On Saturday evening, for probably the third time in my life, I went for a walk at the Mahalaxmi rececourse.
I was visiting the Eden Hall and, from one of its upper-upper floors, shaminas in Congress tricolours that were covering the entire racecourse. On the way down other racecourse walkers, from different floors, two men and a woman, all of whom looked like they needed to jog.
They proceeded to the racecourse across the road in their respective chauffeur-driven. I walked. But we met at the racecourse, in front a notice that said. "Friends are informed that the racecourse is closed to public from December 21 to 30." I appreciated the word, "friend", after all, we are all friends of the Congress.
There were, a group of walkers joggers standing around the notice, talking to an RWITC watchman, one of the few members of the racecourse staff who has not been temporarily unemployed because of the Congress session. The watchman was telling them that he had no objection, but the police would not allow them further. The police, as a matter of fact, never do, except to smugglers, known bad elements, etc.
Since I was not dressed in the rich man's jogging outfit and did not look either like Partap Sharma or Sylvester Da Cunha or Minakshi Raja, they possibly presumed I was one of the Congress-I officials and allowed me to pass.
Inside, it was like a tented city, the kind of Mughal army used to erect on its marches across the Plateau of the Deccan. The shaminas stretched across the racecourse, from the 2,000 metters post to the 800 metres post, smelling of thousands of yards of brand new cloth that would have clothed half the poor of the country. Well, not half… a quarter. In one shamina, tailors were sitting at sewing machines stitching new cloth together in the Congress tri-colour.
There were large earthen tanks sunk into the ground and tankers were moving in and out of the racecourse filling the tanks with water. Later, I presume, they will put blocks of ice into the tanks. The hundreds of lavatories, I was told, were along the outer circle of the racecourse. I did not visit them, though I knew they were still new and not used.
There was also a fire-brigade engine, already stationed, and garages for other official vehicles. Mr. Subramaniam, the Maharashtra housing minister drove in to check the arrangements. Evidently no chances could be taken… supposing Mr. Rajiv Gandhi got it into his head to go and visit the delegates at their ccommodation at Mahalaxmi, no doubt followed by Doordarshan cameras.
Since there was nothing for me to do there, I left. As I came out, along a narrow strip, beyond the racing green, I saw Homi Mulla, his white Parsi legs showing below his shorts, running up and down. Some people will not miss their daily jog even at the time of a momentous political event, I thought.