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Dance bars to Victorias: 10 things that have vanished from Mumbai

Today, when you look back, there is so much of Mumbai that doesn't exist anymore, that which has vanished. Here is a list of ten things that are not part of the Mumbai landscape anymore.

mumbai Updated: Jul 06, 2017 23:54 IST
Hindustan Times
HT Mumbai at 10,Mumbai,Victorias
The HC ruled earlier this year that Victorias would no longer ply in Mumbai, officially bringing an end to the days of the phaeton. (Illustration: Ravi Jadhav)

Change is hard. And it’s even harder when the old has been around forever. A look at icons Mumbai has lost over the past decade:

1) Victorias: no more clip-clop

They were a reminder of a more elegant time, when horse carriages were the only traffic on the streets and families went out for a trot after dinner. From elegant, the carriages became Bambaiyya-ised, with coaches covered in silver foil and lights blinking pink, green and blue.

The attraction for the patrons was the same, though - an evening ride for the whole family, with children squealing and trying to pat the horses as merry gangs clip-clopped along the promenade, past Gateway and on to the Taj. It was no joyride for the horses, though. So the high court ruled earlier this year that Victorias would no longer ply in the city, officially bringing an end to the days of the phaeton.

2) Single-screen cinema halls: curtain call

For some, the late show was a chance to dress up in evening wear and hobnob under chandeliers in red-carpeted lobbies. For others, it was at the single-screen theatre that, for a few annas (for those readers under a certain age, an anna was 1/16th of a rupee), the working man or woman could escape the drudgery of the mills and enter a world of make-believe - one marred only by the clatter of standing fans and the occasional snapped reel.

This is where a film-crazy city paid tribute to an industry that would come to define it. Loyalty was measured not in crores but in years - Sholay ran for five; DDLJ is still running after 20. Now, their halls are silent, some shuttered, others fighting to avoid the wrecking ball. The show goes on, but elsewhere.

3) Café Samovar: the last cuppa

With its homely mutton chops, kheema parathas and, of course, tea, Samovar nourished artists and art lovers for half a century. Its narrow space inside the Jehangir art gallery became a haven for broke painters who could not afford a meal elsewhere in the posh art district. MF Husain would order his favourite baingan ka salan and add it to his running tab. Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan would come here on dates. The artists became world-famous and the actors became superstars, but the café retained its warm, hospitable air, allowing anonymous Mumbaiites to rub shoulders with celebrated ones at meals whose priced remained steadfastly modest.

But the gallery needed its space back and, earlier this year, owner and founder Usha Khanna lost a three-decade battle to keep the café open. Giving to the end, she invited the rush of patrons to pick a souvenir on the final day and take it home. So part of Samovar lives on.

4) Traditional taxi meters: a new equation

Of all the many things sold at Mumbai's traffic signals - umbrellas, best-sellers, toys and flowers - arguably the fastest-moving item was the taxi-auto tariff card in the days just after it had been updated. Everyone had to have one of those red-and-black-printed, plastic-coated lifesavers because there was no other way to tell exactly what you needed to pay your driver - unless you were good at doing high math in your head.

That was when the meter still showed the fare from the 1970s or thereabouts; and had to be translated into current-day fares according to complicated formulae. Now, electronic meters flash the time, date, actual fare and kilometres travelled. They could probably predict the weather with a little tweaking. But they can still be tampered with. Some things never change.

5) Dance bars: the day the music died

Centuries from now, if the remains of Mira Road's dance bars are excavated, their multiple strobe lights, patterned floors and velvety red furniture will likely still spark debates about feminism, family values and free markets. Around the turn of the century, there was no freer market. Women looking for work could sway their hips and take home lakhs; men looking for excitement and 'prestige' could come here, 'make it rain', and be made to feel like kings. Love was gained and lost daily. Little dramas unfolded between the first number of the day and closing time.

Then, in August 2005, the music died. A suddenly enraged home minister, RR Patil, declared that the bars were bankrupting young men and young minds, destroying family values. As subsequent court orders revoked and then reinforced the ban, in the bars, hope turned to resignation. Some of the women turned to prostitution. Many looked back longingly on the days when a pretty sari and a few graceful moves were all it took to earn a living.

You can still find a dance bar if you know where to look, but the frenzy of music and money is gone, and everyone's always looking over their shoulder, in case there's a police raid.

6) Anantashram and Irani cafés: soul food fades

They were typified by curt service, delectable specials and décor that was quaint even in the 1990s - marble-topped tables, wooden counters and bentwood chairs. Patrons would chuckle at but nonetheless dutifully obey the dos and don'ts - to not linger, get into arguments with other patrons, or ask the waiter too many questions.

Because Mumbai's khanavals like Anant Ashram in Girgaum's Khotachiwadi, and Irani cafés like Naaz and Brabourne, were icons. And there was nowhere you could get a better seafood thali, or bun-maska and akuri. There was a passion and a uniqueness to the food served here. And a no-nonsense approach. At Anant Ashram, for instance, there was no fridge. The owners would buy fresh fish and meat - twice a day. When they ran out of food, they just downed their shutters for the day. The menus were brief, the recipes home-style, and the prices meant to be inclusive. You could share a table with a bus conductor, a retired Parsi businessman or Nana Patekar. You became, for your time in the establishment, a part of the Bombay landscape.

Anant Ashram was 80 years old when it shut in 2010; Brabourne at Marine Lines was 77 when it shut in 2008. Those that survive are finding themselves forced to change - offer craft beer, or pizza. They probably wouldn't even mind if you loitered.

7) Cyber cafés and PCOs: a penny for your thoughts

They were the lifelines of the college student, commuter and middle-class homemaker. All you needed was a handful of coins and you could chat with friends online or offline, call home in an emergency or print out a book report. They were your refuge when your computer or your Net connection crashed for umpteenth time, or your printer refused to connect.

And if your cellphone battery died, you just had to do a 360-degree swivel and changes are you'd sight a boxy red phone in a lockable metal cage, perched outside a general store. You'd even occasionally have to wait in line. Today, there are large parts of the city with no cyber cafés at all. Those that still exist are usually part of an evergreen enterprise like a copy shop or stationery store. As for the PCOs, a few still stand in corners of railway stations and bus depots, but they stopped functioning long ago, and no one noticed.

8) Cut-offs under 90%: playing with numbers

It used to be that distinction was the most you could aim for. The norm was late 60s and early 70s, and anyone who got more than 85% was look at with suspicion and a little bit of sympathy - clearly they had not enjoyed school enough; just how 'strict' were their parents; did they even manage to watch a single Harry Potter movie? Now, there are college streams for which you need 100% to gain admission. 100%. To gain admission.

The average applicant can have no hopes of making it to any respectable first list with less than 90%. Children who have scored in the 70s and early 80s weep with frustration and disappointment. Whatever happened to let kids be kids?

9) Mumbai's cricket: bowled out?

We produced Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar. Legends and World Cup-winners. Our city also produced Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar. In an overcrowded metropolis where space has always been a constraint, the poor state of the pitches was believed to offer young players an advantage. After scoring in Mumbai, the logic went, any other pitch would be a piece of cake. Now, in addition to being poorly cared for, the pitches are overcrowded to the point of overlapping.

At the Azad and Cross maidans, you can no longer tell the teams apart; one game's fine leg is another game's slip cordon. The lack of infrastructure has taken its toll on a city that was once considered the nursery of cricket. While other cities have upped their game, we have taken our eyes off the ball.

10) Sea Rock hotel: shaken and stirred

With its pool overlooking the ocean and its revolving rooftop restaurant, Sea Rock - when it opened in 1978 - was one of the first signs that Bandra would be the next cool thing. The hotel had the advantage of a stunning location at land's end, and a stream of famous patrons, including Smita Patil, Rekha and Jackie Shroff. As the rest of the city began to move northwards, away from the glitter of the island city, Taj and Oberoi, it truly came into its own. Filmstars partied here; restaurant openings were attended by the who's who of the commercial capital.

Then came the blasts; 12 explosions that forever changed Mumbai. The blast at Sea Rock left some of the floors damaged and the lift well bent out of shape. The rooftop restaurant no longer revolved. A couple of floors could be used, and indeed remained in use until 2006. The building finally came down four years later. Another hotel may be built in its place, but it will likely be a Taj.

(Illustrations: Ravi Jadhav)

First Published: Jul 16, 2015 15:24 IST