Cross Maidan returns to city's fold

Feb 12, 2012, 08:13 IST | Phorum Dalal

From being a dumping ground and the occasional venue for travelling circuses, the newly-restored Cross Maidan claims its original role of a public recreation spot. First on the list, dance and music performances at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

Meher Mehta, 58, wraps the shawl around her tightly, sits back and smiles. The moon is shining brightly over the Cross Maidan where the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is on. "I used to come to the Cross Maidan as a five-year-old girl when there was only grass all around. We used to come with our ayahs, who carried sandwiches and orange juice for us to eat after play. Sometimes, there would be circuses set up here," says a nostalgic Mehta.

The 14th Kala Ghoda Arts Festival includes Cross Maidan as a
venue, which is the first time this space has been used for the
annual Arts festival. Many visitors have been surprised to see
well- manicured lawns, clean surroundings and a jazzy installation
 within the Maidan. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Not long after Mehta spent her childhood days soaking in the sun at the Maidan, it fell into disrepair. While it continued to be lent out to travelling circuses, it soon became a dumping ground with garbage covering large swathes of the Maidan. Over 100 stalls set up shop inside the ground located near the Bhikha Behram Well, a centuries-old well that is sacred to the Parsis.

The city collector's office held the authority to lend out the Maidan. And in 2006, the state government passed the southern end of the Maidan into the hands of the OVAL (Organisation for Verdant Ambience and Land) Trust, which began work on restoring the garden and maintaining it. Funded by the Tata Group and Jasubhai Foundation, 3.5 acres of the Maidan -- neatly manicured and cleaned -- was thrown open to the public in June 2010. It has a walking track, flowerbeds and benches for senior citizens, besides litterbins, a play area for children and a drinking water fountain.

Tata Steel and Jasubhai Foundation had invited artists to design a steel sculpture for an international campaign and were looking for an appropriate location to install it. Nuru Kumar's winning design, Gandhian Charkha was made the centrepiece of the garden. It was inaugurated on Gandhi Jayanti last year. With the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival using it as a venue for art events, many feel the Maidan is finally being used for what it was intended for originally -- recreation.

Cross Maidan before its restoration was a dumping ground
and hundreds of stalls set up shop inside the ground located
near the Bhikha Behram Well, a Zorastrian heritage site.
Pic courtesy: Oval Trust

"From being a ground where circuses were held, and cricket matches were played, the real use of the Maidan has been achieved with the festival -- a space for recreation," says Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), a public charitable trust that raises awareness and conducts research on issues pertaining to the city.  It was for the same reason that Kala Ghoda Association decided to use the Maidan as a venue for the 14th Kala Ghoda Arts Festival that began on February 4.

"The festival aims to draw people's attention to Kala Ghoda's rich cultural heritage and the message this venue sends out is loud and clear. There is a new public space in the vicinity and people are welcome here with open arms," says Pallavi Shaney Sharma, CEO, Kala Ghoda Association. While the public is allowed to eat in the garden, pets and sports are a strict no-no. OVAL trustee Nayana Kathpalia says, "The Maidan will not be given out for events during the monsoons. While we will scrutinise requests to hold events in the garden, it is first and foremost for citizens to use."

The trust will charge a refundable security deposit that will depend on the kind of event being held. However, there is no time limit, and while the Noise Pollution Act does not allow loud music within 100 metres of a place of worship, a part of the garden falls outside the silence zone, which is where events and exhibitions will be held. In April, Max Muller Bhavan and Goethe-Institut will conduct an exhibition titled Infinite Opportunities at the Maidan.

Bharata Natyam dancer Pavitra Bhat, who performed last week at the festival, says the venue is apt for cultural events. "The beauty of Mumbai comes alive here, as the maidan overlooks Eros Cinema, the Bombay High Court, Rajabai tower and the Churchgate station.  Also, we now have a larger space to perform. The events at the Maidan were viewed seriously, compared to dancing on street." City historian Abha Narain Lamba says, "It is important for Mumbaikars to be possessive about open spaces and guard it. The Cross Maidan now means a new open space has opened for the public to use."

Know your maidan
The Cross Maidan, Azad Maidan, Oval Maidan and the Cooperage once formed part of the vast open space outside the Fort, known as the Esplanade. Following the demolition of the Fort in 1860s, several new streets were laid in the Fort area, thus fragmenting the Esplanade into four major sections. Cross Maidan is named after a sacred cross that was placed at the northern end of the Maidan after its removal from a demolished Catholic Cathedral, which once stood on the present site of the Elphinstone Technical High School on Mahapalika Marg.
The Cross Maidan Garden area is under the jurisdiction of the Collector Mumbai.

In 2004, the state government authorised the OVAL Trust to restore and maintain a part of the Cross Maidan.
The MCGM began a water tunnel project in early 2006 to bring more water to south Mumbai wherein they proposed to locate the shaft right in the centre of the Cross Maidan garden ground, which was later revised. The tunnel work was shifted to the 7,000 sq. metres at the northern edge of the garden. This area will revert to the garden for restoration when the MCGM work is complete. Another space in the garden area, measuring 555.5 sq yards near the south-eastern edge of the garden has been taken over by a commercial entity and is so far unavailable for restoration.

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