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THE GHOST OF A FORGOTTEN PICNIC Biju Pattaniak park has a special place in my heart.. This was the place of my first school picnic.. way back when I was in class 4. I don’t remember much of my picnic.. Just some flashes… Flashes of mirth and merriment; familiar faces of friends… the overjoyed expressions of my friends swaying on the swings in the park.. the pleased looks of my teachers. One in particular, Mr Swoorup Rout… It’s weird that I remember him and none of my other teachers from the trip… Maybe it was because he had entertained us by juggling 4 apples at the same time. We were awed by it then. Well to be honest I don’t remember much of the park, except that it was vast and one could easily get lost in it (especially short perky class 4 guys). Our teachers had made us hold the arm of another student so that we won’t get lost.. My joy knew no bounds when I was partnered with Mahesh, my best friend (What? I was 8 years old then ).

The first impression which you get as you enter the park is greenery. It had great many trees planted in artistically. There was this great bridge over a water pond where we, that is all students of class 4 C, had looked at, with wonder and amazement, the colorful fishes those were swimming.

(I remember one of us guys had spit in the pond… I don’t remember who and don’t you dare point yourfinger at me) The narrow paths within the park were lined with the most beautiful plants with exotic flowers,.. you know the ones you don’t find in your home garden…and man.. they were a sight to be see. Dahlias as big as our tiffin boxes, roses in the deepest color of red, Goldilocks… beautiful. I remember the pathway was covered with the yellow flowers of the Gumohar tree. It felt heaven to us, walking arm in arm through the golden pathway taking in the beautiful sights in front of us (Well we were 8 and easily satisfied ).

When we had arrived at the children section of the park, all of us went berserk. We broke of the arm chains and raced each other to the nearest swing, or he tallest rockers, or the fastest spinners. I had a special love for the slides. Mahesh and I had raced off to the slides. We had slided upon them in enjoyment and merriment for the whole afternoon. I miss the days when sliding down a 30 inclined plane could give me such joy and contentment. The whooshing sound of the wind as I slided down was enough to feel the happiest guy in the world. Then we had our lunch which the teachers had prepared for us. We felt like Gods with teachers making food for us. I don’t remember how it had tasted. We thought the teachers knew everything, had answers to our every questions.. so obviously no one doubted their cooking skills…

And then we had returned in the school bus. It had been heartbreaking for most of us. Never earlier had we the chance to spend a whole day with our school friends outside the classrooms. Thus in short as I said this park had a very special place In my heart.. So that day, when the short perky guy of class 4-C, now all grown up, with a camera in his hand entered the park after 13 years.. a sense of deep nostalgia washed over him. Yes… the nostalgia washed over me. As I had recalled earlier the park was huge.. Statistics say its

over 100 acres of land…. Well I don’t know.. it looked as big to me today as it had felt 13 years ago. It broke my heart when I saw that there were almost no people In the park.. The park, being located in one of the remote places in Cuttack saw very few visitors. But still it was disheartening to actually perceive the lack of visitors. The park today isn’t being maintained that well… the narrow pathway has become still narrower due to the overgrowth of grass and weed along its edges. There were no more exotic flowers lining the pathway. The park looked lonely… except for few gardners and the watchman of the park. The melancholy was overwhelming… Not a sound. I could almost see the ghost of my past.. the short guy from class 4-C leaning over the bridge looking at the exotic fishes on the water (Looking, looking… not spiting! ). The bridge today presented a sorry sight. Its railing had broken.. and the water

had dried up. There were no fishes; only few shrubs that sprouted from the base of the still moist fountain. It was a sad sight indeed. I looked around. I had to find the children’s playground in the park. It

was a happy memory I thought would have still existed. I searched the big park and at last I found it.. the roller coasters, the sea-saw, the swings, all presented an abandoned look.. they had all rusted over years of neglect and lack of use. The grass had grown ferociously over the long years and almost reached my ankles.

I remembered… My slide… The slide upon which Mahesh and I had played. I combed the playground but couldn’t find it.. Maybe it was lost… lost forever.. Finally when I was returning I caught a glimpse of something yellow and green. I stopped in my tracks. I felt as if a deep memory had been stirred and looked back frantically. And I saw it. The slide… the slide I had loved. I could almost see the 8 year old me swishing down on the slide. I was over the moon. I could barely see the top of the slide. It was almost invisible, the grasses that surrounded the slide were taller than me. It was as if it had been reclaimed by the nature. I decided… I had to go take a closer look. I deviated from the narrow path and struggled through the thick bushes and grass.. I had to use my tripod to cut my way through the grasses and thorny bushes synonymous to the travellers who to cut their way through the thick Amazon forest to make their path (Well I may have overdone the comparison a bit). The grass was taller than me and I had an unpleasant sensation that there was something lurking within those bushes just beyond my sight. I panicked a bit when I lost sight of the slide. I was completely surrounded by bushes with no sense of direction. Still I waded through the bushes going in the general direction I thought was correct. After 15 minutes of frantic effort and numerous cuts and bruises sustained from the thorns within the bushes, I finally reached the slide. Only its top was visible.. I placed my tripod among the bushes and sat down beside the slide… looking at it… revering it… marveling it… cherishing it. I looked at the rusted stairs that took the children to the top… the intermediate rest piece where the children sat dawn before letting go of all fears and apprehensions and slid down laughing and giggling with joy… A smile crossed my lips… Finally I was sitting beside my friend. I clicked few shots standing awkwardly among the bushes…

It was getting late and I had to leave. When I was nearing the exit, I saw a family pull up at the park’s entrance. Father, mother, son and daughter. I smiled as I saw the look on the small boys face when he saw the park. The look of joy… pure untouched joy. He was maybe 8-9 years old.. Maybe reading in class 4 - C of his school… The boy and the girl were dragging the bemused parents through the entrance of the park. I felt happy. As I started my bike to leave I think I saw the boy… the boy from class 4-C waving at me… and I waved back…

Denouement Biju Pattaniak Park is located at Bidanasi, Cuttack. It is five kilometers from the Naraj Barrage, which is also the starting point of my city. Here Mahanadi, the sixth largest river in India, splits into its tributary Kathjodi forming the delta in which I live… Cuttack…

The Ghost of a Forgotten Picnic  

A short story of Forgotten Picinc