Queen of Hills Turn Concrete Jungle

Monsoon clouds in Shimla

No child can turn around and say “this used to be my playground” of the area around the historic Ridge, once the only promenade for the British colonial rulers when this city was their summer capital….writes¬†Vishal Gulati

Monsoon clouds in Shimla

Long ago, a Chief Justice had taken up the issue of the absence of a playground in this state capital. But nothing really happened.

The plight of the city’s children has once again come under the spotlight with a 21-minute documentary, “SOS – Shivaji Park of Shimla”, by national award winner Vivek Mohan, who is now based in Mumbai but spent his childhood tramping through the snow-laden streets of Shimla.

“This is a story of every child of Shimla,” Mohan said.

He said owing to lack of open recreational places, children are forced to play on the Ridge, from where they are occasionally chased away by the police on the plea that the Ridge rests on the city’s water supply system that was probably built in 1883.

Mohan said the irony is that all kinds of other government, political and religious activities keep happening on the Ridge.

Shimla’s historical Annandale ground — the picturesque flat highland just three kilometres from Shimla’s Ridge — is under the army’s control, on the pretext of disaster management, he said.

Likewise, the world’s highest cricket ground in Chail, some 30 km away from here, is also controlled by the army.

Is this democratic free India under martial law? Mohan asked.

“SOS — Shivaji Park of Shimla” completes Mohan’s trilogy on his hometown. The other two are “For Whom the Jingle Bells Toll” and “Spot the Difference”.

The former showcases how Shimla is slowly but surely moving out of the seasonal snowline, while the latter documented everyday lived similarities of a Chinese and Tibetan family despite their ideological differences.

“A man is not where he lives but where he loves,” Mohan noted.

On being asked why he named the documentary after Shivaji Park, the famed ground in Mumbai that produced international cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, he said the Ridge is Shimla’s Shivaji Park.

“The production as a fiction film couldn’t take off despite Amol Gupte of ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘Stanley ka Dabbaa’ loving the script. All this was five-six years ago. I finally decided to complete this film as a documentary on my own. It was shot every Sunday morning from July to December 2016, barring few odd days,” he said.

Interestingly, 10-year-old Vipasha Srivastva wrote a missive to the Chief Justice in 2010 and shared her concern over lack of children’s parks in the town.

A division bench of Chief Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Rajeev Sharma had taken cognizance of her letter and issued notice to Shimla’s civic body.

The Municipal Corporation of Shimla, in its reply, had said it had no funds to create recreational places for children and the public.

Vipasha, then a Class 5 student, wrote in her letter: “Today, Shimla is a concrete jungle with no parks, open spaces or grounds for children, forcing them to remain glued to television, which we know is not good for our health.”

She urged the Chief Justice to ensure that playgrounds are provided to children in the town so that they are not glued to the TV all the time.

Planned for a maximum population of 25,000, the Queen of Hills, as Shimla was fondly called by the British, now has more than 200,000 residents.

High-rise buildings and other development projects have gobbled up much of its green patches, besides leading to problems of water scarcity and parking.