Saturday, February 12, 2011

Derby Diary

One of the earliest memories I have of Mumbai is when my mother and I were at the bus stop right opposite the Mahalakshmi Race Course. I was at an age when children are most annoying; they want nothing less than the moon and the stars. But, all I was asking my mother was to cross the road and show me the horses which were galloping on the race course. For reasons that were beyond my comprehension at that age, she refused to oblige to my very reasonable request. I begged, pleaded, threw tantrums, and only then she gave in. I was the happiest child when I saw the horses streaking along the course, kicking up dust. That scene is still implanted in my memory.  
Fast forward to the present, when one of the days I was particularly late for work and my phone was buzzing with calls from office. One such call told me I was to go to the Derby happening at Mumbai, the next day. I dismissed it thinking, these guys couldn’t possibly be serious. Serious they were. And, before I knew it I was packing my stuff and hopping on to a plane bound for Maximum City. It was all very surreal for me to start with. When it actually started sinking in, the first thing that came to my mind was that scene from my childhood and the copious tears I had shed just to get a glimpse of the horses.
As I reached the venue of the McDowell Signature Indian Derby 2011, I braced myself for the snobbery of the elite set of the country. But, what greeted me was an atmosphere which reminded me of a flea market, except for the very fashionably dressed people. The air of cheer and festivity were quite infectious and very soon I found myself mingling with the crowd and not feeling out of place at all.
The racing horses were a sight to behold and the men who were leading the horses to victory deserve a special mention for gracefully guiding the beautiful beasts. The bets were high and one could see people crossing fingers, sending up frantic prayers and doing everything possible to will their horses to win.   
I also happened to spot a handful of celebrities who simply dropped by to add glitter to the whole event.  Dr. Vijay Mallya himself arrived on Day 2 of the event when the big race was due. Entertainment was in the form of music and martial arts. Music coming from One Night Stand...The Band, Billy West and Pussycat Dollies, while the martial arts by Shaolin Monks had the crowd gaping in awe.
Liquor flowed freely, and “Saddle Up”, the Derby special cocktail, lifted the spirits at the event.
Two things that came as complete shockers to me. One being, the Chaat and Chicken Tikka stalls at the venue, which had the crème de la crème making a beeline for them. The second was the unbelievable amount of litter that covered the ground.  You’d think people from the upper strata of the society would have more civic sense than that. It was quite an eyesore.
At the end of the two day event, some went home elated and some moping over their losses. And me, I went with some amusing and interesting memories.