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The Tata Marathon brings Mumbai together

It has been away for two years. But the Tata Mumbai Marathon is back.

Earlier this month the Tatas announced that they would stage the Marathon on January 15 next year and registration for participation has already commenced.


If you live in Mumbai then you will be familiar with the Marathon. It has been going for 17 years, is usually held on a Sunday and is always a big deal, with streets blocked off and crowds gathered on the edges to watch the runners go by. Because the classic long-distance marathon is too gruelling for most amateurs, the Half Marathon which is easier has many takers: many amateurs even regard it as the real marathon. There is a Senior Citizens run. There is another race for people with physical challenges. And so on.


   I was pleased to hear about the return of the Marathon for several reasons. First and most obviously, it is a sign that things are returning to normal. Covid has not gone away. Delhi reels under a new wave. And Mumbai, which has its own Covid problems, is also coping with a swine flu outbreak. But as more and more of us have been vaccinated, Covid has begun to seem less and less like a deadly disease from which it is hard to recover. The return of the Marathon is a sign that Mumbai has decided to live with Covid. It isn’t always easy to do that. But life must go on.


   Secondly, I like the way the Marathon brings Mumbai together. While it is fair to say that the idea of a marathon sounds like a middle-class thing, you would be surprised at the range of people from different backgrounds who take part.


   And besides, Mumbai loves a tamasha. So as the runners move through the city, the Marathon becomes a spectacle for all of Mumbai.


   But is the Marathon just a spectacle sport? It is a good question. One of the problems of living in Mumbai is that there are so few open spaces. In Delhi, for instance, nearly every colony has parks, gardens and green spaces. In Mumbai, these are few and far between. Partly, it is because this is the nature of Mumbai. But mostly it is because successive generations of politicians have taken every open space in the city and done their best to monetise it.


 "Shivaji Park still survives, thank God. But as these spaces have disappeared, Mumbai has become a city of online spectacles and couch potatoes."

   I often think back to the Mumbai I grew up in. Nariman Point ended roughly where the Air India building now is. Beyond that was just sea. Cuffe Parade was a seaside promenade, one you could stroll along. The view outside my window at home was one of the greenery beyond which lay the Haji Ali sea face. Bit by bit, all of those disappeared. The green space outside my window, on which it was forbidden to build, suddenly became the location for a hideous skyscraper. And politicians sold the sea: Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade extended further and further as the reclamation went on and more skyscrapers came up.


   When my son was growing up, it was easy enough to find parks for him to play in when we were in Delhi. But when we went to my family home in Mumbai, we had to think long and hard about where to send him out to play because there were so few parks and the open spaces had disappeared, were overcrowded or had been encroached on.


   In the old days, the open spaces had allowed even those of modest means to play sport and to sometimes excel at it. The story of all the cricketers who grew up near Shivaji Park and learned to play there is emblematic of Mumbai.


   Shivaji Park still survives, thank God. But as these spaces have disappeared, Mumbai has become a city of online spectacles and couch potatoes. When we say that the city is crazy about cricket these days, we don’t mean that people actually go out and play cricket. We mean that they watch the IPL. With other sports it is even worse. A whole generation is obsessed with football: no, not with playing it but with watching Real Madrid or Manchester United play matches in faraway countries.


   It is not my case that all this is only because open spaces have disappeared. It is also because technology has made spectacle-junkies of us all. And yes, the move away from participating in sport and watching it on TV is a global trend.


   But even so, it is hard not to wish for a time when sport and games, in general, seemed real and tangible and were more than flickering images on the screen. One reason why the Mumbai Marathon means so much to the city is because it lives within the limitations of today’s Mumbai. You don’t need playing fields for a marathon; you don’t even need green spaces. The existing network of roads is more than enough.


   So as much as I miss the Mumbai I grew up in with its green spaces and panoramic sea views, I admire the Marathon for understanding the needs of today’s Mumbai and for bringing joy to a city that badly needs to feel that life has returned to normal after the pandemic.


   Because, in the times we live in, every great city can do with a little cheering up.




  • saikat das 23 Aug 2022

    so nice that you have written about TMM as its known after Standard Chartered dissociated from what was earlier known as SCMM. I have run the full marathon there 4 times and it is the best event in India by a long way. Not because of how its organized but because of Mumbaikars. They come out and cheer all through the way; be it in Dadar, prabhadevi or even in Worli sea front . people put up stands in front of their houses and offer biscuts and drinks to the runners.

Posted On: 21 Aug 2022 07:29 PM
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