Of Iftikhar and Khar se Pyar

Updated: 18 October, 2020 07:49 IST | Meher Marfatia | Mumbai

Home to aesthetes and actors, sandwiched between Bandra and Santa Cruz, the little suburb of Khar has high civic mindedness

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta and his father Deepak at the site of their former bungalow Mukhi Nivas. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Filmmaker Hansal Mehta and his father Deepak at the site of their former bungalow Mukhi Nivas. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Meher MarfatiaTo think a stash of racy novels gave us such sensitive films as Shahid, City Lights, Aligarh and Omerta. Fans of National Award-winning director Hansal Mehta will smile to hear him describe younger years spent in the Khar family bungalow, Mukhi Nivas on 15th Road.

"When I was housebound, laid up with a severe jaundice attack, kind Ifti Uncle, three buildings from us, sent me his entire James Hadley Chase collection to read. Those plots really got me hooked to the idea of wanting to tell good stories."

Kamlabai Nimbkar, nee Elizabeth Lundy, pioneer of occupational therapy in India, with her husband Vishnu; the Kamlabai Nimbkar Library on Chitrakar Dhurandhar Road. Pic/Nimbkar Family & Pradeep Dhivar
Kamlabai Nimbkar, nee Elizabeth Lundy, pioneer of occupational therapy in India, with her husband Vishnu; the Kamlabai Nimbkar Library on Chitrakar Dhurandhar Road. Pic/Nimbkar Family & Pradeep Dhivar

Ifti Uncle was actor Iftikhar. Bollywood's eternal cop and his father's friend, Iftikhar often took Hansal to Mehboob Studio. "The shoots just mesmerised me. Ifti Uncle was as well a fine painter and singer with a passion for classic ghazals. From him I learnt to love music."

More star connects sprang from an unexpected source: his legendary homeopath grandfather Subodh Mehta, whose patients were brothers Dev Anand and Vijay Anand, the latter even ending up a practising homeopath. Dilip Kumar and Nargis, too, quietly waited their turn in queue at the 16th Road clinic. A lecturer of inorganic chemistry at the Royal Institute of Science on Madam Cama Road, Subodh Mehta conducted a trial on himself during a bad flu bout in 1940. Fascinated by the results, he further researched homeopathy and offered free consultations to 400-500 people daily.

Alka tai Kerkar, Anandini Thakoor and Bindu Tandon of Khar Se Pyar. Pic and Illustration courtesy/Team KSP: Chaitanya & Swati

Four generations of Mehtas proved exceptional at interestingly disparate professions. Manmukhram Mehta was a legal luminary, his son the renowned homeopath. Subodh's son Deepak was "the quintessential sales executive of the 1960s and '70s", says his movie-maker son. "Before I was born, Vijay Tendulkar lived at Mukhi Nivas, in a room outside with an attached kitchen. Years later, meeting over a script, he asked me, 'Aren't you Deepak's son?' Khar was home to several liberal, left-leaning thinkers and writers."

Marathi poet, Sanskrit scholar and freedom fighter Vasant Bapat lived near Madhu Park. With the Rashtra Seva Dal since its inception by Sane Guruji in 1948, Professor Bapat edited the weekly, Sadhana, and represented India at international poetry conferences, from 1969 in Yugoslavia to the US in 1977 and 1993. Another Khar resident was veteran socialist leader Madhu Limaye, who, in Birth of Non-Congressism Opposition Politics, 1947-1975, famously denounced Indira Gandhi's attitude to her opponents as "vituperative personal hatred".

Alka tai Kerkar, Anandini Thakoor and Bindu Tandon of Khar Se Pyar. Pic and Illustration courtesy/Team KSP: Chaitanya & Swati
Alka tai Kerkar, Anandini Thakoor and Bindu Tandon of Khar Se Pyar. Pic and Illustration courtesy/Team KSP: Chaitanya & Swati

The prolific painter MV Dhurandhar was a distinguished local. It is said no Bombay artist produced more work than him in the 20th century's first half. By 1944, when he died, Dhurandhar had over 5,000 portraits and landscapes, 50,000 illustrations and 85 sketchbooks of designs for book covers, calendars and advertisements. His villa, Amba Sadan, stood on the road now named after him. A year after it was built in 1926, Dhurandhar became the first artist the British honoured with the title Rao Bahadur. Among other cultural eminences, "God of the Flute", Padma Vibhushan Hariprasad Chaurasia, graced 19th Road.

With a grid structure of parallel and perpendicular paths, numbered 1 to 21, seawater marshy Khar derives from "khara" or salty. After the railway station was built in 1924, the Development Department of Bombay announced these "khara" tracts, of huts and vacant plots, were rentable. Khar stretches east-west from the station till Koliwada, and north from National College off Linking Road till Sacred Heart School on SV Road. Three centuries ago, Kolis divided their fishing village into seven gaothans: Dandpada, Patilpada, Madhlapada, Vetalpada, Kotpada, Varinpada and Chauripada, protected by a deity each.

A luminous life is memorialised by Kamlabai V Nimbkar Pustakalay on Chitrakar Dhurandhar Road. Kamla Nimbkar was Elizabeth Lundy, daughter of a Quaker businessman. Studying at the Philadelphia School of Occupational Therapy, she married Vishnu Nimbkar, who was among the early US-trained Indian engineers. On converting to Hinduism, she moved to India with a new name in 1930, stopping awhile at Sabarmati Ashram before reaching Bombay.

A pioneer of rehabilitation for the handicapped, Kamlabai opened the country's first facility for occupational therapy at KEM Hospital in 1950. In a parallel effort, she propagated the Froebel approach, educating kindergartners holistically with motor skills, social participation, spontaneity of self-expression and creativity.

Kamlabai Nimbkar started the library in 1948 with a committee including BG Kher, SK Patil and RD Char. It still serves as a popular reading room which welcomes students of faculties ranging from SSC to IAS and IPS levels. Stocked with Gujarati and English publications, the library doubles as a hub for children's activities and civil rights discussions.

"Kamlabai Nimbkar was chairperson of the library trust. When she believed she was getting on in age, on the recommendation of RD Char, chairman of Standard
Batteries where Vishnu Nimbkar was a director and I worked, she put everything on my lap," says chairperson Anandini Thakoor.

If Elizabeth Lundy changed her name on arriving in Bombay, Zinnia Pereira became Anandini Thakoor eloping from it. Zinnia ran away in the mid-1950s with Anant Thakoor, whose family's Oriental Metal Pressing Works pioneered stainless steel production in India. Hiding her packed bags in the garage of the Pereiras' Bandra home, she told her parents she was joining the London School of Economics in the city the couple headed to.

"Turns out it wasn't top secret eventually. About to sail, we saw the pier lined with curious Thakoors, eager to see who the Catholic girl was, claiming their handsome, well-to-do boy!" she laughs. "Three years later, my mother-in-law changed her mind about me. We returned in 1959 to quite a reception and settled in the family home, La Maison."

Very much the grand dame of Khar at a feisty 90, Thakoor, also managing trustee of the Khar Residents Association, pushes petitions for campaigns to keep the vicinity clean, well-lit, with better pavement stretches, garbage-free and liveable in the face of rapacious development. Previously involved with the National Society for Clean Cities, she has enjoyed a long innings of work with civic officials who respect her.

Twenty years before the library, personalities like BG Kher rallied sports buffs to form Khar Gymkhana in 1928-29, absorbing the Khar Young Cricketers Club. Kher was no less than the PM of Bombay Province (Bombay Presidency became Province in 1937 with a PM, and a State with a CM on Republic Day 1950). In an age replete with the quiet class people in governance then brought to their position, he would unassumingly travel in a Third Class train compartment, with a single plainclothes policeman accompanying him to and from his 14th Road bungalow.

The iconic gymkhana finds thinly veiled reference as "Far Gymkhana" in Bindu Tandon's book, Of Beasts and Beauty, launching soon with Garuda Prakashan. Four of 13 short stories allude to recognisable Khar addas, the bazar halwai Banarasi Sweet Mart and seafront scenes among them. "Public spaces for all classes are an essential perquisite for a fair society. My choice of locales is testimony to this sensibility," says Tandon.

"Bordered north-south by big brother suburbs, Santa Cruz and Bandra, Khar has clearly demarcated living and shopping areas. I love its greenery, the not-so-shiny shops, the doctors and friends in every lane and building. Ease of access to hill and sea lends variety to daily perambulations. This part of town enjoys a delightful informality. From 11 former residences [Dad being an IRS tax man, we lived across Delhi and Mumbai], my Khar home near Ramakrishna Math remains most priceless. The evening arti rings beautifully with monks' bhajans set to soothing ragas. I look forward to picking up agarbatti at the ashram store, Durga puja and listening for hours to soaring song and prarthana."

Both Thakoor and Tandon are women with a mission. Khar Se Pyar. Headquartered in the Nimbkar Library, the initiative mobilises a likeminded community emotionally invested in its environment. "Our road was frightfully messed with debris dumping and utilities digging. We needed a fresh identity to engage with an area plagued by crumbling infrastructure," explains Tandon. Overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of problems and wondering what individuals could do in the face of that neglect and degradation, they created Khar Se Pyar (KSP) together. "Khar-vasis" adopt their preferred spots. KSP updates them on civic and social developments, connecting with BMC and police authorities to channel grievances and demands productively.

"Sharad Ughade, Assistant Municipal Commissioner of H West ward, responded brilliantly to KSP's concerns, supported by our elected rep Alka tai Kerkar. The current AMC, Vinayak Vispute, is as cooperative, introducing a '5 Model Roads of Khar' committee," adds Tandon. Grand peepuls, copper pods, raintrees and gulmohars have been revived, and efficient systems remove tree waste and garbage.

Advocating the KSP model, Tandon advises, "Identify the 'doables'. Seek your AMCs, ask what they can do. Take this up alone till you find the right bunch—they're all around you. Own your road. Your tree. Your gate. Adopt your city. Fall in love with it. Belong. Run a Google search, tapping into what ALMs are already doing. It will bring partial success, with lots more to do. The bottom line is, unless you care for the strip outside your home, nobody else will."

Author-publisher Meher Marfatia writes fortnightly on everything that makes her love Mumbai and adore Bombay. You can reach her at meher.marfatia@mid-day.com/www.meher

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First Published: 18 October, 2020 07:50 IST

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