Friday, 20 May 2016

Down Nostalgia lane: Gamdevi, South Bombay and the Sixties

[This article was written in November 2014 for the Centenary Volume of our society. It was simply titled "Down Nostalgia Lane", and that is simply all it contains: nostalgia.]

The Saraswat Co-operative Housing Society Ltd, Gamdevi, is the first co-operative housing society not only in India but in the whole of Asia. This society was registered on 28/3/1915, received its Completion Certificate on 21/12/1915, and was officially occupied by its first residents on 1/1/1916. On 1/1/2016, we will be savoring the historic moment when this society will complete 100 years of occupation.

A Historical Moment

This colony/society is a testimony to the pioneering spirit of the Chitrapur Saraswat community. The point of time when this society was formed (1915), it must be remembered, was a very important historical point of time for both India and the world, and the society has been witness to epoch-making historical eras: India was, at that point of time, still a solid part of the British Empire, World War I (1914-1918) was raging in the west, Mahatma Gandhi (in 1915) had just come back to India from South Africa, Lokmanya Tilak (1856-1920) was still alive and active, Jawaharlal Nehru was still unknown to India and to the world at large, the Hindu Mahasabha had just been formed (1914) and the RSS (1925) was not yet in existence, the Communist Revolution (1917) had not yet taken place in Russia, Adolf Hitler was an unknown name to the world, Bal Gandharva’s Gandharva Natya Mandali had only been formed in 1913, and Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, India’s first full length (silent) feature film, had also just been completed in 1913. H.H. Shrimat Pandurangashram Swami was still alive, and our most revered H.H. Shrimat Anandashram Swami had only just been ordained Shishya Swami in 1915. The world was a completely different world at the time, and we can only guess, from fragmentary evidence, and with the help of our imagination, what Gamdevi, Mumbai, India and the world in general must have been like at that historical point of time.

The formation of this society represents a historical moment, as it was an epochal event for the co-operative movement in India: it was the first such society, and it set in motion a new and increasingly popular trend in the urban housing sector, and today there are, at a rough estimate, more than 100,000 co-operative housing societies in India. It was also an epochal event for the Chitrapur Saraswat community, as this society became home to all the major institutions which unite the community today: the SVC bank (whose first branch was in the premises of the society), the Saraswat Mahila Samaj (still housed here), and even the KSA (the Kanara Saraswat Association, the all-India apex body of the community) itself, which functioned from these premises from 1915 to 1940.       

For us, the residents and tenant members of this society, this housing society is much more than a mere group of buildings or a historical statistic. This is our beloved “wadi” (colony), older than the “wadi” (Talmakiwadi) more generally referred to by this term in “amchigele” (Chitrapur Saraswat) circles. It is the centre of the world for us, and a repository of historic moments and lifelong nostalgic memories.

The Centre of the World

Gamdevi is, in a way, a mini-world in itself. We have almost everything within close walking distance from our society: a railway station (Grant Road; and Charni Road and Mumbai Central are also within reasonable walking distance), a police station, a telephone exchange, a fire brigade, at least three post offices, a famous beach and coastline (Chowpatty, Marine Drive), an aquarium, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, many important temples (Gamdevi, Babulnath, Lakshmi-Narayan, Shankarshet, ISKCON, etc) and a mini-pilgrim centre (Banganga), schools (St Columba, Queen Mary’s, etc) and colleges (Wilson, Somani, etc), hospitals (Dalvi, Bhatia, Cumballa Hill, Saifee, etc), hills (Walkeshwar, Malabar Hill, Forjett Hill), gardens (Hanging Gardens, Gowalia Tank Gardens, and others), various historical spots (Mani Bhavan, August Kranti Maidan, Congress House, Tilak’s memorial at Chowpatty, etc), spiritual or yoga centres (Prem Puri, Kaivalya Dham, Blavatsky Lodge, Brahma Kumaris, etc), gymnasiums and clubs (Talwalkars, Mafatlal Swimming Bath).

Further, our society is situated in the heart of South Mumbai, which itself is the heart of Mumbai, and Mumbai itself is in many ways the heart of India. In the heart of South Mumbai, we are reasonably close to the centers of almost everything:

1. The headquarters of two of India’s major railway lines (Western and Central): Mumbai Central and V.T./C.S.T.

2. The main S.T. stand (Bombay/Mumbai Central) as well as BEST headquarters (Colaba).

3. All the main administrative centers (Mantralaya, Vidhan Sabha, Municipal Corporation, RBI, RTO, Passport Office, Sales Tax Commissioner’s office, Income Tax Commissioner’s office, Central Excise Commissioner’s office, Bombay Stock Exchange, the headquarters of Akashwani, Doordarshan and Films Division, the Government Printing Press, High Court and Court of Small Causes, Police Commissioner’s Office, Naval Headquarters, GPO, etc., etc), and the consulates of major countries..

4. The oldest and main commercial district (V.T-Ballard Estate to Nariman Point), and a swathe of major historical markets covering the whole of South Bombay (Fort Market, Crawford Market, Mangaldas Market, MJ Market, Bhuleshwar, Chor Bazar, Null bazaar, Ladi Bazar, Masjid Bunder, Zaveri Bazar, Tambakatha, etc., etc. down to Opera-House and Lamington Road).

5. The Racecourse, the oldest, biggest and main Clubs, Maidans, Stadiums and Gymkhanas (Mafatlal Club, CCI Club, Radio Club, Willingdon Club, Turf Club, Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan, Oval Maidan, Cooperage Stadium, Brabourne Stadium, University Stadium, Wankhede Stadium, Hindu Gymkhana, Islam Gymkhana, Parsi Gymkhana, Catholic Gymkhana, Wodehouse Gymkhana, etc., etc), as well as the oldest and most famous five star hotels (Taj, President’s, Oberoi, etc).

6. The Zoo, Botanical Gardens (Jijamata Udyan, BPT Gardens, etc.), Museums (Prince of Wales, Bhau Daji Lad, Nehru Science Centre, etc), a Planetarium, historical spots (the Gateway of India, Sardar Griha the residence of Lokmanya Tilak, Elephanta Caves by boat, etc), historical temples (Mumbadevi, Mahalakshmi, various traditional Maharashtrian temples in Girgaum, the Balaji temple at Thakurdwar, etc), a variety of historical old British-style churches, old atash-behrams and agiaries, synagogues, and mosques (including the island dargah  at Haji Ali).

7. Major Hospitals (Bombay, Jaslok, JJ, King George), Institutions (TIFR, Merchant Navy Training College, BNHS) and old and major libraries (University, Central Asiatic, Petit, Bhavan’s, Cama, Wilson, David Sassoon, etc).

8. Major Beaches and Seafaces (Chowpatty, Marine Drive, Haji Ali Seaface, Worli Seaface, Gateway of India, Cuffe Parade Seaface), Dockyards (Sassoon, Mazgaon, Bombay, etc.) and Ferry wharves (Bhaucha Dhakka at Mazgaon, Gateway of India).        

South Mumbai is moreover a world in itself where we can soak in different cultural atmospheres: the stretch from Grant Road to Mumbai Central has always been a heartland of Chitrapur Saraswats (apart from our society, we have Talmakiwadi and Anandashram, and plentiful of amchigele in numerous other colonies like Ganesh Prasad, Sonawala, East and West Villa, Model House, and many other buildings spread out over the area). We also have the Marathi heartland from Thakurdwar to Tardeo with localities of every conceivable Marathi community, and the Gujarati-Marwadi-Jain heartland in Bhuleshwar-Pydhonie-Kalbadevi. The ubiquitous UP-Biharwallas are of course visible everywhere, but especially in some areas like Mahalakshmi East. The Parsee/Irani colonies, agiaries, hotels and Baugs dot the whole of South Mumbai (most important of them being the Doongerwadi area in Malabar Hills), the Muslim heartland (covering every possible type of Muslim area possible: Sunni, Shia, Bohra, Khoja) is concentrated in eastern South Mumbai, the British-style areas stretch out from Colaba to Fort Market, the Portuguese style areas are concentrated in Khotachi-wadi and Matharpakady, and the Goan Catholic areas in Marine Lines, and we even find small Jewish clusters from Fort to Mazgaon and Byculla (all the seven historical synagogues in Mumbai are located within this area). If we do not have a South Indian heartland in South Mumbai (like the Matunga-Kings Circle stretch further north), nevertheless, Gamdevi itself has always had (along with Chitrapur Saraswats) large contingents of GSB, Kannada and Tulu people from Karnataka (the first night’s program of the Gamdevi Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav is always marked by a Kannada Yakshagana performance). In any case, there have always been small clusters of Sindhis, Bengalis and South Indians who become active and get noticed mainly during their festivals (Durga Pooja at Tejpal Hall, etc.). We have the oldest posh areas of Mumbai as well as the oldest slums, the oldest middle-class chawls and fishing-villages (koliwadas), the most hallowed traditional localities and notoriously also the oldest red-light areas and shady underworld areas, as well as the oldest dhobi-ghats and panjrapoles.

How many of us have visited all the above spots in the last ten years, and actually consciously seen all this with the eyes of observers? Of course, it is a fact that the South Mumbai of the present is not exactly the same as the South Bombay of the sixties. With the dead uniformity increasingly being imposed by ultra-modernization, ultra-westernization, ultra-technologization and ultra-commercialization, all the areas of Mumbai are losing their unique characteristics and atmospheres. And indeed, how many modern people have the time or the inclination in these days of cable-T.V, computers, laptops and mobiles, cars, careers, foreign trips and self-centered, mercenary money-driven lives, to care for living culture, traditions and atmospheres, except when, and to the extent to which, it becomes the fleeting fashion of the moment?

The South Bombay well-known for its famous theatres and hotels is fast disappearing, its traditional and heritage-grade architecture and atmosphere are giving place to modern commercial structures, and its reputation as a citadel of the cultured middle-classes is now rapidly becoming a thing of memory with every conscious attempt being made by those in power to make South Bombay unlivable for the real middle classes. As new attractions spring up in the suburbs, South Bombay does not hold exactly the same position of cultural importance that it did in the past, when people from all over the rest of the city and its surroundings had to come to South Bombay for almost everything – even some major markets, offices and consulates have been shifted to Navi Mumbai or Bandra-Kurla. Nevertheless it still retains its pre-eminent position in most respects.    

All in all, it will do well to remember that we, the residents of this society, are really lucky to be staying in this society in this area. We usually realize our luck only when some office colleague, staying in the distant suburbs, or some visiting guest to our house, taken for an outing to nearby Chowpatty, or some foreign visitor, struck by the old world atmosphere of our society buildings, expresses his feelings to this effect. Otherwise, it is usually a case of “ghar ki murgi dal barabar”. But why do so many tenants of our society, even when circumstances and exigencies have taken them to far-off areas or lands, and their houses remain locked for years and even decades, remain reluctant to sell off (or even rent out) their houses, and thereby cut off forever their links, howsoever tenuous, with this area?

Those Golden Days

In the context of the important historical moment approaching in our society, it is time to look back to the early golden days of our society.

My own family members have been proud residents of this historic society from the day of its formation. My grandfather, Sitaram K Talageri was not only one of the first tenant-members of the society, but, as Assistant Engineer (later Chief Engineer) in the then Bombay Municipal Corporation, he was also instrumental in helping to procure the plot on which the society stands, and he personally supervised the construction of the buildings. But, as I was only born in 1958, and even my father Gangadhar S Talageri was born in 1926, my memories do not extend to the first 45 years or so of the history of this society. We can only imagine, from photographs of Old Bombay of that time, how life must have been in those golden, idyllic days. We do know minor details such as that, among other things, there was a well in our society at the right hand corner behind C building which provided valuable water to the society, and where, I believe, the clothes of the residents were washed. In my own house, it was earlier a joint family, with the families of my two uncles also living in the same house at the time.

Everyone will have golden memories of the old days in our colony. Those were very different days, and memories of those days will be as much about the life and atmosphere in those days as about our colony itself. Those golden days, of course, are gone with the wind, but I present below some of my own impressions and recollections, mainly for and from the early sixties, for two reasons. Firstly, my earliest recollections are of that period, and secondly because it was also the period of the golden jubilee of our society:

The first and most important thing in my earliest memories of life in the society in the early sixties was the people who made up the residents of the colony at the time. Every house in the society was brimming with people of all ages from numerous small children to very senior citizens: joint families and extended families were the order of the day. Even the SVC bank tenement in B/2 housed residents. Most houses also had large numbers of relatives who came to stay in every vacation and mingled with the regular members as part of the colony family. The staircase below each building was also overflowing with servants, some of them old veteran ones. There were also two veteran “malis” in the society who stayed in the building then designated as the “servants’ quarters” with their families. The watchman’s quarters behind A building was the residence of a succession of gurkha watchmen who also (some of them) had their families with them. The society was constantly bustling with life and activity. Our wadi was the centre of gravity for Chitrapur Saraswat families spread out in other buildings from Opera House to Gowalia Tank and from Nana Chowk to Chowpatty.

Every other society and building in Gamdevi was similarly brimming with people at that time, most of them old residents of Gamdevi, and there was a network of relationships among the people in the area. Gamdevi was truly like a gaon in itself: a Gamdevi resident felt a glow of comradeship when he saw a familiar Gamdevi face in some other area. All the shopkeepers and hoteliers in the area were familiar faces, and so were the hawkers, vendors and even the street urchins and beggars, right down to two familiar footpath-dwellers in the Gamdevi area rudely called “Ladoo-vedi” and “Sakhu-vedi”!.

One of the features of those days was the number of different kinds of people whose familiar cries formed part of the atmosphere in the streets around our society. The mornings usually commenced with the strumming of the tambora of the Vasudev minstrels with their pointed caps. Soon after, a very special feature of those times: Vasai-walas who came all the way from Vasai with their two brass pots of milk hanging by ropes from a pole held across their shoulder: Christians in dhotis and black Gandhi-topis who supplied milk to our homes, along with (on festival occasions) speciality vegetables of Vasai, and occasionally ginya-dud to make ginya-sandan (kharwas). The phoolwala came soon after. Then there were juna-purana-walas, kalaiwalas, chaku-dhar-walas, pinjaris strumming their bows, fisherwomen, fruitwalas and bhajiwalas, bhandi-walis, nankatai-biscuitwalas (with their big trunks which they carried from house  to house), barf-gola-gadiwalas, and many, many more criss-crossing the area through the day. There were dombari-walas and kadak-lakshmis as well. March-end brought the ambe-wala families from Gujarat, with their valsad hapoos and payri baskets, who set up shop on the footpaths outside the Ranadives and Tulsi Villa (and, when the rains started, one familiar family used to come to sleep at night on our second floor landing in C building). Animals formed a familiar part of the ethos of those times: the trr-tuku-tuku-tuku of the mankad-wala, the bugu-bugu-bugu of the nandi-bail-wala, and (on the main road) the tak-tak-tak-tak of the ghoda-gadi-wala (whose horse-cart-stand was to the east of Grant Road station, and horse-cart-rides on Marine Drive were a luxurious pastime) were familiar sounds. Likewise, children of the area eagerly awaited the ghoda-walas who came to offer rounds of Gamdevi in the mornings. Cows to be fed were, of course, a familiar sight in the Gamdevi square. The Kalyanpurs in A-2 had a dog, Toffee, of a special brown color I have never ever seen elsewhere, which was the pride as well as the terror of the children of the colony. We also had snake charmers with their familiar pungis, and the occasional performing aswal (sloth bear). A special feature of our area were the vultures who (then) abounded in Malabar Hill, and stray ones occasionally strayed into Gamdevi, creating a sensation. Kites and hawks were also common then, and our society area has always been a centre for parrots.

The colony was always full of children of different ages, playing, reading or chattering. TV, computers and mobiles were non-existent at the time, but the children truly lived fuller and happier lives. The favourite games of the boys were viti-dandu, marbles, tops and kites, and of the girls, sagar-gotis, hopscotch, bhatukli, skipping rope, various kinds of verbal games (I particularly remember a peculiar game with the refrain: “kon mhanto dhakka dila?”!), also a game called “kokan ka desh” played in the two-tiered area between C and D buildings. There were, of course, numerous games joined in by everyone: dabba-ispice, chor-police, sakhli, andhali-koshambir, kho-kho, kabaddi/hututu, lagori, aba-dubi, atya-patya, kiti-kiti, and many, many more. But the special and most popular game, the speciality of our wadi, was “I-spice” centered around a long metal pole at the back corner of C-1: the society reverberated in the evenings to cries of “i-spice” and “bhojja”, with all the loud argumentations that always ensue from such games! Bike-riding was a popular pastime: there were three popular “cycle-shops” in Gamdevi, which hired out bicycles and tricycles by the hour. Tyres pushed along with a stick, and “scooters” propelled with one foot, were other favourites of smaller children. Then, of course, there was the ever-popular carrom, along with ludo, snakes-and-ladders, also chess, checkers and cards (memory, magin, pach-tin-don, etc). There were also other box and board games popular with children, ranging from the traditional gud-fale to more modern ones (like parlour bagatelle, the ball-in-the-maze box, etc), and other toys like the spinning disk on strings. And, of course, the ubiquitous cricket, apart from badminton in the space between B and C buildings. The katta between C and D buildings (i.e. between the taggu-wadi and vail-wadi) was the place where children sat in groups to read (school books or story books) and gossip. The Mahila Samaj hall (B-1), apart from the Samaj programs, was the regular centre for Konkani and Marathi drama rehearsals, and for evening Kathak classes (with students including girls from the colony), and colony children were quite free to go into the hall and watch the proceedings, provided they made no noise. In earlier times, there was a vyayam-shala also in the society ground, betweeb A and B buildings, but by my time it had shifted to Talmakiwadi (my father, Gangadhar Talageri, was one of the founding members of the Talmakiwadi vyayam shala).

Besides playing in the colony or at home, there were many other pastimes for children. Visits to the zoo (Rani Bagh) or Hanging Gardens were occasional pleasures: the zoo at that time was full of a great variety of animals missing now, including rhinos, hippos, zebras, ostriches, giraffes, etc, and also had a lake with boat rides, apart from horse-rides, elephant-rides and camel-rides. But visits to Gowalia Tank (with its swings, see-saws and slides) and Chowpatty were almost regular evening pleasures for many. Our family was part of a big group of families (mainly women and children) who went to Chowpatty together every evening in a huge group. Gossiping and discussions were mainly for the elders, while the children ran around the sands or stepped into the sea water or played with buckets and spades: making sand hills (of wet or dry sand) with various decorative paraphernalia (pipes, toys and toy houses, fountains, etc.) in competition with each other and with other unknown groups of children. The huge flashing neon signs on the Malabar Hill side as well as on the opposite Sukh Sagar side (including the famous circular revolving neon sign on top of the Ideal Restaurant building) were other attractions or distractions. Eating shenga-ganderi (wet salted groundnuts in their shells, and pieces of sugarcane), or occasionally bhelpuri, panipuri and kulfi further south along Chowpatty (there was a different arrangement and greater expanse of stalls at that time), or more rarely sitting on small merry-go-rounds and giant-wheels (for children) or buying balloons or paper-windmills or other toys (flutes, horns, drums included), were other Chowpatty pastimes, with horse-rides and (for a short period of time) even camel-rides on the sands being more exotic options, the ultimate luxury being a ghoda-gadi ride along Marine Drive. Also, we had the historic political rallies at Chowpatty which saw the birth of Maharashtra as a state, and the annual Ram Leela and Kavi Sammelans during Navratri.

Reading was a popular pastime with young and old, and there were at least a dozen lending libraries around the place (even the well-known Shemaroo had opened a branch in the police quarters building in J.K. buildings) and I was myself a member of most of them: people borrowed Marathi kadambaris and magazines (especially Diwali anks), or English books and comics. Ganesh library (run by the Shiralis staying in Sonawala buildings) a little ahead of Talmakiwadi was my favourite, apart from other libraries near bhaji galli, Grant Road station, Gowalia Tank, Gamdevi main road, Kemps Corner and Nana Chowk, from where I got my supply of books (Enid Blytons, Billy Bunters, Williams, Bobbsey Twins, and many, many more; later PG Wodehouses, Agatha Christies, Perry Masons, Edgar Wallaces, and many others, including English classics and best-sellers) and comics (my favourites were Superboy-Superman, Little Lulu, Sugar and Spike, and many more. Indrajal/Phantom comics were not borrowed from the libraries, we used to buy them regularly at home; even the Chandamamas and Amar Chitra Kathas were later additions). Today the prolific reading habits of those days are unknown to present generations, and almost all the lending libraries have closed down. There were also many highly popular magazines of those days, whose names even must be unknown to most people today: for example, (Baburao Patel’s) Mother India, (R.K.Karanjia’s) Blitz, (D.F. Karaka’s) Current, Shankar’s Weekly, Bhavan’s Journal, etc.

South Mumbai was well known for its large number of famous hotels and eateries, mainly Udipi and Irani hotels, at the time. Today most of them have closed down and (particularly in Nana Chowk and Grant Road areas) been replaced by shops selling different kinds of plywood and building materials. Within Gamdevi itself, the Irani hotel (opposite the Gamdevi temple), and Vasudevashram in J K Bldgs (opposite the thankfully still existing Lokmanya) are our two most prominent losses – as mentioned, the continued existence of Lokmanya hotel is still a blessing to Gamdeviites, and this hotel was also started in 1916, almost at the same time as our society! There are many more prominent ones in the area which only survive in memories: Cecil Restaurant (opposite New York), Guru Krupa (near Wilson College), Wilson Hotel (in the Bhavan’s lane), Vrindavan (in Ness Baug close to Batas), Bharat Jyoti (a rival to Shettys, located beside Master’s Tutorial school), Sadanand (later also called Bharat Jyoti, at the corner of Grant Road bridge, famous for its usal pao), and, on the north-eastern side of Grant Road bridge, A1 restaurant and Gujarat National Dairy, are some of the notable losses. Further south of Opera House, in the old days, there were the Gujarati Thali near Tara Baug (Charni Road), the Marathi Thali at Virkar’s (Girgaum, besides different varieties of Marathi food at Modern opposite Gaiwadi, Kulkarni’s and Madhavashram near Prarthana Samaj and Ananthashram in Khotachi Wadi) and Punjabi food at Sher-e-Punjab at Lamington Road. Further along Lamington Road, we had Sindhi food at Geeta Bhavan outside Navjeevan Society. But the two which I remember with the most regrets are Bharat Dairy Farm (behind Municipal Bldg in Nana Chowk) which had two unique unparallelled dishes, rabdi icecream and malai icecream (balls of some unique basic icecream, covered with dollops of rabdi or malai), and finally the shop which I consider probably the classiest and most memorable non-starred eatery in the whole of Mumbai: Jai Hind Cold Drinks beside Belgaum Ghee Depot in Nana Chowk (with CafĂ© Mazda, another memory, on the other side of Jai Hind). This shop was famous mainly for its wide range of ice-creams, jellies, kulfis, faloodas and sweet set curds (in flavours like chocolate, mango, pineapple, strawberry, kesar, etc.! Can we get fresh curds of this kind anywhere in Mumbai today?). Even more striking was its classy antique ambience: glass tables, glass statues and glass fountains, and rows of glass cupboards all around with thousands of glass ice-cream bowls arranged inside them in rows of different colours! The closure of Jai Hind (now a plywood shop stands in its place) was, in my opinion, nothing short of a crime.

Along with reasonable eateries, another disappearing class of South Mumbai heritage is its theatres and its rich theatre culture. In that period, there was a long line of theatres within walking distance from Gamdevi and each other. To name a few of the closest and most prominent: Opera House, Roxy, Central, Majestic, Imperial, Naaz, Swastik, Krishna, Novelty, Apsara, Minerva, Maratha Mandir and Diana. Further east were theatres like Shalimar, Super and Alankar, and many more in the less reputable areas. In the south were the mainly English language theatres like Liberty, Metro, Sterling, New Empire, Excelsior, Eros, Regal, and many more. There were also the drama theatres, Sahitya Sangh Mandir in Girgaum being the most important; the now notorious “Pila House” (Play House) in the east was once the centre for as diverse a range of activities as Bal Gandharva’s Sangeet Nataks, Patthe Bapu Rao’s tamashas, and Adi Marzban’s Parsi theatre. There were also the cultural program theatres (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Rang Bhavan, Birla Matoshree): the annual inter-collegiate drama competitions at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (also a centre for Gujarati theatre, qawali and folk music programs, magic and hypnotism shows, spiritual discourses, etc.) gave birth to many prominent Marathi stage personalities. Tarabai Hall to the west of Marine Lines station was a centre for childrens’ films, dramas and other activities, and Bal Bhavan, to the west of Charni Road station was another centre for childrens’ activities.

Apart from theatres, there were other avenues of entertainment for the South Mumbai resident. The annual or biennial circuses (Gemini, Kamala, Great Royal, and other prominent ones) at Cross Maidan near Churchgate were much-awaited events. Girgaum was a centre for important Vyakhyanmalas, and Wilson college for literary conferences and discussions. Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium at Worli was the centre for “wrestling matches” (of the present day WWF type) featuring Dara Singh and others. There was racing at the Race-course near Mahalakshmi for those interested in that. Needless to say, the major Cricket stadiums were, and still are, in South Mumbai. South Mumbai was then the centre for all the main Book exhibitions and Khadi and Handicrafts exhibitions in Mumbai, in the halls and Maidans of the Churchgate-Marine Lines areas.

Festivals in those days were very special much-awaited occasions, while today they have deteriorated to a great extent into commercial events jostling with other well-marketed commercial (cards-chocolates-and-hype) “days” imported from the west. A special feature of each festival was that its approach was heralded many days before it came by the appetizing smells which crept out from every house and pervaded in waves all over the neighborhood: the smells of the special preparations associated with that particular festival, being prepared jointly at home by the women of the house, not to be eaten before the actual festival day – a far cry from the present trend of buying those preparations readymade from outside and eating them anytime you like. Half the magic and joy of the special dishes lay in the preparation, those mouth-watering cooking aromas, and the anticipation of eating them on the festival day: tila-unde, purnpole, chaklyo, sheva, chivdo, nevryo, madgane, undlakaala, pattolyo (these last few ones, of course, not prepared in advance), all of them special treats.

Makar Sankranti had the boys obsessed with kites to an extent not seen today, and the girls, big and small, in the colony dressed in traditional festive finery (kirgan-polko or kappada) going around in a group from house to house, with trays of tila-unde (in three varieties, hard, crumbly and chewy) and tilgul, exchanging them with the ladies of each house.

Holi and Gokul Ashtami were, as now, important festivals, not only for the water and color festivities (no chemical colors in those days, and no northern/filmi zabardasti), but also for the important and heavily attended Holi fire rituals in the Gamdevi temple ground, apart from the home-made purn-pole and godda-unde. During Gokul Ashtami, the wadi servants had a special dahi handi which was tied between the window of our house (C-5) and the window of Tulsi Villa opposite, a source of much excitement for the colony’s children. A special feature of Gokul Ashtami, as also of Datta Jayanti, for bhanaps of Grant Road were the very popular programs of Ashtami mhantyo and Datt-Jayanti mhantyo at Talmakiwadi. In Gamdevi, apart from the Datta Jayanti aartis in the Dattatreya temple in the Gamdevi temple premises, we had a popular Datta Jayanti jatra (fair) where residents of Gamdevi set up home-made food and games stalls all over the Gamdevi square and the J.K.building lane.

Ganesh Chaturthi was as important a festival then as now, but more traditionalistic and less commercialized and hyped. Many houses in the society had Ganpatis, and in any case every house had the typical amchigele gouri pooja/vayna pooja and Ganpati pooja (a two day event). Apart from the faral, and the special dishes cooked on both days, there were the J K building Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav programs, often held in the square opposite the Gamdevi temple (often including a Marathi or Hindi film in the square, a great treat in those T.V.-less days). Visiting the Khetwadi Ganpatis, seeing the Shastri Hall Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav immersion procession (with their unique lezim performance), and going to Chowpatty/Opera House/Sukh-Sagar on the final day of immersion were as much fun in those days as today, if not more.

Navratri was different in those days. In our society, the Navratri Pooja in D/1 (the Beltangadis) was attended by scores of people from the society as well as by other nearby bhanaps, and probably their (Beltangadis’) relatives from further on; and the katta between C and D buildings was a lively place during those nine late evenings and early nights. While the noisy and garish (“disco”) dandiya programs of the present day were not known then, the Gujarati buildings in the neighbourhood provided traditional garba and dandiya fare, besides which we had the Gamdevi Sarvajanik Shardotsav programs in J.K. buildings and the Gamdevi square, the oldest Bengali Durga Pooja celebrations in Bombay in Tejpal Hall just behind Gowalia Tank, and, of course, the very popular Devi aartis and programs in the Gamdevi temple. And, with a sizable Mangalorean contingent in Gamdevi, the waga-ves dancers (Kannada huli-vesha, Tulu pili-vesha) were a common sight in the Gamdevi of the sixties.

Post-Dasara, there was of course the fair: the lively annual week-long or ten-day jatra/mela (fair) which moved from Bandra to Mahalakshmi during Navratri, and thence to Gowalia Tank Maidan after Dasara. It was an eagerly awaited annual festive treat for residents of South Mumbai, a full-fledged fair with giant wheels, different kinds of merry-go-rounds and various other kinds of rides, countless stalls (of khaja, mithais, chats and other foods, and an endless variety of games, toys and handicrafts), and an incredible variety of entertainment shows in stalls and small tents, including magic shows, trick-mirrors, haunted-houses, sensation shows (snake-women, rubber-men, etc.!), stunt-shows (trapeze, motor-cycle stunts inside a huge globe, etc),  film-song shows (there was no TV at the time, and these were very popular stalls where everyone sat around in a small stall to see a popular film song on a small screen for 5 or 10 paise. I still remember seeing two songs in these stalls: pyar kiya to darna kya from Mughal-e-Azam, and haye mere paas to aa from Shikari), etc. Even the men standing on stools outside each stall, wearing huge masks, advertising the shows in the stalls, exuded a magical atmosphere which cannot be described. Unfortunately, some people in neighbouring buildings started objecting to the fair, and it was banned sometime in the seventies(?)!

Diwali was special in many ways. There was the special fun in whole families getting up early in the morning, applying oil, and having a bath in water stored the previous night, knowing that this was happening in every house in the colony. The exchange of faral was another special feature: everyone made it at home, but everyone exchanged thalis of faral with their neighbours (and compared tastes at home), and then went with packets of faral to their relatives in other parts of South Bombay and the suburbs (returning back with their faral). There was of course all the fun of divlis, rangolis, lights, lanterns, fireworks, etc.; but the special event of the year for Chitrapur Saraswats was the Diwali programs in Talmakiwadi: ten days of entertainment including Konkani and Marathi skits and dramas (performed by troupes from all parts of Mumbai), and all kinds of competitive events (sports, games, singing and dance competitions, fancy dress competitions, baby shows, cooking competitions) and entertainment programs (music, magic shows, mimicry shows, body-builders shows, etc), with makeshift canteens selling all kinds of goodies. Chitrapur Saraswats from all over Mumbai converged on Talmakiwadi in droves, and after the programs for the day were over, they streamed out into the silent night streets in sleepy but happy chattering groups to return to their homes in Gamdevi and the suburbs (at least, those from the suburbs who had not come to stay in their relatives’ houses for the season). Talmakiwadi was indeed the congregation point for many programs: not only every time HH Swami Anandashram and HH (then) Shishya Swami Parijnanashram visited Talmakiwadi, but during other festivals as well: Datta Jayanti, Krishna Janmashtami, etc., apart from the periodic KSA functions and programs.

So far as programs in our own colony are concerned, the highlight of the sixties was the Golden Jubilee of our society exactly fifty years ago which was celebrated on a truly grand scale, and which (given the large number of people staying in each tenement at the time, their great enthusiasm, and the spirit of those times) can never be paralleled again. HH Swami Anandashram and HH Shishya Swami Parijnanashram stayed in our society for many unforgettable days, and many programs were held then which have left golden memories in the minds of everyone present then. Annual picnics, in which all the members participated enthusiastically, were another feature of those times: I particularly remember a memorable picnic to China Creek (a place I don’t think anyone even knows about today – even I have no idea exactly where it is located!). There were also occasional festival get-togethers (such as panak-pachdi programs, etc). [For some reason, in my memories, the Murdeshwars of B-6 (Shalu-pacchi and her daughters) always stand out as the prime movers in all these cultural activities!]    

The cultural atmosphere of the time, in the sixties, was completely different. There were no mobiles at the time, and even telephones were a rarity, but everyone always seemed to be in contact with each other or at least to know each others’ whereabouts and news. Our community had one foot in Mumbai and one foot in the villages of Karnataka at the time (with Pune and Bangalore as auxiliary centres), and there were regular visits to and fro by relatives from different societies and buildings in the Grant-Road-Mumbai Central area, from the suburbs, as well as (in vacations) from these distant places. Today’s children know very few relatives beyond their closest ones, but in those days all lektale (relatives) and even daijis (distant relatives) were close acquaintances to the third degree (i.e. third-cousin level) at least, and met often or at least were in close touch.

While the men and children were in their schools, colleges and offices (each of which, again, was a different world at the time from what it is now, and sources of personal golden memories for everyone), the women of the house, then mostly housewives, cooked, knitted, got to work on their sewing machines, carried out their purchases of saman for the house from bhaji galli or the Gamdevi shops (including the ration-shops and the rationed-milk centers), visited neighbours and other housewives in the area, or themselves received visitors (neighbours, relatives, even old servants from earlier days!). There were many other activities in those days which are dying out now: annual activities like buying kairis and making large quantities of pickles in the summer, to be stored for the year in the familiar brown-and-white bharnis, putting the hantuls (or home-made pappads and vadis) out to dry in the sun, etc. In the evenings, whole families went visiting to Chowpatty or to relatives’ houses in the greater Grant Road area, and returned home for dinner and the radio, before retiring to a contented sleep.

There was no TV, but the radio was immensely popular (one could carry on one’s work with the radio playing in the background, or even carry along a transistor), and the very popular programs on Radio Ceylon, Vividh Bharati, Bombay A and Bombay B (Marathi) were pure bliss: the weekly one-hour long Aapli Aawad on Bombay B (10-11 PM on Mondays) and the Wednesday evening Binaca Geet Mala on Radio Ceylon being perennial favorites. Those were the golden days of Hindi and Marathi film music, and every (then) new film was an aural feast, and the radio catered to everyone’s love for music. Throughout the day, there were numerous interesting programs on the radio for the housewives and senior citizens, musical and non-musical (talks, gossip, news, skits, even programs like Cricket commentaries by Vijay Merchant). Even the signature tunes of the programs (Hindi or Marathi, and even the evening Karnatak Sangeet Sabha on Vividh Bharati) on every radio-station, most of them composed by our own Amembal mam, and the vadya-vrind interludes between the programs, are fondly remembered to this day.    

The servants in the colony, with their cultural roots deep in their native villages in the Konkan, also provided their contributions to the festive atmosphere in the colony with their kunbi/balu dance programs (the more common circular dances, and sometimes a more elaborate performance with a “female” character or two, I have no idea what it was called). (Incidentally, the servant’s house-work in those days included putting the hantuls at night, and removing them in the mornings, in all the houses, an activity which has largely died out in these days!).

The following is a list of some more memories of things (not already mentioned above) which represented life in our society, in Gamdevi, and in the Mumbai of the early and mid sixties. How many of the readers have seen these different things, and how many remember them?

1. The different paraphernalia in the homes: ragdos (not mixers) to grind masolu and sandna-peeta, chimne-tel stoves (not gas-stoves) to cook, safety match-sticks (not lighters) to light those stoves, huge coal-fuelled copper boilers (not geysers) to boil water for bathing, brass and copper vessels for cooking (which required periodic cleaning/polishing or kalai), the inevitable sewing machine in every house, the cane soop for removing the chaff from the rice.

2. The different features on the roads: a preponderance of double-decker BEST buses and black-and-yellow ambassador taxis and very few private cars; trolley-buses (with antennae) running on the roads at least in our Nana Chowk area (in an earlier period, there were trams running on tracks embedded into the roads); water hydrants on all the footpaths (remember Raj Kapoor trying to drink water from one of them in Jagte Raho?); traffic policemen on every road (few traffic signals); policemen in dark-blue uniforms and shorts; open footpaths and roads (now all the footpaths are fenced in with metal railings, also blocking the middle of all the roads, leading to pedestrian bottlenecks and other logistical woes); street lights which had to be manually onned and offed everyday by BMC staff; large numbers of ghoda-gadis and bail-gadis on the road;

4. The railway crossing under Kennedy Bridge between Goregaonkar Studio and Queen Mary’s School (a great blessing to Gamdeviites going to Congress House, Lamington Road, Anandashram, Tiny Tots, Robert Money or Model House. Tiny Tots school itself is another memory for all amchigele in the area).

5. The temple tank, in the Gamdevi temple grounds, which was later filled up. Also the old Gamdevi temple building, rebuilt some time in the late sixties or early seventies. [In earlier times, Gowalia Tank Maidan also was a huge pond or tank which was later filled up and made way for a maidan].       

6. A large number of popular old shops in the Gamdevi temple square and the road leading to Kennedy Bridge: Jagdish Stores (where Dr Parikh’s dispensary stands now. Vikas Stores further on, now also a thing of the past, came later), Koorpal Hemraj and Co (the biggest danewala shop, and ration shop, in Gamdevi), a coal shop (for all those boilers) beside the (still existing) shengdanawala, a kalai shop behind the temple (opposite Shalan Bldg), veteran doctors of Gamdevi (Manjrekar in JK buildings opposite the temple, Kamat on the first floor above Lokmanya, Adyanthaya opposite Choksey Bldgs).          

7. The horse stables opposite Mumbai Central S.T. stand.

8. Most of all, the people who stayed in this colony in the old days. I will mention only one name: old Lajmi (Vasant) mam (of D-4), who, in his nineties, went for a daily walk to Chowpatty, and who did daily battle (with his walking stick) with the urchins on the road outside his window and drove them away for creating a racket! For everyone, the departed members of their family will head the list of memories. For me, my late parents, my mother Shaila G Talageri (nee Sita P Taggarse) and my father Gangadhar S Talageri, were a hundred times more important than the whole rest of the world put together, and their memories outweigh all others by a hundredfold. I feel extremely sad that they are not present today, among other things to witness the centennial celebrations of the society they loved. 

A word of caution: not all memories of those days were golden ones. Some are sad ones, reminders of the cruelty of human society. To take just two examples:

1. There were still a few ladies alive, in my childhood, of the dark old days of shaven-headed widows (mattyavail padrachyo). One of my mother’s aunts belonged to that dark age, and there were at least two GSB ladies who used to come selling pappads at the door. Many more, perhaps, in other CSB and GSB colonies and homes, and in the villages of Karnataka!

2. In the suburbs and outskirts of Mumbai, the practice of what is euphemistically called “carrying the night soil on their heads” by people of certain castes still existed at least as late as the early seventies. I went to stay for a few days in an extremely rural area just outside Thakurli (east) station (unidentifiable with the crowded urban Thakurli of today) in the railway quarters home of my neighbour (Ashok Ugrankar)’s sister, her sons being our regular vacation friends, and found the practice going on in that area – my first and only exposure to this phenomenon, which upset me so much that I had to cut short my stay there.

But, by and large, except for such aberrations, they were indeed golden days.

A Constant in a Changing World

Those were simple days, and they were days of simple pleasures which gave a true contentment not to be got in today’s world of high technology with its speedy “fulfillment” of endless insatiable wants and desires. As Ashley Wilkes put it to Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind”, “life has a glitter now – of a sort. That’s what’s wrong with it. The old days had no glitter but they had a charm, a beauty, a slow-paced glamour” – days gone with the wind.

In those days, few people had cars (only two or three in our entire society), or even telephones (we got ours in 1991). Our father brought us up on one man’s salary (with my mother working hard to add to it, cooking food for paying guests in the house), and after every salary day, there was one visit to Shetty or Bharat Jyoti or Bharat Dairy farm, and occasional films in the theatres (English, Hindi and Marathi. We never missed the mythologicals which were very popular then). And these rare treats gave more satisfaction and happiness than the daily dose of hotels and films and serials that we enjoy now. Pleasures were so simple that I can still remember the colony children crowding outside the Beltangadi’s window (D-1), clamoring for ice-cubes to suck, and when we got our own first refrigerator some time in the sixties, I remember proudly dragging Beltangadi pacci to our house to show it to her.

Those days started changing somewhere in the mid-seventies with the introduction of T.V. in Mumbai. Evenings became slightly unsocial, as popular programs like the film-song program Chhaya Geet, the week-end regional and Hindi films, and other popular programs in Hindi (e.g. Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan), Marathi (e.g. Gajra, and the Sunday morning Pratibha Ani Pratima) and Gujarati (e.g. Aavo Mari Saathe), and later on serials (like the Marathi Chimanrao, and the Hindi soaps Ham Log and Buniyaad) made addicted Mumbaiites allergic to social visits. But the days of Doordarshan still had highly cultured programs of every kind, and they are golden days in their own right. We were the first in the society to get a TV (due to an indulgent father, who took a loan to buy it), and our house resembled a mini-theatre for many years, with regular viewers from all over Gamdevi.

The introduction of cable T.V. in the early nineties, and the introduction and spread (in geometric progression) of laptops, computers and, most of all, mobile phones, in the early years of this century, were the final blows to the old simple days. Today, in respect of family life, social and intellectual life, and in the attitudes towards the materialistic aspects of life, the world bears little resemblance to the world of the sixties.

But one constant in this changing world has been our society. Our buildings have stood as sentinels, witness to all the changing times from 1915 to the present day. I still remember, in around the year 1971, a few members of the society had set up a clamor to demolish the buildings and rebuild, on the ground that the society was becoming sixty years old, and the buildings could come crashing down over our heads any day. If this had indeed been done, we would have compulsorily required, forty-three years on, to actually (again) demolish the buildings and rebuild them on those very grounds, which would have been really valid now! The fact is, the buildings are still almost in the same condition as they were in 1971, in spite of destructive structural changes made by most of the tenants, the mildest of which are the A.C.s and heavy box grills weighing down on the buildings. As most architects who inspect the buildings point out, these buildings are – touch wood – still stronger and more durable than most buildings built in the last twenty or thirty years. Of course, one does not know what the future holds in store for us, but at this historical point of time for our society, we have a lot to be proud of as residents of the Saraswat Cooperative Housing Society, Gamdevi, Mumbai-400007.


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