Racing's IPL moment

"Getting ready for night racing at the Race Course in Bombay!! Exciting! Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19..." It was RWITC's silver-maned committee member and gaming tycoon, Jaydev Mody, sharing his excitement on a social networking site about the club's latest whoopee: races that started at 5 pm, went on to around 9.30 pm and left punters and other merry makers enough time to have dinner (and perhaps a bit of dancing) under the stars.

"It's very popular in places like Hong Kong," said a racing insider, "In Mumbai, it can be a game changer for the club." So, naturally, Mody's enthusiasm was met with many hurrahs from his pip-pip friends. "Great idea! Fantastic effort! It's party time," went the response. Faced perhaps with more enthusiasm than he'd expected, Mody struck a more circumspect tone:

Jaydev Mody
Jaydev Mody

"It's going to be a trial run, but with all the ingredients. Want to request all of you to be there. It's not been easy and if it goes well, which I'm sure it will, it will be a game changer for our club!" he posted later.

Ram Shroff
Ram Shroff

"We plan to change the way horse racing is conducted in India and also make the racecourse a destination for Mumbaikars and visitors alike, by creating world-class infrastructure around night racing," said Ram Shroff, RWITC member and twin of Mumbai Congress politician Raj Shroff, whom Mody credited for the idea's conception and execution.

So, it's going to be party time at the RWITC: balmy evenings, something cool in one's hand and the thunder of hooves in the background. Why does it feel like racing's just met its IPL moment?

Moon Moon's style
Though we have not met her for long (too long, as tends to happen in Mumbai), we were saddened to hear of the destruction wrought by the fire on actress and TMC politician, Moon Moon Sen's apartments on Monday. The blaze, which started in the early am, is said to have gutted three rooms, mercifully sparing Sen and her daughter, actress Riya Sen.

Moon Moon Sen with Raima and Riya
Moon Moon Sen with Raima and Riya

When we saw pictures of the accident in the papers, we could see the extent of the damage. But even in the debris and destruction, even amidst the upturned sofas and shredded carpets we could recognize Sen's distinctive and glamorous style. There had been a time when we lived in Kolkata, when her darkly grand and exquisitely decorated home there had been at the epicentre of Kolkata's social life.

Gayatri Devi, the late Rajmata of Jaipur and Hugh Grant
Gayatri Devi, the late Rajmata of Jaipur and Hugh Grant

Moon Moon, (no one called her just Moon for short) the daughter of one of Bengal's most iconic actresses, Suchitra Sen, was married to Bharat Dev Varma, aka Habi, from the Royal Cooch Behar family, itself a repository of considerable glam. To add to this heady mix, Habi's masi was none other than the legendary Ayesha, the Rajmata of Jaipur, celebrated internationally for her beauty and glamour.

The couple was gregarious, hospitable, and very charming, and their drawing room attracted royalty, aristocrats, polo players, artists, bankers, and Hollywood stars. (We ran into a rambunctious Hugh Grant on many an evening there) So, you can understand why looking at the pictures of the fire- singed rooms, we were saddened and recalled other similar rooms, where the party had once never ended.

We hope the Sens are able to put this crisis behind them and those rooms can soon see days of laughter and roses again.

Fancy proposals
"You can imagine how I jumped out of my seat!" It was Our Favourite Sobo Matron recounting her newest micro-trauma, this time at the Wasabi, witness to many such in the past."I was seated at the window seat and when I looked out, I saw a cluster of people and they had balloons and streamers and were carrying a sign that read 'Will You Marry Me?'" said OFSM.

"So, of course, I thought Mr Snore and Bore was finally proposing to moi and going to make an honest woman of me, but since he'd dozed off into his Miso soup, I looked around and saw there was this young couple (diamond money) and the girl was saying ' EEEE' and waving her hands in the way that young women tend to do these days to show they're excited.

And I guessed that the boy had arrange to propose to his friend this way," said OFSM. "It's become the big thing these days how you propose to your girl," she said. "They are flying to a romantic spots, picking scenic venues, organising the whole surprise-shurprise, champagne, band baaja baraat so they can put it on a hashtag and send it out to everybody," she said.

Why, we enquired gently. "So that the girl can go 'EEEE' and wave her hands, said our favourite Sobo Matron, waving her hands and saying 'EEEE'.

The end of an era
The term has been over applied in many cases, but those who knew her are not overstating things when they describe the passing of Sarla Birla, wife of Birla patriarch and statesmanlike business leader, Basant Kumar Birla, as the passing of an era.

Sarla Birla with Basant Kumar Birla
Sarla Birla with Basant Kumar Birla

"Not only did she set so many standards within the family and community, but she also founded and supported at least 45 vibrant educational institutions," said the insider. Born into a progressive home, Sarla was the daughter of freedom fighter Brijlal Biyani, daughter-in-law of the pioneering industrialist G D Birla, and the grandmother of billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla. But as she fulfilled the responsibilities that these roles called for, she stood tall on her terms, too. The manner of her marrying B K Birla is indication of her feisty spirit itself.

Kumar Mangalam Birla, Sarla Birla’s grandson
Kumar Mangalam Birla, Sarla Birla's grandson

She was still a teenager when her father, along with Mahatma Gandhi and Jamnalal Bajaj, arranged to have her meet her future husband. "I was studying in Pune's Fergusson College, and I got a message that I have to go to Bombay to Birla House, to see the boy," she once said in an interview, narrating how, on her return, when she was asked what she thought of 'the boy', she replied, "There were 8-10 boys, so I didn't know who was Mr B K Birla," and insisted on another meet to see her future husband.

A concept, as radical as it was charming, and which Gandhiji immediately seconded. "She was disciplined; personally frugal to the point of asceticism and made it a point to keep up with her family, friends, and community till the last," added the insider.

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