Mapping Mumbai: A mix of the modern and traditional in Babulnath

Old is giving way to the new in a different way in this SoBo pocket, one of the city’s poshest areas, with the adjoining Peddar Road, Altamount Road, August Kranti and Gamdevi

As one of Mumbai’s oldest neighbourhoods the Babulnath area, with the adjoining Peddar Road, Altamount Road, August Kranti and Gamdevi areas, has a mix of the modern and traditional.

Devika Patel looking out of the window at her Peddar Road home. Pic/Sameer Markande
Devika Patel looking out of the window at her Peddar Road home. Pic/Sameer Markande

Change in social fabric
Though the area has housed Mahatma Gandhi, some of the oldest schools and colleges in the city; according to Gamdevi resident Parul Kumtha little development has happened. She says, “As an architect, I love the well built structures in the area.

The iconic Babulnath temple in the area attracts many devotees. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The iconic Babulnath temple in the area attracts many devotees. Pic/Bipin Kokate

But sadly, very little has been done over the years to protect these. Development has been poor in the city especially here in the area. New buildings have come up here but sadly, these have not been planned keeping in mind the heritage buildings in the area.

The culture of the area has changed as a result of new people moving in. The social fabric is changing just as the skyline is,” adds Kumtha. Agreeing with her, Shamala Jayaram, Babulnath resident, says, “New buildings have raised the standard of the area. While the old buildings have lower maintenance expenses, the new ones have exorbitant rates.

The people living in this area are different now. The upper-middle class people are gradually moving to other parts of the city for bigger houses, as the rich and affluent live here, now.”

Parking problems
She adds, “I live on Tejpal Road and have seen many changes in my area. Earlier, there were very few cars and so parking was not an issue.

Now, with almost every house having three cars, the heritage buildings have no space for these which has lead to double parking on the roads in the area.” Peddar Road resident and lawyer Rabindra Hazari says about parking woes in the area, “Parking is impossible and there is noise 24X7 because of traffic.

But positively speaking, Peddar Road is a classy, clean, well maintained, super safe area with excellent bus connections, including 155 bus to Grant Road station and 24-hour black ‘n’ yellow taxis available, on the major arterial roads. It has no slums as well as minimal public encroachments.

“The area is somewhat showpiece and elite. But generally it has well maintained buildings and is clean, unlike most of Mumbai which is generally filthy. This SoBo pocket has lacked a neighbourhood sense like Bandra but the Peddar Road Residents Association has made important strides in bringing residents together who all unanimously oppose the Peddar Road flyover,” adds Hazari.

Issues on the rise
Devika Patel, Peddar Road resident, says, “The traffic and space situation is being badly handled in the area. There is too much congestion. Roads are being dug up and the patch-up work is not very good which leads to potholes. The area that perhaps has one of the largest numbers of foreign cars in Mumbai has the worst roads in the city, which is a sad state of affairs.”

In spite of these issues, Patel sees a silver lining. She says, “The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative is going on well in our area and if the new government delivers, then I see this area becoming better.” In the coming years, Kumtha sees some positives as she says, “Heritage needs to be revived. If the neighbourhood feeling stays and people work to facilitate well thought about development, this area can be a lot more.”

Looking ahead
“Everything totally depends on the proposed flyover at Peddar Road. If that is built it will destroy the area. Auto fumes will be pumped directly into our homes. Our balconies will be covered with ugly security grilles, making us look and feel like prisoners in our own homes,” feels Hazari.

He goes on to add, “Besides, we will literally be living in the shadow of the flyover. See what happens below any flyover in the city. It becomes a slum and a urinal, filled with encroachments from drug dealers. Clean, safe Peddar Road will exist only in our nostalgic memories and historic photographs.”

Jayaram sees redevelopment happening rapidly in the area in the near future. She says, “There is no possibility of horizontal expansion, so this area is headed vertically. I see the area becoming safer and better with improved lighting, and a more elite crowd settling here.”

Overall, the fear of losing the silence and seclusion of their area as well as the haphazard development has flummoxed residents. The heritage and social fabric of the area has changed rapidly in the last few years, yet residents are hopeful of better days ahead. This is the seventh part of our weekly series on different areas in Mumbai, through the lens of the locals.

Peddar Road flyover
>> This is a proposed project from Lala Lajpatrai College near Haji Ali junction which will end near Jindal House.
>> It is a 20-year-old proposed flyover project which has been stalled by residents due to issues related to noise and dust entering their houses.

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