Updated: September 12, 2021 1:28:45 pm
Until seven years ago, a five-acre plot in Malad West, behind Infinity Mall on Link Road, earmarked since 2002 in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation maps as “recreation ground”, used to be covered with hutments. Over 500 dwellings had been built over it. Over 2000 people lived on the land. In 2014, BMC decided to reclaim the encroached land, razed the slum, and developed it into a garden.
No one in the area knows where the people removed from there went, but today, it is a “forest” park called Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Vanodyan with 4,500 trees, including cashew, mahua, jamun and kokam.
In Mumbai’s constant demand for public space, the development of this garden began in the run-up to the last civic election in 2017. For purposes of civic administration, Malad West is part of “P North” ward, which also includes Malad East. It is the most populous ward in Mumbai. According to the 2011 census, this ward packs 7.6 per cent of Mumbai’s population. While more than half this population lives in slums, the proliferation of high-rise buildings and malls reflects the area’s rise as an IT hub with young professionals. Their better ability to negotiate public spaces has seen the development of other recreational grounds in the area.
As a 1.2 km walking/jogging track — laid with sea sand, mud crushed stone powder so it does not hurt the knees — and a children’s playground came up and the trees grew, the park became a magnet for the people living in the area, attracting hundreds every day.
“Before the pandemic, this was a popular destination for school picnics. Because of so many species of trees that we have planted, it also attracted a huge number of botany students. Now it gets the usual morning and evening walkers,” says Assistant superintendent Hanumanth Gosavi, assistant superintendent (P North Ward) in BMC’s Gardens & Parks department directly responsible for this patch of green.
It has as many as 67 species of trees, mostly indigenous, but some exotic as well, says Gosavi, “to keep a balance, and to aid in the pollination of flowers”.
In the springtime, he says, the park is a riot of colours from all the flowering trees. This is parijat season, and the ground under the small flowering tree, damp after a rain shower, is scattered with the small white and saffron blooms that it sheds every night.
One section of the park on a gentle rise is a lawn with spongy grass known to landscapers as American Blue, with a gazebo in the middle. Another part has a small open-air theatre with a small stage, floor space and amphitheatre seating, free for both performers and audiences. It opens daily from 6 am to 10 pm.
On one side of the park are high rise buildings. Two other sides border a winding nullah carrying tons of the city’s garbage and sewage. On the fourth side is the Poisar river that takes all this untreated waste and empties it into the Malad creek and the Arabian Sea.
The high wall of the park and the canopy of the trees ensure these unsightly water bodies are not visible from inside the park.
The park has been sectioned off into fruiting trees, shade trees, Konkan trees, medicinal trees, and coastal trees. Gosavi, who has a post-graduate degree in horticulture from Pune Agricultural University, lifts a bunch of leaves on a custard apple tree to reveal fruit. It is covered with ants and looks like a few birds have had a go at it too. “We don’t pluck any of these fruit. The aim behind growing these trees is not to harvest. Left on the tree they help to create an ecosystem in this park,” he says.
Standing under the shade trees and watching the leaves move overhead in the gentle breeze is time pass of a different order.
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