A patch of green in a sea of grey - the overpowering smell of green grass .
“Oh sweet chlorophyll where am I ?”
There are very few places in the city that can boast of green as their predominant colour. Pheroza Pink may be but green is very rare. What am I referring to here ? Well its the fair green Maidans of Mumbai. ….. there is no spelling mistake here and no disrespect meant to the many fine maidens of Mumbai……what I am talking about is the open green spaces that have survived this city’s onward run towards mass concretisation.
[A Game of Cricket at Oval Maidan.]
Oval Maidan for one: square metres of undisciplined grass and the odd cracked make-do cricket pitches. People of various age groups and of various proficiencies playing the Indian games of games-cricket. Then there are the avid fans of the game that sit there, sometimes in the bellowing sun, watching the lanky bowler swooping in to bowl from the Rajabai Tower end. All this, much to the delight of the peanut-wallah, who sells his salty wares in odd cylindrical cones of rolled up paper for tarnished two rupee notes or shiny five rupee coins. There is also Shivaji Park, which is famous for much the same reason [read cricket] and infamous for the odd political rally and the traffic jams that one associates with the same.
[Venus on the Rise at the Royal Western Turf Club. A Winner he was]
The Maidan I visited on Sunday is so posh that it is not even considered to be the maidan- the Mahalaxmi Race Course, officially known as the Royal Western Indian Turf Club (cough cough …), which off late has been associated with a hot air balloon and an eccentric Indian tycoon with too much money and loads of free time. I had the free time but not quite the money but I still landed up there for the races. I have never been to the races before. As a matter of fact, I have never been to any competitive sport that involves men or animals trying to get from point A around to point A again in the shortest possible time frame. All I know about horse racing is from the movies. Therefore, I imagined it to be a snooty event, where the women were all decked up in their best pearls with funny ostrich feathered hats, sipping apple martinis; and the men I thought would be smoking cigars and drinking bourbon. I am sorry but my imagination sometimes gets the better of me. The Mahalaxmi race course is divided two enclosures-one costs Rs 25 and the other section which is a dinner jacket affair, the entry here is more or less hereditary. Mahalaxmi is definitely one the city’s ever decreasing alveoli, the old woody trees breathing in all the smoke for the lot of us.
[The K.C Adeshir Cup, the winner gets this.]
[Circa 1945 sorry correction 2005. ]
[The World ceases to matter]
Vivid expressions, avid hand movements and a sea people greet me. It is like the trading floor of the Bombay Stock Exchange, only it is Sunday and we are no where close to Dalal Street. White washed stalls on high pedestals line the rectangular quadrangle. Punters on high beach chairs shout out the odds and the crowds respond shouting back, waving their Coles Race Guides with swift movements of their hand. I am getting restless-where are the horses ? In search of the young stallions I go. A television set [was broadcasting live a race] with men sitting around it biting their nails and watching with the concentration of four year olds enjoying the Sunday morning cartoons. I was expecting to see some Sea Biscuit action but scanning the course there were still no ghodas [horses] in sight. I frown and look to my neighbour- he seemed more than energised and steadily swayed in his place, cringing his teeth together, mumbling a number over and over and over again.
“Come number 6, you can do it, Number 6, Number 6.…. Yes number 6.… 6!!!”
There I am leaning against the white picket fence on the edge of what is the race course, hoping to see a race horse or at least a couple of them, with some trippy pagal [mad] guy standing next to me, mumbling the number 6 like it was going to bring him some kind of spiritual salvation. Then all from nowhere, accompanied by a long stringent ecstasy induced shouts from behind me the horses galloped by spraying small outgrowths of grass into the air.
[A Sprint for the finishing line. If you choose to enlarge the picture by clicking on it - you would notice that none of the 12 legs are on the ground. ]
[Number 6 here incidently came last much to the dismay of the guy next to me]
Let your camera be your ticket to the high life. Tired of the aam junta I tried to cross over to the Rich & Famous side of the race course.
Guard [pointing to the camera],“Boss, Aap photographer hai ?”
I think to myself-I do take photographs and that technically qualifies me as a photographer [though not a photojournalist]. I nod in the affirmative and he lets me through. Lets face it horse racing in its Indian avatar is an angrezi [English] hangover and like other English sports it has its traditional quirks. Races horses are first paraded around like a scene out of Passage to India with an Indian adopted colonial feel to it. Once the parade is over they are herded in the starting enclosure and then the commentator takes over guiding the hypnotised crowd with his baritone voice stressing on each word as he spits it out giving an over emphasised tone to the proceedings.
[Some'games of chance' require research. The parsi couple in picture seem to take their research very seriously. ]
Side Food Note : If you plan to spend a Sunday at the races do not leave without trying the Turf club’s heavenly smoked chicken sandwiches. Gulp it down with some Mumbai signature Raspberry Palonji Soda.
That’s my meandering post for the week. Heres to all of Mumbai’s green spaces.
So long and thanks for all the oxygen.