Run for green cover

Apr 17, 2012, 08:11 IST | Hemal Ashar

Recently, the Mahalxmi racecourse played host to an exhibition called Breathing Space by a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) called Citispace. The racecourse itself, SoBo's green lung, has been in danger of 'disappearing' on a number of earlier occasions, being eyed by builders and politicians alike. Bipin Kokate took the pictures

Silhouettes against the sun: A walk through of the exhibition at Royal Western India Turf Club's (RWITC) headquarters saw exhibits like these

Conservation Credo
The Breathing Space exhibition held over the weekend at the Mahalaxmi racecourse, saw a crisp presentation on Saturday evening, when a number of speakers talked about what open spaces mean to them. The venue, SoBo’s most coveted open space, was symbolic of the need to preserve and fight to conserve whatever little fragments of open space the city has left.

Song sung true: Leslie Lewis sings at the event while the panelists look on

Vivek Jain chairman, RWITC when asked whether it was ironical that the racecourse was holding an event on preserving green spaces, when the land itself is being eyed for ‘development’ said, “that’s the whole point. To communicate and inform people to keep the race course open and green, and away from land sharks. We especially want the centre of the race course to be untouched.” In addition, Jain said that Tribe@Turf, an RWITC initiative, wants to play a leadership role on causes relevant and necessary for Mumbai.

Watch this space: People looking at newspaper reports and photographs of various projects undertaken by the NGO, across all the wards in Mumbai 

Milind Deora, while stating that the issue of open spaces must be politicized so that it receives the attention it deserves, touched a chord when he shed off the political speak and talked about his childhood. “I remember there was a garden opposite to where I stayed at Breach Candy when I was a child. Today, a tower has replaced that. I am sure we all have such memories,” he said to the audience at the member’s lawn of the Mahalaxmi racecourse .

Making it happen: The racecourse's Tribe@Turf initiative has seen a host of events 

Neera Punj convenor, Citispace said that open spaces were a “necessity” not a “luxury” and added that the global yardstick was 14 sq feet of open space for one person. “We had insisted that the BMC and corporators come here to be part of the exhibition but maybe the reporters will do their job and the politicians will read the reports,” she added. Nayana Kathpalia, co-convenor, Citispace said that, “We had reached out to political parties time and again to make open spaces a part of their manifesto during election time. However, somehow this has not got the support it deserved. We need the support of citizens at the ground level too.”

Coffee, tea and dexterity: Artisans display their skill at the exhibition. Hathautee, an organization that aims to help youth to understand Indian art and craft, supported the exhibition

Kathpalia cited a few examples of skewed thinking with reference to open spaces. “Some time ago, somebody came up with the idea of creating a Persepolis in the open space at the Dadar Parsi Colony. Then, somebody went to New York and saw Central Park. Politicians decided they wanted to recreate Central Park in Mumbai and wanted to join Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan and Oval Maidan for that purpose.

Dark against light: Some of the products on display, have an earthy, indigenous feel

These are the ad hoc, random thoughts authorities often tout, instead of a holistic vision for the city. In Kandivali, one recreation ground was turned into a wedding ground. When there were objections it was said that the ground could be used for religious functions for a set number of days a year.

Got his eyestention: Milind Deora looks at the work documenting the fight to preserve the city's open spaces

When asked how a wedding was a religious function, activists were told: pandit hai, havan hai, it is a religious function,” she said to laughs from the audience. Last up, it was Leslie Lewis, singer who sang four songs, “not a full-fledged performance which would be for two hours,” one in particular to make this a better world for children. He egged the audience on, to clap and sing with him, rounding off the last song saying in Marathi jocularly, “What are you all clapping here for? Go on home now.”     

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