Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Racing ahead... wisely

5th of June is proclaimed to be ‘World Environment Day’, the right day I think to shell out my two cents on the recent ‘Turn-Mahalakshmi-race-course-into-green-garden’ political play. For once, I think the politicos have the good of the city in mind, despite the obvious political undertones.

The Mahalakshmi Race Course is sprawled over a vast 225 acres right in the heart of south-central Mumbai. In 1914, the land had been leased out by the then government to the Royal Western India Turf Club for a period of 99 years, which expired on the 31st of May 2013. While RWITC applied for an extension of the lease, Shiv Sena supremo the late  Shri Balasaheb Thackeray's son and hier, Udhhav Thackeray, proposed that the huge area be converted into a public garden instead. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra was approached with the ‘blueprints’ of the proposed plan for the garden to be named after the late Sena supremo, which is believed to be an alternative to the unsuccesful attempt at building a  monument in his memory at Dadar's Shivaji Park. Uddhav Thackeray’s son, Aaditya Thackeray, the head of Shiv Sena’s youth wing posted these pictures on his Facebook page –

Aerial view of the Mahalakshmi Race Course as it is today

Aerial view of the proposed garden, believed to be an image of  Monaco, Monte Carlo (http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/1842361/report-aaditya-thackeray-posts-a-vision-of-mahalaxmi-racecourse-on-facebook)

This is what the Sena has to say about it –

"This garden will have open spaces to run, jog, cycle, skate, fly kites.. a water body for boating, relaxing. cultural sites for open air music concerts, theatre, poets and plays.. small gardens of flowering trees and plants."

Whatever the reasons behind the proposal of the garden, political or otherwise, I am all for it. Although I will miss the enigma of the race course, I eagerly welcome the idea to create a much-needed breathing space in south-central Mumbai. 

I endorse the plan proposed by the Sena, adding my own two cents to it –

1. While open spaces for running/cycling/skating/flying kites are most welcome, and so are the small gardens of flowering trees and plants, let the proposed public garden be a real jungle among the concrete jungle. What this part of Mumbai is most in need of is not just a breathing space, but strong, powerful robust lungs that will clean up the heavily polluted air. Planting as many trees as possible is the need of the hour. A beautiful wooded area can be planned out with settees and rustic benches for people to enjoy the cool shade, and a cosy little footpath for the walkers to enjoy a memorable stroll in cool, fresh air.

Left to me, I would plant an entire grove of neem trees. The air-purifying effects of Azadirachta indica are well-documented scientifically and I have experienced it personally too. I would also have a special area ear-marked for medicinal herbs, shrubs, plants and trees – a nice way to make people aware of our rich native vegetation that has untold priceless health benefits too. And maybe a small place for the ‘Rashi’ and ‘Navagraha’ trees of astrological importance. Their significance has been vastly undermined, but more on that in a separate blogpost.

2. ‘Water body for boating and relaxing’… well have boating if you must (generate funds to maintain the garden?). I would counter-propose a beautiful Zen garden complete with water-lily and lotus ponds, bamboo groves (doubt if they will grow in the Mumbai weather, no harm trying though), crystal clear streams of cool, sparkling water bubbling over stony pebbles and wooden bridges. Maybe even a bonsai or two thrown in, and of course green lawns where one could sit and relax or simply read a book.

3. The stands and viewing boxes at the race course can definitely be fashioned out into an open-air amphitheatre – imagine concerts and plays right under the blue sky, or the starry night! (Sadly, dark starry nights are a thing of the past what with all the super-bright ‘diffused’ light in the city. Also, the Mumbai monsoons would necessitate the need for alternate arrangements, but hey, getting drenched while listening to a concert is so much fun too :) There should definitely be a covering over the dias, goes without saying!). While some shows can be free of cost to the public, the theatre may also be lent out for shows to corporates for a reasonable amount, proceeds being used for the maintenance of the garden.

4. Another extremely important issue is, to use the buzzword, ‘Sustainability’. Using rain-water harvesting and composted/ vermicultured soil to maintain the greenery of the garden, using solar power to light it up, providing separate dustbins to segregate waste generated, and informing and educating Mumbaikars (and Indians!) about the significance of all this and how it makes a big positive contribution to our save our environment – these are MUST DO’s! As also hefty fines for littering and nuisance-making!

5. Dedicate the garden to Mumbaikars and hand over its management to the citizens of Mumbai - the residents of the locality and anyone else interested, especially the youth. If one wants something in life, one must work for it. Leaving the management entirely to the government/ corporation would serve to make the garden an entertainment spot. Citizen involvement would generate a sense of belongingness and responsibility, ensuring that the upkeep and maintenance of the garden would be seen to by not only the present, but also the future generations of proud Mumbaikars. (In this respect, a very minimal fee may be charged for entry into the garden. Free things are taken for granted creating indifference in the minds of the people. A small charge will get such atrocious and harmful attitude back in line).

6. Let not political whims and fancies take centre stage. Let this be a shining example of the people and politicians working hand-in-hand for the betterment of the city they love. We needn’t be at loggerheads every time, need we?

7. But these are only my ideas! Let us collectively come up with ideas for the beautification and improvement of the garden, see how these can be incorporated practically, make this all happen, continue to keep it that way, and rejoice in the contentment of a job well done! :)

All in all, this is my plan is to convert the Mahalakshmi race course into a dense Indian jungle cum Bangalore’s Lalbagh Botanical Garden cum Mumbai’s Jogger’s park cum New York’s Central Park cum a beautiful Zen garden. News has it that the lease has been renewed and RWITC will continue to hold horse races as it has always been doing and that there will be no garden at Mahalakshmi. Yet, no harm in letting the fertile imagination run wild. I hope this wishful blogpost has led to small, green ideas being planted and taking roots, providing blueprints for future gardens that are/ will be planned.

Happy World Environment Day! Let us be the green change we want to see!