In early October, Worli gaothan residents received a notice from the Maharashtra Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) informing them of an application to declare the village a slum area. This was a precursor to setting up a slum rehabilitation project there.
Yesterday, this paper ran an extensive report on residents’ feelings about the proposed project. The overall sentiment was that of hurt and anger at being labelled slum dwellers, which is akin to being called encroachers. More importantly, if the project goes through, large parts of this gaothan will be wiped out and replaced by modern buildings. With that will disappear a lifestyle unique to East Indian culture.
It is important that the village is retained. These nooks — one of our last holds on the city’s original culture — need to be preserved. The East Indians and Kolis, the earliest and original inhabitants of Mumbai, are an inextricable part of the fabric of the city. Wiping out the gaothan will mean obliterating a piece of history. A spirit of sharing and community is fostered because of the physical structure and topography of the hamlet. With winding lanes and a ground, this place has much more open space than flats in buildings, and lends itself to kinship and close ties. Here, neighbours are not anonymous or unknown like they are in modern apartments, and there are strong bonds made in childhood and kept alive through this way of living.
A city needs diversity, not just of thought, but of geography too, to add to its character. Gaothans are a big part of that, given the different and old way of life that they stand for.
Let not yet another cluster of towers swallow up Worli gaothan, only to give Mumbaikars vertigo with real estate prices.
We have also seen a pattern — once one village is gone, others, too, may follow in quick succession. More strength to the Worli gaothan and the flavour it adds to the melting pot that is Mumbai.