As night racing made it debut this Mumbai racing season on Saturday, the green emerald of SoBo glittered and mesmerised all. The hardy old banyans and other trees shone with a million lights placed at strategic points, while, on the tracks, the finest steeds put up a show fit for kings. But what the public revelled in most is the one thing we are all starved of — space.
As Mahalaxmi Race Course threw open its lawns, one could see people ambling through the green, open space, enjoying the seating arrangements and betting at windows. It was a Mumbai party unlike any other — no elbow in somebody’s face, no stepping on toes or squeezing between other partygoers for a slice of the action. The evening itself brought forth feelings that every inch of this green and pleasant land is worth fighting for.
For years, the turf club, green activists and the public have fended off attempts by politicians and other parties with vested interests to take over the racecourse. There have been various pretexts under which these proposals have been made. One builder wanted to convert the racecourse space into a hotel complex. Another spoke about a parking lot. A different developer wanted permission to set up office towers. A proposal was made for a heliport in the midst of it.
Sometimes, the RWITC was blamed for being too elitist and preserving the space for a rich few, and other times, politicians suggested that the space is commercially under utilised. Little attention is paid to reiterations that the space is not elitist but open for all during certain times of the day — for walkers, joggers, children who play football in the middle and amateur riders who take lessons there. During polo season, polo matches are held in the interior, and these matches too are accessible to the common man.
Yet, as Saturday night proved, it is vital to preserve this space for all of us. It is up to every citizen to ensure the city’s green jewel stays this way.