For those of us who are always complaining about the lack of initiative on behalf of the authorities, there’s a lesson to learn in this article. Published in this Sunday’s edition of The News, it is about how a resident of Gulshan-e-Iqbal took upon himself to turn a barren land into a lush green park. If all of us have that kind of spirit, we can turn Karachi into one of the most beautiful city in the world.
Just what the doctor ordered
Indifference is the reason behind most of Karachi’s problems. Dr Shahid Hussain’s pet park is proof of how one man’s idea and will to make a difference can prevail…
By Sidra Rafique Gooda
Mein akaila hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar
Rah roh miltay gaye aur karwaan banta gaya…
The city of Karachi has been gifted with some beautiful and highly budgeted parks in recent times. Suddenly, the powers that be are all too aware of creating public spaces that all Pakistan’s commercial center to breathe. As a result, the government is spending enormously on these projects. It is about time.
But even as the government has finally started to wake up to the recreational needs of Karachiites, there have been those few rare individuals who make a difference. These are people who consider it their prime responsibility to serve society and give back to the city they call home. Even though Karachi is deemed to have an unruly population with crime on the rise and roads and areas in disrepair, the myth that people have no civic sense is what Karachiites are fond of cribbing about. However, there are projects in the city that defy that myth and say that there are Karachiites who care about their city and very deeply at that.
One such example is the Family Park, situated opposite White House Grammar School in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Popularly known as the Eidgah ground, the park was initially named Allama Iqbal Park. Today, around 6000 people perform their Eid namaz here and so it is called Eid Gah Ground but the most popular name remains Family Park. The journey towards the name change is very interesting.
Growing up in the same vicinity, I have seen the park evolve from the shabby state it used to be in to its present lush green form. What is mentionable is that it is the efforts of one man who initiated the idea of taking over the barren land and developing a lush green park. Later he was joined by many likeminded people from different walks of life. A doctor by profession, Dr Shahid Hussain is the man behind the Family Park.
Stating the condition of the park before it was taken over, Dr Shahid says that it was just barren land with no trees or grass. “There were no trees and plants and stray dogs wandered in the park. The plants were shabby. The nearby schools parked their buses and vans over here and children played among shrubs,” he states.
As a resident of Guilshan-e-Iqbal, I have seen drug addicts sitting and sleeping in the vicinity of the park, threatening the environment of the locality. There were shrubs everywhere and there were no boundaries to the park. With so many schools surrounding the vicinity, this park belonged to nobody. “The park had jogging tracks when it was made in 1982-83, but was left abandoned unlike any park given to a society. It was considered a plot to dump garbage on a wide scale,” he says.
According to the location map, the place was allocated for developing a park for the neighbourhood. Lack of government interest in such healthy projects threatened the area to be taken over by the land mafia or the nearby school authorities for their purposes. Fearing this, Dr Shahid started looking after it, considering it his prime responsibility as he was living in the vicinity. “When I returned from Saudi Arabia in 1992, I saw the park in a pathetic state. I remember putting water in the dried plants from a bucket that I brought from my home. That was my first initiative,” recalls the satisfied doctor.
And he never stopped. He went to the KMC, where his proposal to develop a park was highly applauded and taken positively by the authorities. Two gardeners were sent to look after the park and gradually plantation also started. However, a scheme was floated for the adaptation of the park in the era of Shahida Chishti and Farooq Sattar. “It was given to me by KMC as a proper adoption in 1997. It has never happened that a whole park is given in an individual’s custody, but it happened when this park was given to me. Parks are given to societies and we have a society here. But in this case, they had previously seen my efforts to improve the condition of the park,” says a beaming Dr Shahid.
Being situated in a largely residential locality, slowly people started extending their help to look after the park. Some offered plants and grass while some extended monetary assistance.
And he says, “Bit by bit this process continued and it is an ongoing process. Of course with the help of good people in the locality, things are working pretty well.”
The monthly expenditure of the park is about 12000-15000 rupees. The salaries of the gardener and the peon is outright paid by the neighbourhood society as there is a security guard system, where two of them, one in the night and the other in the morning, are appointed for the park. Therefore, ultimately their expenses are paid by the neighbourhood association.
The remaining amount is spent on the repair of water boring machines and food for the pets. Monetary help comes from people, who regularly come for walks. When the word reaches them, they always extend their full help.
Surprisingly, for ten years, there has been never been a scarcity of funds. “At the end of the month when I calculate, to my utter surprise I see that every thing is equally utilised. The left over money is used in the renovation of the benches, lights etc. We never charge or ask anyone for money – people come forward themselves,” says a satisfied Dr Shahid.
When inquired if has been bothered by land mafia, he says, “Yes, there is madness for grabbing land and I am thankful that they haven’t killed me for being such a pain,” he smiles.
Initially, vagabonds had to be tackled with and shoved off the park whenever they were seen smoking or staring at the ladies. “We always want people to behave and respect the rules of the park. We never demand anything, nor ask for money. People are aware of their responsibilities towards the park and now when they see anybody doing/performing a bad habit/act, they stop and reprimand them,” he says.
The park has a 300 meter jogging track with lush green trees and small bushes. A small fountain is cemented right in the center of the park with lightings on the corners. As the work on the park progressed, people came up with different ideas to add further beauty to the park. “Ideas are given and also initiated by people who come here. Somebody came to me and said that there should be ducks and rabbits in the park for children. Next day he was here with lots of them. Similarly, someone generously planted grass and promised to provide money for this purpose,” came a content reply.
Once the work started, benches were made and slides and swings were repaired. Children can now be seen happyily playing at the park. Pets such as rabbits, pigeons, hens, ducks, and peacocks further enhance the beauty of the park.
People who come to walk or jog in the park appreciate the efforts of Dr Shahid and love the fresh feel of the environment. From the older people to the younger folks, everybody has a reason to come to this park. Summaiya, a student says she loves coming to the park in the evening to walk and at times to study as well, “The environment is excitingly fresh and makes you feel relaxed. Moreover, I feel safe coming here as it is a family park,” she reveals. Similar thoughts were expressed by Mrs Sara Atif, who comes with her two year old son, Ayaan. “After a long day’s work at home, I find it refreshing to come to the park where I can sit and chat with other women of the neighbourhood. Moreover, Ayaan loves it here with animals and the swings,” she says.
Dr Shahid wishes to continue to guard the park against all odds. “I want people to come forward and give their help. It is not only for this park, but any park that exists in their locality. I grew the park and implanted it. I moved single-handedly and never dreamt that it would develop this well. I feel it to be my contribution to society, not only to the sick people, but to everybody. Being a doctor, I have paid it off by providing them a green and pollution free environment and this is what I was indebted to. People should utilise open spaces in their localities and pay their role in beautifying the society,” he says with a satisfied smile.
It took ten years to give the park its present look, but as they say “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Cursing the government and holding them responsible for every drawback in society does no good to people themselves. However, work such as that of Dr Shahid bears testimony to the fact that that people are the real power behind all positive change.