WALK IN THE PARK          

Within the Town Hall Square, taking up a vast area of prime land is the Vihara Maha Devi Park – a colonial relic renamed after a legendary queen. Although it intends to provide much needed solace from the relentless heat and dust of the city, within the park awaits an unattractive menace. It is garbage thrown into the main pond and the trenches, polluting the greenery of the ill-maintained setting. Also, a visitor will have to only imagine the beauty of the fountains, that must have gushed forth in great splendour, since they have all run dry, leaving only gaping cement emptiness. The Nation visited the park recently to record the dying beauty of Vihara Maha Devi Park

By Poornima Ravishan Wijemanne
It is generally acknowledged that Sri Lankans bear official inefficiency with remarkable patience. But, even by Sri Lankan standards, the maintenance – or the lack thereof – at the Vihara Maha Devi Park has become intolerably ugly.
The Nation, upon visiting the park recently, to write about its history and beauty was startled by its present crisis – which turned out to be graver than what we were prepared for.

The Aquarium and the hanging bridge above the lake are barred for the public, without any notice when they will ever be open. The grass is unkempt and the ground underneath is stubborn, with sudden and dangerous highs and lows. All of these and the general feel of clumsiness found in the park are tolerable, even preferable than some of the other surprises that were awaiting us.
The series of fountains along the brick road from one end to the other of the park are empty. The taps do not work and the toilets that charge two rupees per entrance are not maintained, even up to general standards.

But nothing can beat the central pond in the park, which is horribly polluted. It has been made shallow by layers of polythene and the ever-lasting waste keep raising the pond floor. An entire area of the pond has an almost solidified surface with a velvety pulp of rotten flowers that intersperse with green muck and suspicious bubbles keep trying to break the surface. At the edge of the pond, a lone sign pleading people not to pollute the pond, innocently stands.

Swimming in the unpleasantness are the colonies of deadly mosquitoes and other dangerous things. A hand thrust in it could come out with a thousand undiscovered skin diseases.

Above the pond is the hanging bridge that according to a pineapple vendor has cost a ghastly amount of money but has been used only on two occasions due to it being insecure. A real pity, for as soon one sees it, one feels an immediate urge to go across it. The barring deprives the public of a wonderful view of the whole park and the pond, though the pond must now look like a basin of vomit from above.

There’s another enticing little hut out on the pond that gives a good view, but has a wooden bridge without proper handrails. One slip on your way will splash you on to the foul water. What is remarkable is not that the bridge does not have a handrail, but that the constructors seem to have abandoned the idea of a handrail halfway through.

Near the pond is a tree circled by a concrete trench, which is filled with trash. In it are plastic bottles, polythene bags, lunch boxes and other things that strangely remind one of a stupid, selfish and hunchbacked mob eating and laughing away in little exclusive groups that care little of the world beyond.

The security personnel at the park show a questionable interest in keeping the premises clean. But this negligence is perhaps encouraged by the higher authorities. Evidence does not present itself to support this; it has to be pursued through an exasperating line of phone calls.

The Nation met with the Officer-in-charge who refused to talk to us citing national security concerns and directed us to the Director Engineer of the Municipal Council to permit the Officer- in-charge to speak. The Director Engineer, after being unavailable for most of the day said that he was unable to disclose any information unless the Municipal Commissioner permitted him to do so. When finally we talked to Municipal Commissioner Badrani Jayawardene, she agreed to permit her deputy to speak. But when we returned to the Director Engineer he said that since he still had not being informed of the Commissioner’s clearance, he was still unable to disclose any information.

Though the authorities cited national security, they seemed not to notice the danger a massive pile of garbage can pose to human lives within the park.

Since information is impossible to be attained through official sources, we resorted to the pineapple vending community’s knowledge.

“There really isn’t any disgustful mischief going under the bushes in the park, most stories are make believe. All that’s wrong with the park is the maintenance,” said a pineapple vendor who wished to remain anonymous.

According to him – and many others – the main problem is that there is no singular person who supervises the maintenance on ground-zero. The messages of the higher authorities do not filter down strong enough to be turned into actions at the level of security guards, cleaners etc.

This was written with the hope that the authorities will pay some attention to the crisis at the Vihara Maha Devi Park. Drawing its legend from the fame of two queens – Victoria and Vihara Maha Devi – being graced by Anton Chekov and A.S. Joachin, who went on to set a world record on standing on one foot for the longest time in 1997, and also being the only decent patch of green that a tired soul can rest his thoughts on, should be maintained at least in consideration for the health of the visitors.
- (Pix by Nissanka Wijerathne)