The Fading Playgrounds of Pune

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Pune was once known as the greenest city in Maharashtra and the Garden City of the state. The greenery of the trees and bushes that lined every street and the parks that dotted every residential area, made Pune an ecological paradise to live in. However, in the last ten years or so, the greenery has been disappearing. Grey buildings and ugly scaffoldings have taken the place of green and open spaces. Trees that have grown over decades have been uprooted to make way for wider roads and footpaths that nobody uses.

In residential areas, on the other hand, this change in the alarming decrease in green parks and trees has been subtler, but is definitely there. The local parks and playgrounds seem to be disappearing to make way for new buildings, and nobody seems to notice. Of course, we aren’t the ones being directly affected, but our children. How many children do we see playing in playgrounds and parks anymore? Hardly any. The playground culture of Pune itself, is dwindling.

Children today are much more burdened than they were, even five years ago. Not only has school increased their workload but also, parental and social pressure to perform academically better has forced any extra-curricular activity out of their lives. Today’s children also have the added onus of growing up in an age where technology is rampant and they are the ones being exposed to it. Laptops, cellphones and tablets have seem to have replaced the ordinary concept of toys.

All of these trends lead to the child not going out to play, unless of course, the parent has enrolled him/her in some sort of competitive sport (competition crops up again). Nobody plays for the fun of playing anymore. This has inadvertently led to children having health problems once only seen in adults. Joint pains, weak immunity, stress related anxiety, are now being frequently diagnosed in Pune’s children.

“Not too many of our friends step out of their homes to play the regular games we used to when we were little,” says Karan Bedi, a 12-year-old resident of Aundh. “Instead, we usually play at each other’s homes so that we can share the new versions our latest gadgets with one another,” he says.

This is nothing new and is just the beginning. Parents are now being forced to send their kids to gyms in order for them to get some ‘outdoor’ physical exercise. Nishant Sharma, an 11-year-old from Aundh too was enrolled in a nearby gym during the summer so that he could get some exercise. “The trainers have designed a special work-out for me that does not involve any weights but I do a lot of track exercises” he says.

This is where we are headed – children in gyms and not in parks playing freely as children should be able to. It is almost as if a fundamental right is being slowly snatched away from them. Yes, Pune is a growing metropolitan and developing by leaps and bounds. But do we fully realize the price we are paying for that development?

Photo: Nishant Jols (used under Creative Commons license)

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