Reclaim the playgrounds

Some days ago a delegation of seven year olds had arrived at the doorstep of the district commissioner of a north Kashmir town. An unusual sight to see little kids marching with their cricket equipment. They were demanding their right to play in a playground in their locality. Never would one have believed that Kashmiri kids will one day protest for their right to a playground.

I remember as a kid playing in the empty field opposite to my home which was christened as ‘Parade Bagh’ since the Army camp nearby took out a march there. We used to play day and night there. All sorts of games, Truchay a Kashmiri game of hide and seek, King Queen – basically dodgeball but players have sticks which they need to use when the opposition throws a ball at their bodies, Mujahid-Military – something like Robber-Police with added flavour of the conflict, Saz-Long; Kashmiri version of Hopscotch and also the cousin versions of Tag like Vish-Amrit, Ice Water and Ready.

Oh yes, Hatti-Hatti where the objective was to run to the nearest wood/tree and Which colour? where the objective was to find the colour without being tagged out (I still remember the song). Also the Kashmiri game called ‘Pav’ where one had to hit the stone.

We also played football and cricket. Well mostly cricket. During curfews, strikes and holidays, this Parade bagh used to be flooded with kids and adults alike. So us kids of the 90s would generally be either supporters, naate-phol (basically harmless kid) or the much coveted both-sides, where the kid could bat twice for both teams and was usually the wicketkeeper on the field.

As we grew up, we had fair share of rivalries from other neighbourhood boys. The Sikh Bagh neighbourhood boys were our rivals. Our matches were mostly home and away fixtures until Parade Bagh was slowly taken over by new houses. And they didn’t like the sound of breaking window panes.

Sikh Bagh became the venue for us to play our cricket matches. Usually we used to have some prize money and a plastic ball (we called it Tennis ball). The only drawback of playing in Sikh Bagh was the presence of marshes which would make it hard for us to retrieve the balls with our short arms.

Later we graduated into senior teams and played in the main ground of Lal Bazar called ‘Khan Bagh’ which was akin to playing in our own Lords.

Today, Sikh Bagh is no more. There’s no ground there. Only houses made of cement and walls over the pitches where we played from dawn until dusk. Parade Bagh has become home of the dogs (also called LD bagh after the maternity hospital due to higher number of puppy births).

This is the case in most of the Downtown Srinagar, where playing fields have been taken over by houses. The kids lose their fields which forms the core of growing up in Kashmir. Only a few graveyards, curfewed streets and small patches of land serve as a playing field for the kids.

Despite the fact that this area is one of most traumatised zones in Kashmir. With daily harassment from the Indian Troops due to it being the hub of resistance. The kids have no escape from the violence. Sitting at home for longer hours is detrimental to their growth with nothing but idiot box to be entertained by. It’s unhealthy.

The proximity of violence nearby and no fields to play orphans them from positive outlets to bring distraction or sense of relief.

It’s a sad reality of Kashmir especially Srinagar, where construction is booming but without any plans for the kids in the locality. Where will the kids go?

It’s time that the Kashmiri community at large earmark zones for the kids to play their games and relish the very few joys of childhood in our country.

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