The splendid Wankhede stadium is a prime example. If you're in Bombay, take a detour and peer in. I'll bet good money you find it empty. No match going on. Of 365 days in the year, is it likely that the Wankhede is in use on more than, taking a wild guess, 50?
Because two factions of cricket administrators were neither adult enough nor capable enough to work out their quarrels, back in the early 1970s, we lost a large open space to this massive stadium. So now we have two massive stadiums -- the Brabourne and the Wankhede -- within shouting distance of each other. How proud we are to have two -- count 'em, two! -- world-class cricket facilities in this city!
Why care that one is used hardly at all, except for the odd match every few years and for its members to sit around sipping tea and samosas? That the other sits idle most of the time? That both stand as monuments to petty politics, greed and -- worst of all -- an utter indifference to citizens' need for space?
I nurture this fantasy: what if that gang of politicking half-men who broke with the Brabourne people, instead of building a stadium, had left the land they acquired as an open field? What if they had put the money involved into a fund that would maintain it well, have it available forever and freely to the ordinary citizens of this great city?
Fantasy indeed. But had they done that, think how many Rahul Dravids and Dhanraj Pillays might have emerged from among those citizens over the last thirty years. Instead of applauding the sporting achievements of more stars like them, we are left with two sterile stadiums where one would have been fine.
The lesson, if we want to learn it: Stadiums don't produce world-class sportsmen. Opportunity, widely spread, will.
I've been thinking about this over the last few years, as I've watched a tiny park near where I live "develop." It used to be a slightly shabby place. Little more than an expanse of scraggly lawn ringed with trees, it nevertheless was the only park in my neighbourhood for children to play in.
Being so, it was always as full of kids, of life, as the Wankhede is dead. Every evening for years, dozens of kids would arrive here to play cricket and football and catch-me-if-you-can, or simply run around excitedly as kids must. Rich kids, street kids, just kids. I once photographed them as they whizzed about and dusk set in. The result was a happy confusion of flung balls, long shadows, trees and leaping young bodies.
Who would have imagined that some people saw this joy as undesirable?
First, some faceless Municipal authority decided to lay concrete "paths" through the grass. That didn't stop the kids. Next, they erected foot-high concrete borders along the edges of the paths. That still didn't stop the kids. Though if you were watching, you'd find your heart in your mouth as they raced after balls and leaped nimbly over the barriers. What if they tripped?
Foiled in their efforts to keep the kids out, the faceless men turned to a private group. At considerable expense and with much effort, they "beautified" the park. The lawns are manicured, the borders are painted red, there are rows of cannas, a new fence and a gate that can be locked. There's a large, gorgeous gazebo, where the private group and whoever else is interested can hold discourses and meetings and prayers and much else of lofty import.
The park looks lovely. It also attracts very few kids. So we have our homegrown oxymoron right here: a nearly kid-free park. "All are permitted to enjoy" this "smiling peaceful zone", says the board at the entrance. But smiling or not, "playing cricket/any games" is "strictly prohibited."
Want to find the children who used to play here? You won't have to search very far. I still see them every evening. They still play their cricket and football, or simply run around excitedly as kids must. Just a hundred yards away. On the road. Dodging the Palios and Scorpios that are parked everywhere, the Indicas and Zens that zip so prettily past and through them.
I am so proud of our cars. So proud of that gazebo. So proud of our two world-class cricket stadiums. So proud of my world-class city. Never mind the kids.