The curious case of the open air gym at Marine Drive, or Girgaum Chowpatty if that is preferable, could happen only in Mumbai. It tells a sorry tale of misplaced priorities of those who are supposed to govern it.
A sort-of-famous actor decides to do his bit for Mumbai. His good deed is in the form of installing open air exercise machines “of non-corroborative material”, as we are repeatedly told.
He has had them set up at four busy public places namely the Bandra Bandstand, Five Gardens, Shivaji Park and Worli seaface. He decides that the Marine Drive is the next receiver of his benevolence.
On the appointed day, he has the next big political hope of the city and the now-mandatory woman as eye-candy to inaugurate it.
While going through the paces, Mr Young Political Hope tells us something on these lines: “Even 15 minutes of (daily) workout will make you fit. You need not join a gym. You can come here and work out”.
Unmindful of the fact that he is the son and apparent heir of the man who now controls (or does he?) the Shiv Sena, which governs the city through its majority in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, civic officials of the Award, suspected to be more efficient than their counterparts in the rest of the city, dismantle the gym the following day.
There is a huge uproar from the young man. Within hours, the machines are reinstalled.
Now, it is nobody’s case that Mumbai does not need more open air activities, especially of the recreational nature. It is not a debate about fitness levels of citizens either; a large majority of us need to be more fit.
It is about the young Aditya Thackeray and his search for a credible agenda of mass appeal that will sustain him and the Shiv Sena through to the 2017 election to the BMC. The search has taken him from getting the fine novel “Such A Long Journey” de-listed from a university course to inaugurating such gyms, but he can do a lot better.
If only the BMC paid more attention t o clearing garbage regularly and disposing it off in the recommended manner, street corners and air would be healthier.
If only the BMC ensured that the water it supplies to us is not contaminated with unmentionables, more people would be less ill.
If only the BMC gave us better roads, fewer amongst us would run the risk of spinal and lower back problems. And Mumbaiites would not die trying to avoid a pothole.
If only the BMC believed in pavements and made them even, more of us would walk a lot more — and perhaps be fit.
And if t he BMC safeguarded thousands of open spaces such as beaches, playgrounds and recreation grounds in its command, and made sure that citizens in the vicinity could access them, the mean fitness level of Mumbaiites would rise.
Then , we would not “have to join a gym” or go to Marine Drive.
If the young Thackeray dug a bit i nto t he city’s history, he would know that neighbourhood gyms, not necessarily open air but it is a minor diff erence, used t o be t he nor m in Mumbai. These vyayamshalas or vyayam kendras introduced men, sometimes women too, to structured physical exercises and also became a social collective. If there are only a few left, especially in the older Maharashtrian-dominated areas, it is because functional and self-sufficient neighbourhoods have been mindlessly replaced by glass façade edifices with little else around them.
Mumbai now has either new me ga projects that dwarf us as people or micromini individual initiatives that are limited in nature and impact.
Aditya Thackeray could help us by finding a new metier of urban development or ensuring that the BMC does its job, which is not merely re-installing his friend’s gym in a heritage precinct.