There were 2,000 visitors on Saturday at Shahid Hemant Karkare Udyan in Jogeshwari East. But not many knew about the man after who the six-acre park has been named, let alone about the controversy stirred up by the BJP’s Bhopal candidate, Pragya Thakur.
“Now that my vacations are on, we visit the park daily. We play cricket every day. I still remember when the garden opened. It was quiet small then,” said 14-year-old Sanskar Pol.
Asked if he knew who Karkare was, Pol, who was five years old when the Mumbai 26/11 attacks took place, was still thinking about his reply, when his friend Yogesh Chavan, a year older than him, said, “He was a jawan.”
Pol then intervened to correct him, saying, “Karkare is a shahid police officer. Long ago, when terrorists had attacked Taj Mahal hotel, it was mainly due to his efforts that we stood victorious in a war against terrorists.”
Anand Yerpul, an 18-year-old commerce student who lives nearby at Indira Nagar, was not even aware the garden had a name. When asked about Karkare, he said, “I don’t know who he is. Please ask the watchman, he might be able to give you the details you are looking for.”
Another 20-year-old, Iqlak Shaikh, who visits the park daily, said, “He died in an attack that was carried out by Pakistan. There are three more gardens that were opened by political parties under the name of officials who died in that attack.”
No one had heard of “Sadhvi” Pragya or what she had said about Karkare.
Gulab, who sells ice cream outside the park, didn’t know who Karkare was. In his early forties, he said, “I have been selling ice creams here for years, but nobody ever asked me who Hemant Karkare was.”
The park opens at 5 am and closes at 12 noon. It reopens at 4 pm and visitors are allowed till 8 pm.
Jeffin James, who stays at Mahakali cave area in Andheri and works as a telecaller, took a while to recall who Karkare was. “I come to the park to play football on my weekly offs. I am very proud of what he did for the country.”
Shahid Hemant Karkare Udhyan is surrounded by three more parks that have been named after the then Additional CP Vijay Salaskar, head of Anti-Extortion Cell Ashok Kamte and Army officer Sandeep Unnikrishanan, who lost their lives in the 26/11 attack. But local residents prefer Karkare Udhyan to any other park in the area, since it is well maintained and free of litter.
Hari Om Pandit, the watchman, said, “At least 3,000 people visit here daily (morning and evening) and on the weekends, more people come here than at any other park in the locality.”
The park has an open gym, playgrounds and two daises on which freestyle dancers, hip hoppers and rappers give impromptu performances.