A fading voice, a forgotten Mumbai | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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A fading voice, a forgotten Mumbai

They were here before the rest, working in the mills and building homes along the coast. Now, a realty boom has claimed their homes and they find their voices don’t matter as much. Zara Murao reports.

mumbai Updated: Oct 06, 2009 01:40 IST
Zara Murao

Ronnie Fernandes still remembers how his grandfather would walk to work from Bandra to Cotton Green.

“It wouldn’t take him that long,” says the 67-year-old. “It was a straight path, as the crow flies. There was nothing but fields for miles in every direction.”

There was one problem: The senior Fernandes had to time his commute to coincide with the low tide. There was only one way across the Mahim creek: You had to roll up your pants and walk.

Shirly village in Bandra (West) is now a huddle of crumbling homes.

But back then, in the middle of the last century, it was a picturesque seaside hamlet along Carter Road.

Each family had paddy and vegetable fields nearby — on land that now holds a large college and some two score residential buildings.

Change came to Bandra in the mid-to-late 1970s. As realty rates rose, old residents sold out and their bungalows were replaced by residential buildings.

Then, as the rise of the suburbs transformed Bandra from the back of beyond to one of the most wanted addresses in Mumbai, the older buildings began to be taken down and redeveloped as bigger, better, posher apartment blocks.

Now, as more newcomers flood in from across the city and the country to set up home here, the residents of Shirly and the few other remaining villages here find themselves in a minority in their own home.

Their priorities — protecting the old homes, preserving the original flavour of the suburb — are no longer top of mind. Instead, the stress is on more immediate problems like the need for more schools, more parking spaces, better water supply.
“There is a divide between the priorities of the more middle-class older residents and younger and wealthier yuppies,” says Kamala Ganesh, a sociologist with the University of Mumbai. “For one thing, the newer residents are younger and don’t see heritage as a very big priority. And then they haven’t lived in that particular area for long.”

A few metres away from Ronnie’s home is Diago Apartments, a block of four apartment buildings.

Arshi and Arif Zaman live on the first floor, with a picture window looking out on to the little garden in front.

For the Zamans, who have a four-year-old daughter and seven-month-old son, their concerns are not so much conservation of crumbling heritage as improvements in infrastructure.

“The traffic is just terrible,” says Arshi. “And we need more schools. Water’s a problem too.”

It’s a divide in priorities that is reflected a few kilometres south, in Parel, where old mills have given way to soaring glass-and-steel high-rises.

Former mill-hand Vijaykumar Phatak (57) frets at all the bustle that now surrounds him.

“Everyone used to know each other,” he says. “There was no need to lock your door. Now, no one would know if the house next door was being burgled.”

For KPO executive Rahul Sheth (37), originally from Surat and now part of the new glass-and-steel Parel, the bustle is exactly what drew him here.

The Sheths, originally from Surat, moved to Parel two years ago and chose the centrally located suburb because of the good connectivity and good schools for their two daughters.

“The traffic is awful,” Rahul admits. “And I know the crop of new high-rises is partly to blame, but I still wish there were more new buildings like ours. They make the whole area seem cleaner and brighter.”

The shifting demographic means the Sheths will have more of a voice here than the Phataks, even though this was once the mill workers’ constituency.

“Parel without the mills is a new socio-economic equation,” says conservation architect Lambah. “It is a disjointed mechanics and we are to blame as a city.”

Phatak agrees. “Now, we are all scattered,” he says. “We don’t really have a constituency any more.”