In a city where land is costlier than gold, the problem of space is always a contentious issue. In this light, MNS chief Raj Thackeray's ire at not being allowed by the court to hold public meetings at Shivaji Park comes as no surprise. But for all his avowals at having his finger on the pulse of the city, Thackeray has forgotten that Mumbai suffers a grinding paucity of space, where handkerchief-sized grounds masquerade as playgrounds.
Thus, the few maidans that Mumbai has must serve the precise purpose they were built to serve -- to foster a love for the outdoors. Mumbai has clubs both in South Mumbai and North Mumbai that charge lakhs for membership. Most South Mumbai clubs have shut their doors firmly to aspiring members, as they have no more space to accommodate new members. These club memberships are highly coveted, not only because they immediately catapult members to the upper-crust of Mumbai society, but also because they are the last bastions for sports lovers.
In such a bleak scenario, where the fundamental pleasure of playing in open spaces is accessible to the privileged, maidans are the city's leveller. You don't need money or lineage to walk into them. While they may not offer the same wining-dining options, these are the last resort for people across age-groups who need their daily walks, jogs and carefree sprints. True-blue Mumbaikars know well why Shivaji Park is dubbed the nursery of Indian cricket. The country's most loved cricketing icon, Sachin Tendulkar, honed his skills on this maidan. Using these hallowed plots for rallies and morchas may damage them often beyond repair.
While it is true that in a democracy, rallies are one of the only means to make a statement, there have to be other places earmarked for such protests. Heritage structures and maidans in Mumbai must be protected and reserved exclusively for playing and health activities. If we want to foster more champions in different sports, let's leave the maidans alone.
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