It’s a busy day in Bhendi Bazaar. Scooters honk incessantly at pedestrians walking in the middle of the street as they dodge handcart pullers and cyclists residing in the over 100-year-old settlement, one of the most congested in Mumbai.
In all this chaos, 28-year-old Fakrudin Mithaiwala, owner of Fakhri Farsan Mart is busy piling packets of chivda and wafers. His 60-year-old shop falls in Cluster 3 of the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project, which was launched in 2009 to cluster develop 16.5 acres of Bhendi Bazaar. “At 14, my grandfather Ahmedali Doshaji Mithaiwala came to Bombay (in 1952) and set up the shop. Currently, nearby residents are our customers, but once the project finishes we will come back to more modernised and more sophisticated shops and have more customers. Today, one needs to market a brand and the cluster development will change our future for the better,” Mithaiwala tells us with a smile.
The making of Bhendi Bazaar
Hope and positive energy, in fact, are features that strike us when we meet residents of Bhendi Bazaar. Most buildings here have lived a full life, and are dilapidated today. In 1803 when a huge fire broke out in the Fort area during the British Raj, migrants and early settlers moved to this area to decongest Fort. Surrounded by the Dockyard on one side and the mills on the other, dormitory-styled chawls came up to house workers. Soon, traders entered the area and set up shops on the ground floors, and families settled into the pagdi system, where they paid rent to the landowners and did not own the houses. Walk into Bhendi Bazaar and you will see buildings with barely space for a gutter between them. The tiny space is used as the house gully, where residents fling their garbage out of the window and the BMC cleaners create a mound on the streets when they come to collect it. Things, in fact, hadn’t changed for a century. But they are now.
His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS), the spiritual leader of the Bohri community first visualised the change through a huge project in 2009 when the Maharashtra government allowed cluster redevelopment in the state.
The Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust was founded and a Letter of Intention (LOI) was submitted to the government in 2010 after acquiring 70 per cent owner consent.
The trust brought in sociologists and psychologists to help the residents make their choice and even Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), which has declared 80 per cent of the buildings unfit for living in the Bhendi Bazaar area, has now given 1,050 units for transit homes at Ghodapdeo. This is in addition to the 750 units transit home built by SBUT at Anjirwadi where 95 per cent of the units are presently occupied.
And for once, the planners have thought ahead. Bhendi Bazaar is legendary as a shopping street and the new plan has clearly outlined plans to offer a high-street shopping experience to visitors, with all shops facing the main road. The plan envisions three-level shopping complexes. The first floor shop owners will get 20 per cent extra space and the second floor shop owners 30 per cent extra space compared to the ground floor shops. There will also be toilets for men and women on every floor.
Well-planned transit homes
It is a scorching afternoon outside but the door of unit 614 in A wing is ajar. The light breeze is teasing the orange and red curtains. Inside, 49-year-old Yusuf Tahirali Bharmal and his 43-year-old wife Munira have just finished their lunch.
Seated on a velvety maroon sofa, Bharmal switches on his flat-screen television as Munira hums a song while clearing up her open kitchen in the 250 square feet studio apartment. “Does this look like a transit home?” Munira asks with a grin. After years of slumming it out, she is relieved that for the past two years, she has not had to set an alarm every morning to fill water, or wait for hours for the plumber to come and fix the sink. This, she says, was a daily affair when they lived on the third floor in Pagdiwala building on Saifee Jubilee Street, Bhendi Bazaar.
“It feels like I am in heaven here,” says Bharmal, who owns a printing shop near JJ Hospital. The couple, along with their two daughters aged 17 and 19, were one of the first to move out of the dilapidated home in Bhendi Bazaar. “The best thing about coming here is leaving the ‘gandagi’ (dirt) behind. Here there is security and it’s clean,” he says.
Meanwhile, on the ninth floor, 67-year-old Suraiya Abdul Kadab Khatri is busy on her sewing machine. Khatri, who lived at Manazil E Fatimi on Nabiullah Road for 11 years with her six family members, is glad she left her old home, which had a ‘view’ of the public toilet, to settle into the transit home in Anjirwadi a year ago. “Kya ghutan hoti thi (I used to feel suffocated there),” says Khatri, who loves the fact that she can take a stroll inside the compound now and have a chat with her neighbours. This building is good for her knees too, she says, “There is a lift here. I can go down as many times as I want,” says Khatri, who takes the shuttle service to Bhendi Bazaar whenever she feels like meeting her relatives and friends. The transit home in Anjirwadi has a community kitchen, a rainwater harvesting system and solar power generating panels. It also offers fully furnished homes, which include carpet, cushions, washing machines, cupboards, free electricity and maintenance.
Happy shop owners
“The cats are scared of the rats here,” Azeem Lokhandwala, owner of AM collections, a 90-year-old family run textile shop, tells us when we meet him. “It is profitable to have a shop here but, the condition of the buildings get worse every day. We have suffered a lot of loss because of leakage and white ants. So much of our material gets eaten up,” explains the 35-year-old.
But Lokhandwala is not worried anymore. Soon after Muharram, he will move shop to Mufaddal Shopping Arcade, the transit commercial centre set up near JJ Hospital, around half a kilometre away from his present location. That is till the redevelopment of the area is complete. “Fifty per cent of our clientele is NRIs, and once we come back to a plush, new look, cleaner Bhendi Bazaar, things will only improve,” says Lokhandwala, who has been allotted two shops equal in area to the shop he owns currently.
Those in charge of this mega project are upbeat too. Shaikh Abdeali Bhanpurawala, trustee and secretary of SBUT, says the philosophy behind the project is the upliftment of people and infrastructure. “So far, we have chalked out the master layout plan. Their homes in Bhendi Bazaar didn’t have even basic necessities and we are offering them everything in their transit homes,” says Bhanpurwala, adding that they have requested the government to have a single window clearance mechanism to fast-track proposals and approvals. So far, 1,240 families have moved to transit homes.
According to the CEO of SBUT, Abbas Master, this project is the first-of-its-kind cluster redevelopment in India. “We have worked with master planners from India and overseas. We want the project to be a model for rest of the country. It will improve the standard of living, safety of women, and offer a play area for
children and better sanitation,” he says. Indeed only if other congested areas follow this plan, Mumbai may still have hope.
The story so far
The trust has acquired 85 per cent land. 75 per cent of residential and commercial property owners have given consent. 10 demolitions are underway and approval for 77 has been procured.
How Bhendi Bazaar got it name
There are two schools of thought. The British referred to the area as ‘Behind the Fort’, which came to be pronounced as Bhendi by local residents. The second belief is that it gets its name from the nearby Bhindi (ladyfinger) plantation in Dongri.
Even Chor bazaar, a lively market that is known to sell illegal and tax-evaded goods, was called Shor Bazaar, due to its noisy ambiance.