Suddenly, one morning, while sipping Gujarati masala chai, I see a photograph of the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in the newspaper with the headlines crying out that the BMC is taking over the racecourse land to create a theme park, leaving a part of it for horse racing.

Mahalaxmi Racecourse is home. Before sunrise, I would accompany my father (who was passionate about the sport) to watch the horses practicing, binoculars and stop watches in tow. The magic of thundering hooves passing by with the jockeys perched up in perfect balance, guiding them past the white fences on rich green grass, still wet with dew, all silhouetted in the red rising sun, cannot be articulated in words.

Many mornings were also spent in the saddle as a member of the Amateur Riders’ Club. I learnt how to ride at an early age. It was thrilling, except when I was on a mischievous horse who was smarter than me.

In the evenings, we’d drive through a reasonably quiet city to the stables and watch the horses roll amidst a long line of tree cover around their respective stables; long, ground structures with white walls and tall sloping roofs with terracotta Mangalore tiles with the inside divided into individual stalls, decked with thick layers of hay.

So most of the sunrises and sunsets in my childhood were spent at the racecourse. You’d wonder when I found time to do my school homework.

For me, the Mahalaxmi racecourse is the most beautiful piece of land in the city. It always has been and always will be. A haven for horses and heaven for me; herds of horses, scurries of squirrels, fields of grass, stacks of hay and an ancestry of trees.

The Sport of Kings, we used to say. It wasn’t just about the kings, though. It wasn’t just about the Maharajah of Kashmir, the Scindias of Gwalior or, more recently, the corporate kings like Vijay Mallya and the Poonawallas (the name is now synonymous with racing). Anybody could buy a horse for racing in those days, including my father, who was a humble stock broker. The club would extend loans to its members, providing all kinds of contingencies.

Scores of thousands would attend to watch the races and enjoy the clean Bombay air, the trees, the lawns and, of course, the one and a half kilometre long race track, a carpet of rich green grass; a world yet not exposed to TV and Mobile Phones. A world more worthy of the senses.

There was, of course, the fair share of gambling, like in cricket, football and any other sport but, somehow, horse racing became relatively more infamous for it in India. And the Centre came down with a heavy hammer on the sport, wielding unbelievable taxes and legalities, such that the pillars of the sport started to give way. The cracks are visible. It has, most unfortunately, been shoved by the Centre into the category of ‘sin’.

And now this- a theme park. Is it the final nail in the coffin?

My beagle, Mogambo, was eying my toast. He was poised to steal. I told him to sit and behave. He was wondering why I was out of sorts. I told him.

Mogambo: Theme park! What’s the theme?

Me: We don’t know.

Mogambo: What?

Me: It's going to be a park, with greenery and… you know…

Mogambo: Are you colour blind? Its already green. Why is the BMC and the government wanting to build a theme park without a theme?

Me: Well, because… uh… they want it to be an extension of the coastal road park which is a one hundred and seventy five acre park. They want to connect it to the centre of the racecourse and to the stable area through a tunnel.

Mogambo: But they already have one hundred and seventy five acres! So why do they want more?

Me: Do I like the chief minister? Do I look like the Chief Commissioner of the BMC?

Mogambo: No, you don’t. You don’t look anything like them.

Me: Thank you. But they did mention that the park will be open to all; joggers, walkers, yogis..

Mogambo: What about me?

Me: You?

Mogambo: I go there every evening, so I have a right to know.

Me: You don’t figure anywhere in the hierarchy. You’re a dog.

Mogmabo: Well, then I deserve a dog park. Is there a dog park anywhere else in the city?

Me: I am not aware of any.

Mogambo: So where am I supposed to go now? Please file an FIR.

Me: Who’s going to represent you in court? You are not even a RWITC club member with voting rights.

Mogambo: You should speak up for me. Tell them, I run around there, roll in the grass. It's the only open space where I can play catch in the fields with my friends, Frodo and Teagan. Teagan annoys me sometimes but that's ok; she’s quite sexy.

Me: Look! There are far more important issues to be dealt with. The equestrian arena is going to be thrown out together with the horses and their entire club of amateur riders, not to mention the polo ground in the centre.

Mogambo: The equestrian horses, too? I will miss them. I eat their poop, sometimes. Its tasty.

Me: That's how you get ill. It's gross.

Mogambo: I will come with you to the stables then. The thoroughbreds live in such beautiful stables amidst all those trees. I prefer them to our home. Once you took me there and I walked into a stall of one of the horses. Remember? He became a friend in a trice, even though he was too big for me. He embowed his beautiful, long, sinewy neck towards the ground and kissed me.

Me: I don’t know about the stables. They’re getting rid of the stables, in their proposed theme park.

Mogambo looked alarmed. His mouth went into a pre-growl quiver.

Me: Stop that.

He barked twice. I told him it’s just a proposed plan on paper and PowerPoint. I tried to explain to him that while some of that area will be taken away, new double decker stables will be built for the horses.

Mogambo: Double decker?

Me: Yes, you know, like those jails in Hollywood films? The rest of the area will be utilised for the theme park.

Mogambo: What’s the theme?

I shrugged. He went into a zoomie. I watched him as he maniacally spurted all over the house. Then he stopped and looked at me, breathing hard.

Mogambo: You should protest.

Me: Hello? If the club members don’t vote in favour, the BMC and the Government may not renew the licence and lease. Then what? Racing will end. Thousands of employees will lose their means of livelihood. The land will be grabbed. Builders will start constructing high rises. And that means thousands of tons of cement displacing the grass and trees, thousands of more cars, millions of gallons of water supplied by tankers for the high rises. Chaos.

Mogambo: You could go to court.

Me: And argue against the likes of Harish Salve? Have you lost your mind?

Mogambo: What about a protest march? I could come with you. Under that pretext, at least, I could avail of a long walk. I could pee on car tyres to mark new territories.

Me: There are various groups and environmentalists who are not giving up. Maybe, there will be protests and court cases and political brawls. On the flip side, if the park does come about, they might allow racing to take place- even allow the club to build a club house with extra facilities for revenue… It’s all very complex- a grey area. Like the roads and the sky and the sea and the cement. Maybe, this entire project will be delayed. Maybe, it will take a few years to come about… As a senior citizen, I wonder if I will live to see the new theme park.

Mogambo: What about me? I’m only three years old. Where will I play at the age of – say- seven or ten?

I continued to sip my tea in silence.

Mogambo: What about the blind masseurs who earn a living by giving massages to those tired sinews after exercise.

Me: Hmm… they can’t see. They will manage.

After staring into nothing, I went back to my toast, only to find an empty plate.

Cover Photograph: 1960’s photograph of the Mahalaxmi racecourse