Southern hamlet looks westwards | Hindustan Times
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Southern hamlet looks westwards

An area once dominated by south Indians and their eateries, temples and theatres, laid-back Matunga has now made room for cafés, tattoo parlours and other cosmopolitan establishments, says Manoj R Nair.

mumbai Updated: Nov 30, 2012 02:24 IST

Matunga’s venerated Mysore Café and Anand Bhavan got an audacious new neighbour – a dog spa. A canine grooming station in the middle of the old-world Idli-and-coffee houses of Kings Circle startled many of the area’s old residents, including radiologist and long-time Matunga resident Dr Bhavin Jankharia who has often chronicled the area’s transition in newspaper columns and ‘Man from Matunga’ blog.

“I could not fathom the fact that a circle that was famous for its coffee-drinking public now has a spa for dogs,” says Jankaria. “I realised that the whole locality has changed to that extent.”

Nina Joshi, the London-trained pet-groomer who runs ‘Oh My Dog’ that offers bubble baths; dental care and anti-dandruff treatment for privileged canines knew that her choice of location for the dog spa was an unusual one. “If I was not running it myself, it would definitely have been strange to hear about a dog salon in Matunga,” says Joshi.

The dog spa is just one of the brazen new entrants in a neighbourhood once defined by old cultural and culinary landmarks. Last year, Yogesh Waghmare set up the first tattoo salon ‘Leo Tattoo’ near two old attractions, the Aurora cinema and the Marubai temple. “Bandra is a tattoo hub, but rents are prohibitive and parking spaces costly,” says Waghmare.

Temples and Maths, with their faux gopurams, still pull in the devout. Most of the area’s old have been joined by cosmopolitan brands. Old-time residents shake their heads in disbelief about the new Subway and the Café Coffee Days.

The area’s skyline is undergoing a gradual change as tall buildings with multi-level parking are replacing the low rise architecture from the 1930s and 1940s. The changes in the area’s demographics too have been more drastic. For more than five decades, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Road was a blurry divide between the South Indians on the west and the Gujaratis, mostly Kutchhis, on the other side. Fewer Tamilians and Malayalis reside here now.

Meena Venkateshwaran, a 74-year-old resident of Telang Road, says, “About 80 per cent of residents were South Indians; now their numbers could be between 30 and 40 per cent of the population. “The younger generation of South Indians moved to Dombivli and Chembur as families outgrew their homes.”

“More Gujaratis and Kutchhis have moved in,” says Jitendra Gala, secretary of the 76-year-old Shree Gujarati Seva Mandal. The Kutchhis like Matunga because of its proximity to workplaces, its Derasars or temples and the profusion of educational institutions and sports clubs. “Jains actually pay a premium to buy homes in Matunga,” says Jankharia.

The exodus of South Indians from the area, as Jankharia calls it, has affected screenings of South Indian films, at least those in Malayalam, at Aurora, the only cinema hall there. Tamil films continue to draw fans from Dharavi, across the railway tracks. Natarajan, brother of the theatre owner, and who uses only first name, said that while much of his former clientele has shifted to the suburbs, they “sell 60 to 70 tickets online daily and most are bought by people who come to Matunga to watch a south Indian film”.

Residents say despite the transitions, Matunga has retained its laid-back charm, of a small-town in the middle of a metropolis. When Deepa Dikshit, associate dean of L N Welingkar Institute moved from Kandivli to Matunga, she was surprised to see the shops closing down around 8.30pm. “In that sense, it is different from the other parts,” she says

“Real estate has become more expensive and has grown skywards but other things, like open spaces, have not changed. The area has not lost its soul,” said Vijay Hegde, a Chembur resident and a member of Matunga Gymkhana. Jankharia notes that, unlike in Walkeshwar, the change in Matunga has not come at the cost of cosmopolitanism.

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