, cars, zebra crossings and traffic sings. But they too have been junked.
The present chairman of the municipality, M.T. Jacob, promises some immediate change. “Three more months and the park won’t look the same. The place will be landscaped and children’s section will get vehicles. More benches will be put up. And they are going to cost us around Rs 12 lakh. The Federal Bank said it would help us renovate the fountain after we do our bit for the park,” he said. “We will tender it soon.”
“But I have a dream,” said Mr. Jacob, and it sounded grand. “A roller skating area and a swimming pool for children coming to the park,” said Mr. Jacob. “It’s going to cost us a lot. There are people willing to take up the scheme but they want to charge a nominal entry fee. But councillors will balk at any such plan.”
Until then, the crickets chirping from overgrown bushes will have more scope for fun than the children in the park.