The Uses of Open Spaces

Mysore is dotted with open spaces, wastelands, some no bigger than a tennis court, others larger than a football pitch. Presumably these are simply areas that have so far escaped, or await, construction, but they contrast starkly with the neat, well-tended, colourful homes, and the tree lined avenues, of the residential suburb of Gokulam. I say wasteland, because they appear derelict and are not the most aesthetic addition to the landscape, but I suspect they are home to a number of small animals and birds, since they are often overgrown with scrub and strewn with plant waste. The primary use of these spaces seems to be to dump, and often burn, litter. Fortunately much of it is organic matter, such as coconut shells and leaves, and often in the early evening, as darkness falls, the smell of smoke from these small fires drifts through my window. When it catches me unawares, I am instantly transported back to remote areas of Asia I have visited, a reminder of the power of smells to trigger vivid memories. Where the spaces are huge, such as near the water tower at 13th cross, they are useful short cuts to get from A to B, and are criss-crossed with well-trodden paths. Other spaces serve as public loos, for the gents that is, and you’ll often see men wander off a short way from the road for a nonchalant pee. It must be the dry climate and absorbant soil that keeps these open air urinals from stinking for miles.

The wandering urban animals enjoy these spaces too, in particularly goats, who seem to find snacks enough there to keep them going. After dark, restless dogs gather, and scuffle and bark their way through the night. I don’t know if there is supposed to be any form of management of these spaces, but if there is, it remains a mystery to me. One morning, in a space not far from the main coconut stand, a small crew of brawny labourers turned up, with scarves wound round their heads and worn, faded cotton shirts or pants on their sinewy limbs. Within a short while, a set of what seemed like pillars, each three bricks high, had appeared, cemented into place. And that is how the place now stands, though the bricks are now used by the tuk tuk drivers and itinerant vegetable sellers as seats.

My favourite use of open ground though, has to be the cricket pitch. There is a walled area of rough earth just opposite my house near 10th cross, and schoolboys often use it to play cricket after class. It could use a couple of hours work with a steamroller to make the crease approximately flat, and the wickets are concrete blocks stood on end, but this doesn’t seem to affect their enthusiasm in the least. Last Sunday, a whole group of youths, all with clean jeans, freshly washed shirts and android phones, rolled up with a couple of proper bats and a worn tennis ball, and spent a couple of hours playing a match so spirited I almost wondered if they weren’t putting on a show. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Virat Kohli, captain of the Indian cricket team, recently became the first cricketer ever to score double centuries in four consecutive series?

Urban planners would no doubt think these open spaces are the eyesores of Mysore, but as it turns out, they have their uses. I’m not about to start chucking my rubbish there, but I’d certainly be up for a game of cricket.

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