Photographs by Swayam Mohapatra
I’d never been to Mazagaon before. I’d never been to Byculla. I’d never even been east of Bombay’s Harbour Line.
Last Sunday, I became a tourist in my own city.
If names are something to go by, Mazagaon is metaphorically cosmopolitan. At the junction of Ambedkar Road and Sant Savata Marg, towering over Miya Ahmed Darvesh Chowk, stands the black edifice of Gloria Church.
A lone watchman, probably accustomed to gymnastic photographers and eccentric writers, was kind enough to let us in.
The three o’clock sun shone bright on the cathedral’s sturdy British architecture and cast long shadows on the Antonio de Souza High School crouched behind it. Begun in 1938, this five-storey institution is built around a cobblestoned quadrangle that is overlooked by corridor balustrades and stained glass windows.
You can just picture the sexagenarians of today as snot-nosed kids, waiting for the final bell, to rush down the wrought iron spiral staircases, now forbidden.
Back under the noisy flyover, we pass Nowrosjee Wadia Trust’s Bai Jerbai Baug with its imposing arch, and the ubiquitous Udipi restaurant. The twin towers near the tracks at Bombay Central are visible in the distance.
This is the last we see of the Bombay I know.
Mazagaon is old.
We turn left onto the quaintly named Love Lane which curiously, is embarrassed with a Shiv Sena shakha at its corner. The Byculla Police Station opposite is a ground-plus-one villa that was probably requisitioned from a displaced British Sahib. Even DCP Punjabrao Ugle’s official residence is a not modest lime-green bungalow, screened by ancient trees.
We stop at the century old Roshan Bakery and are permitted by its bemused workers to capture its old-fashioned oven on my friend’s new-fangled camera.
The Motishah Lane Municipal Urdu School is on the upper floor of an unpainted grey building with the unlikely name of Casa Piedade. Some of the older structures have beautiful wooden staircases that lead up to unlit first floors. You can see that there are lesser owners and more tenants here.
We halt again at a nameless bakery which sells us hot nankhatais and the softest bread we have ever eaten. The manager tells us they’ve been in business for 30 years.
Mazagaon is also new.
A sullen mechanic monotonously rotates the shaft of a well-greased machine. A bhelwallah from Jaipur, probably a recent immigrant, shyly asks for his picture to be taken.
Outlets of Thomas Scott and The Loot have appeared and failed to blend in. Many of the older homes from forgotten decades have made way for newer, ugly buildings.
Mazagaon has begun selling out. Even the signboard at Gloria Church has accepted the harshness of the times. It says:
‘They who give have all things
They who withhold have nothing.’
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