Shanghai did exist in Mumbai 50 years ago
The Mumbai city, as it is popularly known has changed its face with the passage of time to accommodate more and more people and thus giving rise to multi structures in place of chawls and open places. But, one such place in South Mumbai i.e. Mumbai Central, has not found many changes in its surroundings, the way Agripada, Lamigton Road and Nagpada areas in the neighborhood saw a complete facelift. The old Railway terminus and the campus is the same, the ST depot hasn’t seen any changes except for renovation; the Maratha Mandir Cinema , which was the biggest attraction of entertainment since sixties, still remains the same and so remains the Nair Hospital with the additional building in the annexe. And, have you noticed the series of solid chain of white buildings behind the Maratha Mandir theatre and office complex ? It Stretches from there till the Jagjivanram Railway Hospital towards Morland Road from one side and the huge ST Bus Depot to the other side. Even now, it invites your attention for the manner in which it has preserved its heritage.
This being the inaugural issue of magzmumbai, it is my privilege to share with the viewers the tale of this biggest high-tech colony that was built in 1954. The colony completed fifty seven years during the recent Ganesh Festival. When we are watching the fall of old structures in Mumbai at present, these solid structures reminded me of its strong make and regular maintenance. Thanks to RBI Estate department. Over the years, thousands of people who occupied the quarters here, lived like a big family. But the finest memories they cherished at this place reminds each one of them of brotherhood , love and, friendship .
The cemented roads constructed in 1954 are today as clean as they used to be. The trees were well maintained. However, the huge enclosure specially constructed at the time of Ganapati in the central ground is missing today. Now, the Ganapati Aarti/ Pooja takes place in the Club house in the corner where there used to be a closed card room. Playing cards was considered as a leisurely game and not gambling those days and only the elders were permitted to play there. Except for a big playground, there were small gardens in front of each building. Today, these are used for parking the cars. And that is the only change observed in the colony, according to old reisdents. Obviously, now with the standard of living going up, Mr. C.D. Deshmukh, then Governor of Reserve Bank of India during whose tenure and initiative this colony was created; did not anticipate that after 50 years almost every colony flat would need parking space. In short, the colony did not change, but, the living standard grew up. There were Mercury vapour street lamps used in the Colony at a time when there were not even coal gas street lamps in Mumbai .
This was the place where all so called modern amenities were provided fifty years ago; that our builders with high-tech colonies offer today. The colony spreading into 12 widespread buildings housed 600 families, with each building having 2 to 3 entrances with separate lifts. It had the best sewage system including the garbage collection and garbage pick up system, that was not seen anywhere in Mumbai, till today. But, of late this system does not exist as the Bin bags culture prevails. The caretaker, electrician, plumber were available round the clock. The ground and garden maintenance people were also provided in house quarters separately.
The colony had a big Sports club and a huge playground at the centre. The Sports club had the best wooden underground badminton court besides two TT tables , Carom enclosure and a Card Room. This best designed badminton court was the second best in Mumbai those days and it was on this court that former International Leroy D’sa , a resident of the colony took his first lessons. Many former International Badminton players including Nandu Natekar played their matches here. Even Bapu Nadkarni, former cricketer, who also played Badminton; played his match on this court in 60s. Former international table tennis player Ratish Chachad, who then worked for RBI won his first major tournament title on this court. The table Tennis matches also used to be conducted on this badminton court. Vilas Mantri, former junior state player who lived in this colony began his TT lessons in the colony club house.
The sports club also had attached Irani restaurant. In addition to this, the colony had a Doctor’s dispensary, Secondary school and a Gymnasium, which was called ‘Vyayam Shala’ those days. There was a Co-operative basis run Grain market along with daily morning makeshift vegetable market and milk booth to cater to the needs of every household requirement. What more anyone would have asked for those days ? . Above all, the colony celebrated almost all festivals besides Diwali and Christmas with the same enthusiasm in that cosmopolitan atmosphere. People from all religions lived here, giving a look of a mini India. In fact, visitors did call the colony with this name.
It was in this colony that classical singer Pandit Bhimsen Joshi performed during one of the Ganesh festivals. Many sportspersons like Vijay Merchat, Poly Umrigar ,Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar were invited as chief guests during the Sports festivals. In fact, cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar, Ramnath Parkar, Umesh Kulkarni and Eknath Solkar played tennis ball cricket matches on this colony ground. Sunil’s St. Xavier’s school mate and fast bowler Sopan Bannerjee lived in the colony. These were just few fond memories of the old residents but in reality many celebrities visited the colony for some reason or the other. To mention few names, Mr. Murli Deora, the Central minister, used to visit every five years to request colony residents to vote in his favour during every election.
The colony is surrounded by the huge ST depot on the south side , the Jagjivanram Railway hospital on the East side and the Maratha Mandir theatre and bank’s own Branch office on the west side. The only side open is North which opened to the Maratha Mandir Marg which housed heritage bunglows of Parsis and the Muslim Khoja and Bohra community. Unfortunately,today we see hutments on the footpath facing this side, almost close to the main gate of the colony. Music director Nadeem of Nadeem –Shravan pair lived in one of these bunglows. He was a frequent visitor to the colony , as his friends lived here. Always carrying a Guitar in his hands, he looked handsome during his teen age, recall the old residents. “Anyone who looked at him would have predicted him to become a film actor and not a music composer. But, the guitar made all the difference.”
It was in this colony, the test cricketers like Brijesh Patel and Syed Kirmani, during their peak time, whenever in Mumbai , used to visit this colony secretly to meet their common friend in a Fiat taxi. Those days, the cicketers did not earn as much as today’s crickters. The enthusiastic colony residents very well kept track of their visits. Those days, there were no TV channels that we see today; or else they would have featured in Breaking News! The enthusiastic colony residents very well kept track of their visits. Shiv Sena supremo Mr. Balasaheb Thackray also visited this place to see his sister once, who lived in the colony sometime in 60s. Former Maharashtra Minister late Pramod Navalkar, also visited his colony as his relatives lived here.
Some of the prominent ex- residents of the colony, whose parents worked in Reserve Bank of India are : Dr. Ramesh Kathuria – former Chief Medical or Health officer in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation(BMC), late Dr. Y.G. Benkar, who was athe most popular Medical officer of the colony,Dr. Krishna Raj Kollare, A surgeon who practices at Irla, Dr. Suresh Khilari, who has a good practice in Govandi, off Deonar, Linel D’Souza, who practices well in Amboli; Koppikar brothers both doctors practicing in Mumbai , Dr. Uday Kaulas , Borivali and Dr. Suresh Pai, who is attached to KEM/ Tata Memorial Hospital . Dr. Nilima Vaidya , who also lived in the colony now runs a Maternity Hospital at Charkop, Kandivali. Ajit Sawant, who spent his childhood here is DCP with Mumbai Police now. And there are many more who chose either medical profession or other fields, but they have reached top positions. Dhananjay Mungale, the leading financial consultant and advisor and director of many top companies in India today, lived in this colony. Ravi Patwardhan, then a stage actor, is today a popular character artiste of Hindi and Marathi films.
There are few more names who have attained respectable positions in the society. And, all of them remember the colony and their good old days. Recently, most of them assembled at the colony during the Ganapati festival and recalled their good old days. They have also formed a club on facebook with the name of RBI Mumbai Central Club, which is receiving a good response. According to all these old residents, “ Our politicians talk about converting Mumbai into Shanghai; but for their kind information, Shanghai did exist in Mumbai, 50 years ago.”
( Colony view photo : By Praveer Bhogte )