Kahaani abhi baaki hai, dost
The most engaging, new anecdotes and trivia alphabetically arranged from a selection of essays that made it from this column to its book compilation, Once Upon A City, are yours to savour
In her Building No. 3 room of the 107-year-old BIT (Bombay Improvement Trust) Chawl on Madhavrao Gangan Marg, Shubhangi Jadhav offers me deliciously cool rose doodh on a sweltering hot afternoon. "The 1992-93 riots shattered our peace. But when curfew shut shops, kind Memons supplied us bread and milk," she says. Vithabai Gaikwad next door adds, "We try to be one, though things are changing."
Babulnath: Siri Road
Flowering in the rain and fruiting in winter, the Stocking Tree is unique to Siri Road, not found elsewhere in the city. Its fruit stocking-shaped, the originally South American tree leans against a chawl wall....The Duke of Wellington lived on Siri Road as Colonel Arthur Wellesley, in Surrey Cottage, owned by Seth Cursetjee Manockjee—the Khada Parsi of the famed Byculla statue. The student Eton wrote off as "not at all a book boy and rather dull" went on to vanquish Napoleon at Waterloo and lead England as Prime Minister twice, in 1828 and 1834.
Bandra: Hill Road
The presence of the first Indian woman at the Olympics owes a great deal to a dance. Mary D'Souza, India's first woman Olympian and Double International, was a hockey star. Chosen to represent the country at Helsinki in 1952, she had neither a coach nor funds. Luckily, Mary was a Bandra girl. Neighbours and friends organised a dance and quickly raised money for her.
A 772-page handwritten Quran, from which Syedna Taher Saifuddin recited, is entirely copied on marble slabs in the Raudat Tahera mausoleum. Distinctive for a unique calligraphic feat, this is the world's sole site embedding a complete sacred book in its sanctum sanctorum. The dome proclaims: "Allah holds the sky and earth together which no one else can."
Buddhist shrines and meditation centres, the 109 rock-cut, 1st-century temples forming the Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park are adorned with ancient carvings. A great green lung of Bombay, the park dates to the 4th century, lying along the transit route of the port town of Sopara (Thane today) and Kalyan, which traded with civilisations like Mesopotamia.
Byculla: Clare Road
On Clare Road, funeral director John Pinto believes, "Body preservation is both art and science. Everyone deserves a good send-off." His embalming company ensures this. John is the world's only undertaker to be appointed MBE, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire—on repatriating 26/11 terror victims to their home countries.
Dadar: Khodadad Circle
Empress Mahal has housed Punjabi Chandu Halwai Karachiwala since 1958. It offers tantalisingly named Tansen halwa and kismat halwa. The mithai shop was established in 1896 Karachi by Chandulal Bahl who impressed Sri Prakasa, first High Commissioner to Pakistan, for refusing payment to feed Partition refugees. The Karachi halwa became Bombay halwa—brand salute to an urban tadka blending much forgotten grace and goodness.
"Vile Parle was a pastoral suburb of tiled roof bungalows and leafy lanes, of Babu's batata vada and the Phadke Udyog Mandir mithai shop. Foxes came snooping around our chicken coops in the 1940s," recalls Nitin Gajanan Raut, son of a second-generation Parlekar. His family lived in Mahalaxmi Nivas, a quaint 1929-built bungalow behind Sathaye College. "Green paddy fields and mango orchards stretched up to the Western Express highway. It was no surprise to catch fish and even turtles in the rain. In an open grassland next to the house, dhangars [shepherds] brought sheep to graze, along with their dhangari dogs. With plenty of active drama and art groups, Vile Parle truly retains the Puneri Marathi culture."
Dongri: Char Null
Bhishtis were once familiar figures, carrying water in goat-skin bags called mashaq. Today, only a handful tread through Dongri and Pydhonie. Supposed to provide sustenance for the Mughal armies in Emperor Akbar's reign, a bhishti gave Humayun water during battle. Desert wars saw the enemy strategically aim straight at bhishtis' bags.
Fort: DN Road
The Mystery of the Missing Gold-plated Spectacles cropped up at Lawrence & Mayo. After a few such disappeared, Pereira the foreman stayed back in the opticians' workshop one night to investigate. At dawn he heard a flutter on the window's sill. A crow hopped in, picked a pair of gold-rimmed glasses in his beak and flew to a nest woven at Lloyds Bank next door. A whole cache of shiny client-ordered frames was soon retrieved from the winged thief.
A Central Railway locomotive puffing from Thane-Ghatkopar to Victoria Terminus used to be called the Bhatia Local. Members of the enterprising Kutchi Bhatia community boarded it to trade in town or head to Perin Nariman (Bazar Gate) Street, near the GPO, to Pancham Puriwala. This iconic eatery was opened in the 1840s by Panchamdas Sharma, who had covered the miles from Adhet in Agra to reach Bombay by bullock cart, to earn a living.
Veteran journalist Kalpana Sharma revisits Block C of Model House on Procter Road with which she has a happy childhood association. This colony was home to actor Bhakti Barve, singer Suman Kalyanpur and Marathi theatre director MG Rangnekar, as well as labour champion NM Joshi and Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis, the brave young medico immortalised in V Shantaram's film, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani. Pic/Ashish Raje
"I'm struck by how the Kennedy Bridge area symbolised what was best about Bombay," says writer Kalpana Sharma. "It had two good schools, decent middle-class housing, three cinemas within walking distance—Imperial, Novelty and Opera House, a police station on the main road, shops and restaurants within easy reach, Chowpatty beach and Grant Road Station a short walk away. It is a pity such multicultural, well-connected neighbourhoods get fewer in this city."
Motiram Desai introduced anodised aluminium and velvet fabric in India. Congress kingmaker and star fund collector, SK Patil, requested Motiram's donation towards a college for Nair Hospital. With quiet magnanimity, the merchant handed Patil a blank cheque to fill with any amount. Patil wrote "R5 lakhs" and the Topiwala National Medical College was born. Cricket's Ranji Trophy was intended as the Topiwala Trophy, but Ranjitsinhji died around then and his name came to commemorate the championship.
Gowalia Tank: Raghavji Road
One of the spryest 95-year-olds you could meet, Anand Swadi has seen Raghavji Road change gently. Dada, as he is known, still puts in at least a six-hour workday at the Swadi Automobiles workshop in the Ness Baug compound at Nana Chowk. The eternal optimist says, "I understand people complain about the city. We all have memories to age with. How to bank them is up to us. Let the bad fade, stay with those that feel good."
Grant Road: Lamington Road
Among Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto's earliest homes in 1936 was a "horrific" chawl in Arab Gully at the intersection of Grant Road and Lamington Road. "I paid nine rupees a month for a room without water or electricity," he wrote in Peerun. "Gnats fell from the ceiling and rats were everywhere, so big, the cats were scared of them." He should know. Did Manto not wistfully declare, "Main chalta-phirta Bambai hoon"?
St Francis Xavier Church in Dabul village, Dhobi Talao, built in 1872. Its bell was cast by Hiram Tavarres Bocarro in 1674. It is the only one of seven bells, originally tolling in St Joseph's Church, Bassein, which is not in a Hindu temple today. Pic/Foy Nissen, Courtesy The Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation
Actor Keith Stevenson recalls, "We could never celebrate Christmas and New Year like other people. Mum and dad worked incessantly. The parlour, Raechelle, opened at 7 am and by the time the last customers were attended to, they could almost see Santa riding his sleigh in the sky. By the time they got home, both were too beat to celebrate, but loved every moment. Today you have beauty schools by the dozens. Those years, Raechelle was the Vidal Sassoon of India."
The Pandole-pioneered Duke's factory in Khetwadi was opposite Krishna Cinema (later Dreamland), till about 1970 when it moved to Chembur. The family lived on the factory's top floors. When they had visitors, "soda-lemon" was always offered fresh from downstairs. The cousins of former Duke's director, Naval Pandole, still drink only soda, not water.
Two Baroda-born brothers helmed showbiz at Opera House before the Gondal royals did. Ardeshir (Addie) Cawasji Patel was gifted Opera House by his brother Maneck, champion horse trainer MC Patel. Their grand-niece, Kashmira Master Jethwa, recounts how Raj Kapoor pleaded with Addie to convince his father Prithviraj to allow him to join the film industry. "Raj clutched him, begging, 'Chacha, pitaji ko bolo na, mujhe filmo mein ane do'." In his struggler days, Prithviraj did the rounds of Ardeshir Irani's Imperial Studios on nearby Kennedy Bridge. He kept speaking in Pashto to the gate guard. The fellow Pathan advised him to squeeze in with a straggle of hopeful extras. On the third morning, Ermeline, the Jewish heroine of Cinema Girl, spotted and picked Prithviraj as her male lead.
In his Woodlands penthouse, Madhav Apte rewound to early years in the bungalow his family occupied on this Pedder Road corner from 1939. His son Waman found these XI names, listing the cricket legend's dream team, on a piece of paper after the veteran cricketer's death last year: Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Polly Umrigar, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Madhav Mantri (captain and wicket keeper), Vinoo Mankad, Dattu Phadkar, Ramakant Desai and Subhash Gupte. Eknath Solkar as 12th man.
Sarah Lodge, midpoint on Shivaji Park's periphery, was once the pride of post office employee Eliab Erulkar, wife Sarah and five children who carved careers in medicine and engineering. The Star of David motif yet graces decrepit grills, as well as a stained-glass patch, as breath-taking as it is broken. "A lovely home may fall victim to some developer's wrecking ball," says Arun Gadre, an Erulkar grandson who is a surgeon in San Diego. "That house could tell stories of the Independence struggle, tear gas dispensed, my grandmother coming under suspicion because she kept water buckets ready for freedom fighters, the police officer who fired at a mob, ran out of bullets and was set upon by a mob on Keluskar Road, and speeches by every political leader of the time. I recollect Nehru speaking as I sat with my uncles in our verandah. My grandfather counted blooms on the mayflower tree. An Irish stew was stirred over a slow "Badami" coal fire as bath water heated in a copper samovar. We learnt to ride bicycles and cricket and football in the park, played lagori and hu-tu-tu with cousins. Does anyone know those games anymore?"
Man in a sola hat, Forjett Street, 1987. Pic/Sooni Taraporevala
"Ruby Mansion remains a music mandir," says Anwar Hussain Khan's son Raja Miyan. His uncles, Vilayat Hussain Khan, Khadim Hussain Khan, Azmat Hussain Khan, Anwar Hussain Khan and Latafat Hussain Khan tutored legions of talents. It was joked that a stone thrown from the Ruby Mansion terrace would invariably hit the home of one of their students.
Excerpts from Once Upon A City by Meher Marfatia, in association with Mid-day. Published by 49/50 Books. Available for R1,000 in bookstores and online from February 8
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