Malavika’s Mumbaistan: Mirroring The City

Updated on Oct 01, 2021 06:46 PM IST
Perhaps through its many phases of ruin and restoration, degradation and development, splendour and squalor, the Bandra Talao reflects the story of the city itself
Said to have been egged on by local residents and environmental activists, Bandra Talao is said to have finally witnessed beautification and repair through the intervention of BMC. (PHOTO: IQHLAK SHEIKH)
Said to have been egged on by local residents and environmental activists, Bandra Talao is said to have finally witnessed beautification and repair through the intervention of BMC. (PHOTO: IQHLAK SHEIKH)
ByMalavika Sangghvi

As a water body, it is no more than a drop in the ocean of Mumbai’s concrete jungle, but perhaps through its many phases of ruin and restoration, degradation and development, splendour and squalor, the Bandra Talao reflects the story of the city itself.

Spread across 7.5 acres, it was colloquially known as Lotus Tank and is said to have been constructed by a wealthy Muslim resident of the area, around 200 years ago, as a scenic spot where water lilies, boating and fishing were a common sight, and families with their kids would gather to feed geese or paddle languidly, while ardent anglers would congregate to catch guppy and fighter fish and the East Indian community would converge for their wedding ritual known as ‘Umbra cha Pani.’ Boating and fishing and traditional water rituals in the middle of the city? How very bucolic. And how very Bandra.

Yes indeed, those were the days.

Neighbourhoods and cities die gradually, through neglect and apathy, and no one can give you the exact date when things began to go pear-shaped for the Talao, but from a spot which had been regarded as a tourist attraction, it fell in to disrepute and neglect, attracting its share of drifters and drug users, derelicts and drunks. For many years, commuters passing through the junction of SV Road could tell you that the way in which they knew they were approaching the Talao was by its fetid acrid smell that would assail their nostrils while in its vicinity, and late night commuters coming off Bandra station would speak of how they would quicken their steps, their heads down, their collars up, hoping they would not be accosted by an unsavoury intruder on its borders.

A sorry state indeed for a lake which had always been the first handshake that commuters on the city’s south-north axis used to make with Bandra, on their journey northwards: a muddy, stinky apology of a lake, mostly grey and dirty, awash with garbage – a symbol of the rot and the ruin that the city had fallen into…

Recently, news of the restoration of Bandra Talao has been making the rounds. Said to have been egged on by local residents and environmental activists, the Grade-2 heritage is said to have finally witnessed beautification and repair through the intervention of BMC’s H-West ward, which took it over in a bid to restore it to its former glory.

“It is one of the largest water bodies in and around Bandra, located as it is on the main SV Road, which is the arterial road of the suburbs, and there was a lot of demand from locals to develop it,” said three-term corporator from Bandra constituency and the person said to be instrumental in much of the improvements of the area, Asif Zakaria, when we spoke this week.

“It was once a spot for boating and picnics, but as it was not being frequented by citizens, it had turned into a neglected space, with garbage dumped in the water and other nefarious activities around it,” he said, adding, “But recently, with active citizens’ participation, the Talao has been improved upon with walking pathway all around so that citizens can enjoy the open water front. The main idea was to connect it from all sides in order to create useable open space for people to walk, jog etc and enjoy the open water body. There are also better lighting, water aerators, security and regular cleaning of the floating material.”

Initially, Zakaria says, BMC had faced many challenges in its maintenance, but with local citizens’ participation, it was able to get a grip on things. What’s more, according to Zakaria, the restoration of the Talao is no flash in the pan.

“Bandra has a very vibrant citizens movement which has resulted in various other open spaces being improved like the Joggers park, Part 2 Gardens at Bandstand, the Prof Almeida Park, and the creation of the first urban square at St Stephen’s steps and Mount Mary – which was once a narrow pathway but has now been converted into a large open square for the community for various social cultural activities,” he said.

“No, I haven’t seen the Bandra Talao recently. So I cannot vouch for its restoration,” said long-time resident of Bandra and one of the pillars of its community, Owen Roncon, adding, “But as someone who loves Bandra, I commend any initiatives that restore and upgrade it”.

For Roncon, who along with wife and former Bandra MP Priya Dutt, is known to have worked hard to transform his beloved Bandra into one of the city’s most welcoming suburbs and a hub for F&B, there is another issue: that of too much of a good thing.

“Bandra today is experiencing an unprecedented onslaught of visitors on weekends,” he rued.

“If you see Hill Road on a Saturday night, it’s a circus: cars, crowds, shoppers, motorcycles. We Bandra residents don’t venture out on weekends because of the noise and chaos,” he said, adding, “ Yes, the government and authorities can and must improve things, but then it is up to citizens to behave responsibly too…”

“The city is certainly witnessing rejuvenation as far as its aesthetics and civic-minded issues,” said industrialist Harsh Goenka, who is currently involved in the restoration of Banganga, another city landmark.”

“I have enormous respect for [Maharashtra CM] Uddhav Thackeray and his government who have made the improvement of Mumbai and its facilities for ordinary citizens a key point of their agenda,” he said.

“Perhaps it is due to the fact that for the first time we have people heading the state who have grown up all their lives in the city and have its interests at heart…” he added. “There remains much more to be done, but it is a step in the right direction…”

I began this column by saying that in many ways, Bandra Talao could be said to be a mirror of the city itself: Once a place of old world glory and charm, then a symbol of its apathy and ruin and recently an example of how things can be restored and revived, with the collaboration of residents and authorities.

But will it last? Weeks after its face lift, there are already reports of hiccups and setbacks. The water aerators, which were installed to keep the lake clean and free from algae, are said to have stopped working because miscreants had stolen the wiring according to news reports, and critics say the lake’s eastern borders remain neglected and could do with some trees and lighting so that families and kids could return.

So will the recently restored Bandra Talao live up to its promise and remain clean and welcoming? And will it become a tangible symbol of how things can be restored and revived if people set their hearts and minds to the task?

Who can tell? But as of now, the mood is of cautious optimism...

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