Swarna Singh – his name literally means one who is the owner of gold, in turn implying one who is very rich. The reality could not be more different. Swarna Singh works at the Royal Western India Turf Club, which runs the Mahalaxmi race course in Mumbai city. Sporting a navy blue uniform, he ensures that visitors at the race course do not disturb the horses or their riders during practice sessions. I was one of those he warned against taking pictures and straying too close to the fence next to the race track.
I ask him if he is a Rajasthani and he replies in the affirmative, adding that 70-80 per cent of those employed at the Turf Club to look after, train and ride horses belong to Rajasthan. I look around and it seems to be true – the riders, the horse handlers and many more seem to be from the Indian state of colourful turbans, mesmerising music and little water. The reason might be that there are members of the erstwhile royalty in Rajasthan who still own stables or breed horses.
We chat for a while and I discover that he too is one of those who leave the comfort of their home and land in Mumbai every month, hoping to find a better future. They work diligently, keeping at their routine day after tiring day and spending as little as possible so that they can send money home.
Swarna Singh told me there was a race scheduled for the day and since it was open to the public, I could watch it if I came back later. The racing season at Mahalaxmi race course begins mid-November and extends till April. The first Sunday of February witnesses the Derby, when a large section of the city’s glamorous and well-heeled lot flaunt their hats and other quite Victorian looking items of dressing.
I thought to myself – this is what Mumbai/Bombay is – a true city of contrasts. There are those whose trinkets cost more than a year’s wages of several others and there are those who cannot think beyond where their next meal will come from.
But, the reason I love Mumbai is that it retains its inclusiveness in some part. The Mahalaxmi race course allows the common public to exercise and jog/walk in the mornings/evenings during specified timings. Yoga classes are conducted and lessons in horse riding are given to amateurs. The place is an oasis in the middle of a bustling city and should definitely be on the ‘to see’ list of any traveler to Mumbai.
Mahalaxmi race course is situated in the area of the same name. If you wish to use local train services, the name of the station at which you disembark is Mahalaxmi on the Western suburban line and Bombay/Mumbai Central on the Central suburban line. You can take a taxi/cab to the race course from these stations.
There is no entrance fees. You can visit the site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahalaxmi_Racecourse for more information