A little more than ten years ago, Prahlad Jogwe, 39, was the proud secretary of a ‘mitra mandal’ (youth club) in the DN Nagar-Dhake Colony area of Andheri (West). His mandal organised tennis-ball cricket tournaments, took the lead in the local Ganpati or Diwali festivities, supervised wedding preparations for families from the neighbourhood, and even acted as arbiter in small disputes.
The mandal exists, but Jogwe has distanced himself from it: there simply aren’t any youngsters around, he says, who’d want to be part of anything like that now. The entire DN Nagar stretch, with Amboli and other areas around it, has changed dramatically over the last decade. Not only have the mandals dwindled in numbers, many old buildings have given way to expensive towers, a cluster of Mhada buildings is fast undergoing redevelopment, ‘kattas’ (neighbourhood corners) have been replaced by coffee shops, and the wave of affluence in the new century has fuelled new aspirations among the youth. So while togetherness, a sense of community and participation in a local festival were the things they looked forward to earlier, the Amboli Bar and Kitchen is the place they’d rather be seen at today.
This part of Andheri West had not given in entirely to the pressures of the Lokhandwala-Oshiwara culture of consumerism, which arose in the 1990s, and had even managed to retain its distinctive middle-class character despite the growth of neighbouring Versova as a posh address in the same period. Today, it looks more vulnerable than ever.
Pratima Sakshidar, 67, a long-time resident of a Mhada building in D N Nagar who shifted recently to Goregaon, says managing change has been difficult. “Most of our buildings had a common balcony running across the entire floor. We knew all our neighbours well. Each floor was like a joint family. Doors were open, and there were hardly any thefts, burglaries, or other crimes. Can you imagine such a scenario today?” Earlier, it was easy to tell a stranger from a local, she says; today, it is difficult.
A significant percentage of the residents who have come to live here post-2000 have rented flats. This means they have little connect with the area, and neighbours change frequently.
A 60-year-old Amboli resident, who would not want to be named, says not everything about the old world has been good, and he is glad some of the slums have disappeared. That, in fact, has resulted in a drop in crime levels and increased the sense of security among locals, he says, but new buildings have created new pressures.
“With newer buildings have come fancy restaurants and cafes. Kids these days want fancy cars, want to go to pubs and to drink with friends. This has led to a different set of problems altogether, as we saw in the recent murders of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes,” he says.
That, locals say, is where the new and the old worlds have collided.
Another Amboli resident, who only calls himself Gomes, says the community, once close-knit, is unravelling. “Our children used to have the same set of friends in the building and at school, college, and church. Today, they travel across the city, and friends keep changing. Also, the kattas have disappeared. So if you want to spend time with friends, you have to spend money at bars and cafes. This has led to pressure to earn. And the release is often unhealthy.”
Jogwe says the profile of youngsters has also altered, not just socio-economically: they have no time for community work. “The boys who used to manage festivals are spending long hours at work or hanging out at hookah parlours.”
Even some Versova residents mourn the loss of the old. Rekha Saswadkar, 58, a homemaker, chuckles when she watches Bollywood cop-dramas from the 1970s showing casks of smuggled gold landing off the Versova coast. “When we moved here in 1980, that is how this area was - idyllic and isolated. Beyond the Versova creek was one long marsh, where the Walavalkars built what came to be known as Samarth Nagar. The Lokhandwalas followed soon thereafter, and the area has been buzzing ever since.” Some of the buzz, some Andheri West residents feel, may have just begun to bite.