A tale of two Cuffe Parades

  • Ayaz Memon, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 06, 2016 00:11 IST
The vibrant Cuffe Parade (HT)

This column has been trenchant in its criticism of the Shiv Sena on several issues, but I am one with young Aditya

Thackeray’s objections to the city’s real estate lobby trying to entice naïve — or status struck — buyers into neighbourhoods that sound like other neighbourhoods with an appendage attached.

If that sounds terribly convoluted, let me explain. The ‘hottest’ destination for new flat buyers, if builders are to be believed, is New Cuffe Parade which incidentally is nowhere near Cuffe Parade: in fact, New Cuffe Parade is somewhere in Wadala, not too long back considered the boondocks!

The only thing in common between the two Cuffe Parades is that both will provide a view of Mumbai’s magnificent seafront, though how much of this will be visible after the ‘new’ is fully developed i.e. becomes a concrete jungle, is open to question. But that’s a different story.

What’s intriguing is why names of old areas should find new expression, often with a suffix or prefix, in the same city? What is the nuance in this, if indeed there is any?

The origin of this unusual name game, if I remember correctly, can be traced many years back to the time Lower Parel was rechristened ‘Upper Worli’.

The story goes that this happened when the advertising agency Lintas decided to shift from its spiritual home at Nariman Point, considered till then the hub of elite Indian business, to humbler environs.

However, because Lower Parel was synonymous with textile mills and chawls —essentially the underbelly of the city — it was considered too downmarket a name for such an upmarket agency. The new destination had to be more alluring and ‘upper crusty’, and the rebranding was done.

As it happens, since then Nariman Point is not the preferred destination for business it used to be. Lower Parel — or Upper Worli — usurped that position. Over the past quarter century, erstwhile cotton textile mills have been replaced by glitzy malls, glass-fronted office blocks, residential towers and trendy eateries.

The tag ‘lower’ nonetheless continues to irk those who are short on history and reality, but long on fake ideas of snobbery. The area still gets flooded in heavy monsoon rains though, not the least because of congestion caused by ill-planned construction.

Fact is, simply calling something “upper” cannot not change its topography unless there are strong infrastructural remedies in place, which hasn’t been the case.

Nevertheless, Upper Worli succeeded in not only establishing itself in real estate ads, but also became some kind of example for builders to emulate in other areas. So Parel Village is now being sold as the ‘New Sewree’, although since the mudflats there have vanished, the much-looked-forward-to flamingo visits are getting rarer with every passing year. Of course, builders can name their apartment blocks “Pink Flamingo” to make up for that!

The trend has grown rapidly and extensively. Elsewhere, Kalanagar is being called ‘BKC Annexe’ in deference to the new commercial hub of the city. Is it because an area named after the arts has no place in a developer’s arriviste India one wonders. And part of good old Andheri is now ‘Upper Juhu’, I suppose to give it a tinsel image as so many film stars live in Juhu.

To the chagrin of snooty residents of Altamount Road, there is another one coming up somewhere in Malad, a place they may not have heard of since it is north of both airports!

Interestingly, most buildings coming up in these areas — as indeed in Navi Mumbai — get non-Indian names: Bellasimo, Casablanca, Orchid and the like. I have not been able to put my finger on why this is so. Perhaps it is to make buyers feel that they have not only moved into a new house or office, but a new country, though this does betray some kind of inferiority complex.

Funny as all this sounds, the Sena does have a point. Not only is Mumbai’s history being wiped out, the new builder-developer version of is creating needless divides and replacing an area’s rich original ethos with a faux nouveau riche idea of the city.

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