City Life – Bhag Bahri Malhotra’s Nehru Park Connection, Safdarjang Enclave
A routine of 40 years.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi]
Pathways go up and down the many slopes. Distractions include flowers and fountains, lovers and joggers, chai wallas and chips sellers. Nehru Park runs along a tiny patch of the Aravali range of hills, so ancient that they are even older than the Himalayas. No surprises than the landscape is punctuated with rocks, some of which must be thousands and thousands of years old.
So forty years is absolutely nothing in time for this park. Yet that short period does count for something in the case of Bhag Bahri Malhotra. In her late 80s, the lady has been enjoying morning walks in this central Delhi garden for those many years. She would come with her husband, and continued to do after he passed away in 2016. “In Nehru Park, my heart feels lighter,” she says, talking on WhatsApp video from the isolation of her residence in Safdarjung Enclave. Because the coronavirus infection can be fatal to the elderly, her son and daughter-in-law are extremely cautious about her outing, and Ms Malhota hasn’t been visiting her beloved hangout since the pandemic hit our part of the world. She’s always happy to dwell upon her extensive private history with the park, though.
“Bahri Saab (her husband) and I would walk every morning in the park from 7 to 8,” she recalls. Ms Malhotra affectionately peppers each sentence with “bacche”, or child. Over those garden strolls, she says, she and her husband had gradually befriended other park lovers who would be there around the same time. “We had a whole group… after our walks, we would all sit down on the grass to have chai and gupshup (small talk), and we would also celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays.” Sometimes, they all would have an impromptu breakfast of kachori, halwa and aloo subzi ordered from Chandni Chowk.
The ritual lasted for years until “we grew old…. some of us left for Ishwar (God)…”
Ms Malhorta would still go, accompanied by her longtime attendant, Ravi, who would walk by her side with a bottle of water. “All the gardeners know me. They give me izzat (respect).”
Here she pauses, before admitting that “ I no longer see purane log (old timers) in the park… but sometimes I see children of old friends who have now grown up.”
A day after this chat, Ms Malhotra texted, saying she finally went for a walk in Nehru Park — the first one since the lockdown started, in March. She also Whatsapped an earlier picture of her in the garden, posing with a smile and flowers.
Life in the pandemic