Melting pot for how long?
A walk down Matunga's charming lanes and gullies will reveal the rapid demise of its unique, vernacular character
As a 15-year-old precocious young collegian taking her first steps into the adult world beyond the suburbs, Matunga laid out a reassuring welcome for me in its own unobtrusive way — like instrumental classics by the greats or notes of smooth jazz. There was a beautiful symmetry between the traditional and the modern that struck a chord.
For starters, its 'Mini Madras' tag was a deserving, well-earned one. Strains of MS Subbulakshmi's voice would waft from balconies of quaint two-storeyed buildings. The whiff of filter kaapi from one of many South Indian eateries [and we were spoilt for choice!] was the ideal wake-up for students before the 7.25 am lecture. Explorations around the neighbourhood would throw up fascinating discoveries — be it an uber-cheap dosa centre, the fascinating flower market, or a sleepy-looking 'general stores' that was packed with delights from all corners of Tamil Nadu. During Onam or Pongal, we'd drop by one of the temples for darshan, as the sound of the drums would reverberate to reach a heady crescendo.
In fact, my first encounter with a massive Ganesh idol was in Matunga, where pandals continue the tradition of leaving the facades open for devotees and celebrate the festival in a sombre, traditional manner. Lined by Five Gardens and Parsi Colony on one side and Hindu Colony at the other end, both areas added to the cosmopolitan charm of Matunga. Decades later, we learned to appreciate these community buildings and their unique socio-economic standing in the area, thanks to our interactions with veteran city architect, Kamu Iyer, a Matunga resident himself.
Hip collegians zipping in their Esteems or Hondas, two-wheeler races down the road that lines the famous 'katta', fashion boutiques selling college-inspired kitsch, and gift shops [where have they gone?] were the only dots of the obvious modern streak. Those five years of college blitzed past, and yet Matunga's character remained intact, and for a long time. But, the past decade has witnessed a sea of change.
This, we've noticed each time we make a dash to tuck into an ullundu vada or rava masala dosa at one of our favourite joints. A galaxy of high-rises has taken over the landscape. In fact, during a recent visit, we noticed that a cluster of vernacular-styled buildings that housed reliable secondhand bookstores had made way for a new towering luxury apartment! A godsend for us collegians with limited pocket money, it made me wonder where today's students would head to for such needs. Ah, yes, but there is Google Baba.
Thankfully, some of its landmarks remain — from its popular veggie market to its temples and stores that feed a precious ecosystem. A few residential buildings that date back to the 1950s, and earlier are still standing. The frame reminded me of David facing the might of the many Goliaths around.
How long will these icons last? Will Matunga's original character be wiped out even further in the next decade, or dare we say, earlier? It remains a microcosm that represents Bombay the melting pot in its purest form. We can only be hopeful that like its Biblical counterpart, David can hold fort in this modern-day battle.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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