Where three lights cast a glow

Teen Batti in Walkesh­war has gone from dhobi ghat to aris­to­cratic bun­ga­lows to ran­dom re­de­vel­op­ment

Mid Day - - FEATURE - Me­her Mar­fa­tia

I love what I’m lis­ten­ing to. Am­bling around Walkesh­war’s Teen Batti junc­tion brings to the ear snatches of my mother tongue aired in ways more var­ied than imag­in­able.

Reel­ing off phrases ca­denced to each com­mu­nity’s taste, Par­sis, Ba­nias, Jains, Bohris and some Sun­nis speak the reign­ing lan­guage here. Even staunch Shin­des from Rat­na­giri break into this lingo picked up from lo­cals at their pro­vi­sions shop with a flu­id­ity which would stun my Navsari an­ces­tors.

Cater­ing to cus­tomers since the 1930s, Ruk­mini­bai Babu­rao Shinde, grand­mother of Chan­drakant and Vi­jay, rolled beedis with a team of women at the spot where Shinde Brothers stands. “Each of them rolled tight 300 to 500 beedi bun­dles. Later, our fa­ther Kis­han­rao be­gan stock­ing bread, but­ter and cold drinks,” Vi­jay says.

Though the three street­lights (Teen Batti) crown an or­di­nary lamp­post, this was once an or­nate clus­ter of gaslights, lead­ing to Mal­abar Hill’s crest. I stick to ex­plor­ing the Dongersi Road and Walkesh­war Road slope till Ster­ling Bay, Pal­lonji Mistry’s man­sion.

Vi­jay Shinde rewinds to ac­counts nar­rated by his fa­ther — from Jin­nah vis­it­ing bar­ris­ter Somji at Dani Sadan across the street, to em­i­nent ju­rists per­son­ally pop­ping into their shop for Mi­lan su­pari, to the fly­away exit of Penny, Shapoor Mistry’s pet African Grey, pos­si­bly lost to thick­ets in ad­join­ing Raj Bha­van. The gu­ber­na­to­rial seat since 1885 has its own pin code — 400035 — the rest of the road 400006.

“Builders have swal­lowed our area’s re­gal res­i­dences,” says Pradeep Pandya from his porch swing. His aunt and un­cle, Drs Sharda and Ra­man Upad­hyaya, counted among their pa­tients ac­tors Tanuja and Nu­tan, driv­ing to the dis­pen­sary in an Im­pala. It was Star­dust Street. Be­fore Jackie Shroff made fa­mous his room at Navyug Chawl, an ab­so­lute who’s who of film­dom and pol­i­tics have had a Walkesh­war Road ad­dress. Many of them in 1942-built Rock­side, in­clud­ing Vice Pres­i­dent and Chief Jus­tice Mo­ham­mad Hi­day­at­ul­lah, Jus­tice SN Vari­ava, thes­pian Moti­lal con­sid­ered the coun­try’s first “nat­u­ral ac­tor” and In­dia’s old­est liv­ing first­class crick­eter, Vas­ant Raiji, happy to chat about his adored game at a spir­ited 97.

In Rock­side from age five to 80 now, Thrity Stafford re­calls jack­als howl­ing in jun­gles around Gov­er­nor’s House, panoramic Ara­bian Sea views from bay win­dows, Suren­dra Nath’s soul­ful har­mo­nium strains waft­ing to her two floors up, maalis of neigh­bour­ing gar­dens danc­ing the lezim to­wards sun­set, owls nest­ing in the cliffs be­hind. “Sol­diers in tin shed bar­racks on Ridge Road above, re­laxed dan­gling their legs over the rock edge,” says Stafford. “We flashed V for Vic­tory signs and sang war songs to­gether.”

Be­tween Pandya’s home and the Shin­des’ shop, Tip Top Clean­ers was ini­tially the grain stall of Bhimshi Murji from Ko­dai vil­lage in Kutch. Be­hind his grand­son, Vi­ral, who runs the laun­dry, looms a wood planked loft — the “maarya” — a typ­i­cal mez­za­nine level rest­ing place shops were de­signed with.

The po­lice chowky on the bend where Ridge Road turns left­ward to Walkesh­war Road was a wire­less re­ceiv­ing sta­tion for all Maharashtra. Play­back singer Priti Sa­gar still stays in pretty Anil Ni­vas near An­ju­man Is­lam Mosque in Bha­tia Build­ing. A minia­ture marvel sand­wiched be­tween Dani Sadan and Ster­ling Bay is Bom­bay’s tini­est fire tem­ple, 158-year-old Thoothi Agiary, with a well be­lieved to have wish-grant­ing pow­ers.

The most dra­matic dis­ap­pear­ance has to be a dhobi ghat be­hind the Agiary, south Bom­bay’s sec­ond largest such ghat, with hun­dreds of wash­er­men work­ing and liv­ing in 52-room Coover­bai Chawl. “Kya hulchul tha, bilkul mela jaise — this place was busy, like a fair,” says iron­ing man Nand­lal Pardesi. His grand­fa­ther Gird­har­i­lal walked the miles from Lucknow as a 20-yearold around 1930. Red mud roads clop-clopped by ghoda-gaadi meant plenty of soiled clothes to be slapped clean.

A few feet on, 100-year-old atta grind­ing chakkis like Bharat Flour Mill keep puff­ing clouds too thick to see any more than a sil­hou­ette of the pow­der-sheathed miller. Vi­jay Watch Co. and veg­etable ven­dors weigh­ing greens with an­cient brass mea­sures keep an­ces­tral trades alive. Shrill pea­cocks, mon­gooses and mon­keys snatch­ing ba­nanas from fruit sellers are oc­ca­sional sights, un­like their one-time pro­fu­sion in lawns and knolls chirpy with par­rots and par­adise fly­catch­ers.

I reach Daskot re­mem­ber­ing a 1980s in­ter­view with vin­tage car king Pran­lal Bhogi­lal at his sand­stone res­i­dence. Be­yond gates in walls em­bel­lished with the crest of a lion and pranc­ing horse, I was ush­ered into a maze of Ming vases, Chola bronzes and Czar Ni­cholas II’s can­de­labra. As I sipped juice from the heav­i­est sil­ver glass on earth, the ty­coon trilled in trade­mark high pitch to some­one on the phone about Richard At­ten­bor­ough fea­tur­ing his 1934 Buick in Gandhi. “Maare toh ke­hvu padyu, I had to in­form Sir Richard not to show Gand­hiji in a Bent­ley or Rolls. Those were not for na­tional lead­ers.”

Free­dom pa­tri­ots to movie moguls have long pa­tro­n­ised Jain Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Navyug Chawl. Vikram Jain drops Parsi up­per crusty men­tion of Pal­lonji Sahib, the Go­drejs, Vak­ils and Ca­mas. “Class jato rayo, old money is out­num­bered by the nou­veau riche.”

‘The Brits were nice to talk to but not keen on so­cial­iz­ing, un­sure which In­di­ans around them ate meat. It was amus­ing to pass their cot­tage hall­ways where they sat for sup­per for­mally dressed, down to bow-ties’

His great-great-grand­fa­ther from Falna in Ra­jasthan came to 1850s Bom­bay. “My dadaji, Oter­mal, ran a gen­eral store at this gala in the 1950s, which be­came our phar­macy.”

Vikram in­tro­duces me to the Vo­ras next door. At 95, frail Fa­tima Ab­dul­rehman Vora is won­der­fully lu­cid — “This was fully forested in 1936 when I came mar­ried from Tara­pore. My in-laws’ opened a tabela, which be­came our milk shop.” Her daugh­ter, mehndi artist Nazma, is “Jaggu” Shroff’s rakhi sis­ter, in­sep­a­ra­ble from child­hood in Navyug.

Be­tween 1970 and ’80, Jain and Mar­wari mer­chants poured in. “There’s a ma­jor change in the so­cial fab­ric,” says Shaan Khatau. We are walk­ing in her com­pound of 27storey Lands End, among the city’s ear­li­est sky­scrapers in 1967-’68.

The own­ers of Asia’s old­est news­pa­per have also had re­de­vel­oped their an­ces­tral bun­ga­low where Manmohan De­sai shot scenes of Amar Ak­bar An­thony. Over tea and batasa bis­cuits in her present home, the fam­ily ma­tri­arch rem­i­nisces: “We mar­ried in our gar­den, un­der chickoo, guava and co­conut trees with par­rots and mag­pies chat­ter­ing above. The Brits were nice to talk to but not keen on so­cial­iz­ing, un­sure which In­di­ans around them ate meat. It was amus­ing to pass their cot­tage hall­ways where they sat for sup­per for­mally dressed, down to bow-ties, just hus­band and wife too!”

Flak­ing, fad­ing, yet for­tu­nately spared, a sprin­kling of struc­tures of­fer moldy glimpses of grandeur. On the top floor of Beaulieu, now in crum­bling ne­glect, lived Gov­er­nor Man­gal­das Pak­vasa. His grand­daugh­ter, danseuse Sonal Mans­ingh, mar­ried in the next door Cosy Cor­ner bun­ga­low gar­den. Her sis­ter Arti Me­hta tells me Beaulieu’s beau­ti­ful cir­cu­lar stair­case wound up to their apart­ment. Their mother Poorn­ima par­tic­i­pated in the Dandi March and was jailed with Kas­turba Gandhi at 17. An oc­to­ge­nar­ian spend­ing six decades in the build­ing, says, “Beaulieu’s lovely high ceil­ings re­minded us of a palace.”

Heart­en­ing to ad­mire bet­ter pre­served, close to a cen­tury Him­mat Ni­vas. A statue of Athena adorn­ing its gable, this was Pupul Jayakar’s Bom­bay home. Her daugh­ter Rad­hika Herzberger, Rishi Val­ley School di­rec­tor, shares J Kr­ish­na­murti would stay with them in the city. An­other le­gendary res­i­dent, Madam Korosch’s bead bags and se­quin-em­broi­dered sa­rees were the talk of the town. Her mas­ter darzis crafted Nar­gis’ black sa­ree for the 1951 hit Awara. The Ger­man Jew seam­stress en­joyed dhansak meals with Parsi clients.

Bade Ghu­lam Ali Khan oc­cu­pied Him­mat Ni­vas’ top floor, from where his mel­liflu­ous riyaaz rip­pled wide. On dom­i­nantly veg­e­tar­ian turf, the Us­tad’s pref­er­ence for kababs fea­tures in Sheila Dhar’s Raga’n Josh: Sto­ries from a Mu­si­cal Life – “Bade Ghu­lam Ali Khan an­nounced to a host he could hardly pro­duce his mu­sic given grass to eat. ‘Ai khana, te ai gana?’ he ex­claimed shocked.”

My favourite stop is Bal Anand. Three gen­er­a­tions have play-learnt at this joy­ful niche coun­sel­lor Devi Man­gal­das’ mother Nan­dini Me­hta (Jayakar’s sis­ter) founded in 1954. Notic­ing Matu and Bhaja, chil­dren from shore­line jhopdis, hud­dled in her 25 Dongersi Road en­trance, she in­vited them in and handed them crayons. “Two to 10 to 75, this school sprang not from the­o­ries of ed­u­ca­tion but an act of com­pas­sion,” says Man­gal­das.

Stu­dents un­der mango trees sculpted with Piloo Pochkhanawala, shaped pot­tery with Prim­ula Pan­dit, painted with ex­pres­sive aban­don — “Mother urged them to draw their in­ner world.” Moved to a pair of garages in Akash Deep build­ing, Bal Anand’s con­fined space reaf­firms the en­ergy it al­ways ra­di­ated. The home cooked snack, a 60-year prac­tice, con­tin­ues be­ing lov­ingly served. Small is in­deed beau­ti­ful here. Au­thor-pub­lisher Me­her Mar­fa­tia writes fort­nightly on ev­ery­thing that makes her love Mumbai and adore Bom­bay. You can reach her at mehermar­fa­tia@gmail.com

PICS/SHADAB KHAN

A morn­ing yoga ses­sion at Bal Anand, the play-and-learn school founded by Devi Man­gal­das’ (sit­ting ex­treme right) mother over 60 years ago, in­flu­enced by J Kr­ish­na­murti’s phi­los­o­phy.

Vikram Jain and his son Raj out­side their phar­macy with their long-time neigh­bours in Navyug Chawl — 95-year-old Fa­tima Ab­dul­rehman Vora and her daugh­ter Nazma, who is Jackie Shroff’s rakhi sis­ter

PIC COURTESY/NAZMA VORA

The ac­tor, who grew up next door to the Vo­ras, re­cently vis­ited them on Eid day.

Vi­jay and Chan­drakant Shinde at their pro­vi­sions store Shinde Brothers on Walkesh­war Road. Al­most a cen­tury ago, their grand­mother Ruk­mini­bai worked with an all-women team at the spot, rolling beedi bun­dles

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