It was 08:00 in the morning of 22nd February. Two pairs of men were hurling punches at each other on Park Street (alias Mother Teresa Sarani) right in the front of Park Hotel at Kolkata. Granted the traffic is less in the early hours of Sunday. However, the traffic is not that less to allow people to hurl punches against each other standing in the middle of the road. Also people were cheering them, instead of restraining them to punch each other.
But the case was different on this Sunday. Looking closely, one could see that the men were actually practicing boxing wearing boxing gloves and required attire right on the middle of Park Street in broad daylight. However, impossible it may seem the event was happening.
More action could be seen throughout a portion of Park Street and some part of Russell Street and Camac Street. Youngsters, teenagers and some young adults were practicing Karate, gliding on roller skates, balancing on Skate boards, doing stunts on cycles, playing cricket, having a kick at football, swishing badminton rackets, trying a Michael Jordon stunt at basketball, singing songs, staging a road theater – you name it and this Sunday, Park Street had all of them happening simultaneously in the middle of the road.
This was not a day dream, but actually an event named “Happy Streets” organized by Times of India in association with Kolkata Police. The idea is to promote walking on the streets and using non motorized vehicles. It also involved doing various activities on the street other than just listening to the honking of the cars. The event also promotes community bonding and healthy lifestyle for the residents of Kolkata.
Like the slogan “Dao Firiye Se Aranya” (Give us back our Forest), this was like an answer to a muted wish inside the hearts of the Kolkatan (or Calcuttan) which said “Dao firiye Se Rasta” ( Give us back our Roads). Road definitely belongs to the public, but the motorized transports have a total control on them leading to severe congestion and pollution. This was like a “People’s day on the road”. Already we have seen similar events happening successfully in other cities and this initiative in Kolkata was like a dream come true for many. Although this event could have been started a few weeks back as the winter at Kolkata is in the verge of saying goodbye, but then “better late than never”.
While the youngsters, teenagers and young adults were having fun doing several activities, middle aged adults like us had fun simply walking unobstructed on the streets; watching the fun and clicking photos. It took many of us back to our school days and made us reminiscent of the fun we had.
There was a Cadets drill in the beginning with military bands playing side by side. Each sporting event had different area defined for them. Woman cadets were seen with banner showing “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” (Save your daughters, Educate your daughters). Also cadets were seen with “Swachha Bharat” ( Clean India) banner.
The Police Commissioner of Kolkata Shri Surajit Kar Purkayastha inaugurated the “Happy Streets” event standing on a make shift dais erected on the street besides the Flurys. He gave a simple speech without any mike and posed for the photographers. He also participated in some of the events.
Frankly speaking, I found this event to be more fun than that of Park Street Festival during Christmas. This was mainly because of the fact, there were so many events and kids were having a ball of a time at a place where they would never think of walking in the middle of the streets, let alone doing any activities like roller skating.
In Russel Street, youngsters were busy playing football and cricket with terrific enthusiasm. Opposite to the park was the Military band playing, besides which the Karate demonstration was going on. Near to the entry of Russell Street, the boxing demonstration was going on, which was joined later by some spectators too.
Cyclists and Skate Board enthusiast were performing their stunts near the Flurys.Their proud parents watched their kids riding a cycle on the park street. It was a Sunday outing with a difference for them.
Unusual vehicles like Battery operated Car driven by kids with Mini Scooters being balanced amazingly by youngsters were a treat to eyes too. The child driving the small car looked so much in control driving near the Park Mansion that it looked like he was a tycoon driving his own ferari! There was another unique vehicle too, which kids drove lying almost on the ground.
Different bands were playing on the stage and on the road. A group performed a road theatre as well with a message. Some made a procession carrying banners of “Green Earth”
There was badminton practice going on along with volleyball at the entrance of Camac Street. The police commission played some shots with badminton racket to encourage the youngsters.
But perhaps the event which stole the show was roller skating. I have never before seen so many roller skaters performing together in my city. With the Park Mansion in the backdrop, the picture looked pretty. The kids were performing with enthusiasm and energy. Some fell down while performing sprang back on their feet with renewed energy, sometime getting a little help from their trainers.
I was feeling very happy for the young kids. In this urban city, they hardly get to walk on the street with such freedom. This was actually a fun for the entire family. Apart from having fun in the street with friends, many built up new contacts and new friends.
“Happy Street” was a great event to watch and more fun to shoot with camera. It was a rare event in Kolkata and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Talking of photographs, there was simply too less numbers of photographers. Except a few handfuls of press photographers, there was considerably less number of non press professionals and amateurs to shoot the event. A city, which sees hundreds of photographers shooting even very insignificant events like “Shoni Pujo”, the numbers in this event was very scanty.
Maybe many photographers were not aware of the event. But there is nothing to worry. “Picture Abhi Baki Hai Mere Dost”. The event is going to happen for consecutive six Sundays. Those who have missed the opportunity this Sunday, pick up your gear and get ready for the next day.