When I was growing up at Janki Kutir, Juhu was a back-of-beyond suburb where fishermen went boating along the stretch from Centaur Hotel to Vile-Parle’s Sahkari Bhandar during the monsoon, hoping for a good catch,” reminisces Shabana Azmi, adding, “On a clear day, you could see from one end of Juhu beach to the other because there were no hotels and concrete high-rises spoiling the view.”
Since money was short and toys, a dream, the actor recalls embracing the beach. “We’d catch dragonflies, tie a thread around them and pretend they were our own little kites,” she laughs. “In the garden, we’d smell the flowers
(father Kaifi Azmi) was so fond of, trying to figure out their names from their fragrance. A sharp cardamom scent meant it was a carnation.”
Today, she rues that the residents go to Juhu beach to sit in their cars and listen to their iPods. “I want to tell them to walk on the sand, feel the breeze and listen to the waves,” she says, lamenting that most people prefer to sit indoors glued to their TV sets. “Even today, I can’t switch on the TV. I’m so confused by all the buttons on the remote that if I want to watch a show, I call for help.”
For Shabana there’s a life beyond TV and that’s the reason, as a Member of Parliament, she funded the promenades along Band Stand and Carter Road that are now popular walking tracks for Bandraites. Now, she’s joined hands with husband, poet-lyricist-writer Javed Akhtar, to beautify Juhu. He has invested all his MP funds into Juhu Vision, a project that was inaugurated early this year. It aims to open up 10 kms, from one end of Juhu beach to the foul-semelling Irla nallah that has been cleared of illegal encroachments, cleaned and widened.
“The redevelopment will happen in phases over three years. PK Das, the architect, who worked with me on the Bandra projects, has submitted a plan to the BMC in consultation with citizen’s groups and the Raheja School of Archtecture,” she says.
The idea is to have cycling and walking tracks along the 10 km stretch, dotted with benches and cafeterias, like you see in European countries. “It will give people an incentive to step out of their homes and breathe in the fresh air,” she says. “These green spaces are the lungs of our city and we have to reclaim them. We don’t need fancy high-rises, we need walking and cycling tracks so our children can grow up healthy and happy. I’m glad that the Kaifi Azmi Park today has become a thriving playground for them and the site for the annual Juhu Hamara Festival. Now, the 3.5 acres adjacent to it, the Ramson Park, is being cleared and developed. Both will be integral to Vision Juhu.”