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Open spaces and all that talk

Updated on: 05 February,2024 06:53 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Fiona Fernandez |

Our sutradhaars, Lady Flora and Sir PM, discuss the future of the racecourse and also what to make of a possible Central Park

Open spaces and all that talk

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Fiona FernandezWell, you are looking as if you struck gold,” Lady Flora remarked after she noticed that her friend Pheroze was in high spirits. “As a matter of fact, I am feeling quite rich,” he replied much to the surprise of Lady Flora who did an eye roll. “I am back after a pretty successful run at the races. I haven’t lost my touch, after all. They used to call me ‘Punter’ back in the day for a darn good reason.”

Lady Flora was all ears, and wanted to hear more. “So, what made you return to the races? It must have been a fairly big reason...” Sir PM settled on his bench. “I heard all this buzz and chatter about sections of the racecourse being utilised for other things, other activities. I thought, ‘Why not head there and experience some of the old-world charm and excitement of the races? Who knows for how long this original panorama will be retained?’ Honestly, it was a bittersweet time, my lady. Despite the winning and all.”

Lady Flora had actually done her homework; she was well versed on the recent developments, and chimed in, “It’s supposed to be an amusement park; a themed one, is what I hear, and a Central Park type space. I am the outsider here, but tell me, Pheroze, historically, why has there been such interest in this piece of land? So many other spaces are lying around...scrap land, even abandoned mills that can be transformed into these very same ideas.”

Sir PM took a long pause. “Well, I too have been baffled by this talk, my lady. I remember those days when it was marshland. And how rainwater and sea water would make a mess of the space. In fact, the original racecourse was in Byculla—a tony locality at the time. Then, it was decided to shift the racecourse here after epidemics started to affect Parel and Byculla due to sanitation issues. It lost its sheen at that time,” he added.

Lady Flora, opined, “I believe this new plan won’t affect the races but some sections where horse riders train, and yes, which a large part of the population uses for their morning and evening walks, jogging and so on. I hear they are extremely upset.”

“And they should be,” Sir PM nodded, “I mean, look around us; the city is growing larger, with the number of high-rises and their fancy gardens and walkabouts, but what about public open spaces? Aren’t we getting less sensitive to the needs of our citizens? Open spaces are scarce. People live in matchbox-sized homes, and yearn for some fresh air.” 

By now, both friends had reached Oval Maidan, that green lung in the heart of SoBo. “Look how many games of cricket are being played in just that one section...doesn’t that tell you a story?” Sir PM shared with his friend, adding, “ I feel quite helpless now that I am not in the mix of things, you know. To be able to speak my mind and assert my case about the threat to the racecourse. I am sure many are looking at it as an opportunity to utilise the contested space for greater common good, but I am not sure what that will lead to. Also, why disturb an existing popular public space?” 

Lady Flora made a valid point, “If they are keen on doing something in this debated space, creating a New York-type Central Park, why not create a Japanese Miyawaki forest instead of this so-called proposed theme park? It will continue to help those who avail of it now, and lend an aesthetic sense to the place. In any case your former bosses have been going to town about promoting this style of public gardens all of last year, so why not take it up here as well?” she reasoned. 

“I agree. Whatever be their plan, the historicity, and greenery of the space should not be disturbed. Construction of any kind will only worsen things. It’s bad enough the city is grappling with insensitive monstrosities. I propose that they invite a city-based architectural firm and expert urban planners to take up this contentious project,” suggested Sir PM. “I second that. And, Pheroze, do give it a shot if you can get these thoughts to your former bosses. Surely, you deserve to be heard. It’s a good time. After all, they did give your statue a good scrub,” she smiled.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana

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