Of Irani cafés, theatre and memories
Ihave been in Bombay for more than six decades and it was a very different city earlier. Now, it’s called “Mumbai”. I believe it is because of the parochialism of certain political parties and because “Bombay” is now cosmopolitan. But in Marathi and Konkani, we always called it Mumbai. In Hindi, we called it Bambai and in English, Bombay. And it’s not because political parties made an issue of it.
When I was growing up, I stayed in the town-side near Chowpatty. I remember it was very peaceful and safe back then. So much so that me and my sister would hop on a taxi and come home even if we got late. We used to be told to get in a cab with a Sikh because he would get us home safe. Our building in Gamdevi, which is now a heritage building, the Saraswat Cooperative Housing Society, was the first cooperative building in Asia and was built by my great grandfather. I remember going downstairs barefoot to buy things or run errands for my mother. We could hear the piano playing from various Parsi houses on our road, which was called Alexandra Road at the time, and I used to love that.
I used to do theatre in the 1970s, when there was no Prithvi Theatre. Most of our plays were performed at Tejpal Auditorium and a close knit community of writers, actors, poets and directors came together there. I used to wonder then that is Mumbai really that small because we are all so well acquainted and supportive of each other. I really grew up in quite a different atmosphere than what it is now. The other day, I was passing by this Irani restaurant that I used to visit with friends and noticed it had shut down. I had tears in my eyes. All of us theatre people would sit there and celebrate with beer, and before the beer culture, with Coca Cola. Sometimes, I feel like a stranger in my own city. Of course I love Mumbai very much because it’s where I have all these memories.
Chitra Palekar is a theatre personality, filmmaker and an actor. She is making a comeback
with Marathi film Happy Journey.