By Mhevish Memon | Opening Doorz Editorial | October 01, 2019
Not only the Mumbai skyline, even the by lanes down below are no more the same. It’s congested, with no place to walk, leave alone letting an Ambulance or a Fire Brigade come in during a contingency. Suleman Electricwala who has lived for over 70 years in Bhendi Bazaar reminisces of the years gone by and the tragedy that is unfolding before everyone’s eyes…
Opening Doorz to the once quite ‘mohallas’ which have now become a showroom for motorbikes and a recipe for disaster…
“My dad was a rich man; we had a huge house with all resources and lived in luxury. But due to some financial problems we’d shifted from our hometown Zanzibar City in Africa to South Mumbai in India.
I was very young at that time so it wasn’t hard for me to adapt to the change. We moved to Bhendi Bazaar, occupied an area between Mohammed Ali Road and Khetwadi (most of it referred to as ‘Mohalla’). This was to be my new home. Growing up, my siblings have been my rock. This is the first time that I am speaking to any publication about my ‘Mohalla’.
Sulemanbhai Electricwala, yes that’s how most people know me in my ‘mohalla’. I am a commoner living here for over 70 years now. I own a small repair shop down my building. My familiarity with Bhendi Bazaar comes from years of wandering through its countless lanes and interaction within the localities. I would say that since I was a kid, I have witnessed the emergence of a lot of good and destructive actions here. The place has seen a terrific growth over the years. Every galli has a different story to tell, yet gives me the same old vibe. Although a century old vibe remained the same, the understanding among us the residents did not.
When I was young, my friends and I would hang out all the time. We had a beautiful ground (open space) back then which now has tall buildings standing on it. It used to be hamara adda; we would not miss a single day hanging out there enjoying masala chai, samosas and endless conversations. Who would’ve thought back then how things would change so drastically.
Every morning, I go for a walk through the lanes and grab something to eat. A few weeks ago, I stopped by a kebab store and waited there until the vendor packed a dozen for me. I paid for it, took my packet and started to walk away. On my way back home, I realised that when I moved here it was just a regular ‘mohalla’ but today it’s recognised as one of the most crowded, chaotic part of South Mumbai.
We once had hassle-free lanes, lesser buildings, less crowd, people were more unselfish. As children, we saw tourists coming in, praising the food and the positive vibes that gripped them. Nothing of that has remained!
In my view, beating congestion by adding more roads is a battle that no city has won but if we try to lessen the growth of unorganised parking and street businesses, it would really help the city or a particular area to have access to all sorts of fundamentals. I hope in every one’s knowledge, emergencies don’t come with warnings in the first place so it is always essential to have access to all possible immediate solutions.
I believe that in a ‘mohalla’ growth in redevelopment projects have increased migration, leading to increased vehicle ownership among the residents which ultimately leads to a chaotic environment. From any high angle or my second floor apartment window, the lanes look no less than a motorbike showroom; uneven parking has always been a pain for people residing here. The parking of several motorbikes on both the side of narrow lanes will lead to rise in casualties in emergencies. It is nearly impossible for a fire brigade or an ambulance to enter any of the lanes during an emergency. There have been countless casualties across past dreadful events and we unreasonably blame the helpers for not arriving in time.
My ‘mohalla’ is no longer the same old place anymore, it has become Maut Ka Kua and its people are digging it deeper with their deeds knowing that it will slowly gulp down everything. I have always believed that a person can come back to life from his/her deathbed but if that person resides here, it’s nearly impossible. Tell me, how will a fire brigade or an ambulance come into the chaos of these narrow lanes, burdened by parking on both sides which hardly leaves space for one to walk through? Add to it illegal land extensions and what you have is a disaster waiting to happen.
In recent years, a few residential buildings around my place collapsed in heavy rains, a few are on the verge of it, and the uncertain fire breakouts are adding more to the list. These outrageous incidents have resulted in many deaths and these incidents had given me major setbacks. It’s the people that are responsible for these happenings. We sometimes neglect the fact that ‘Karma’ exists, what we give comes back to us in a way.
A few of my childhood friends are still in my neighbourhood. I won’t say that they didn’t raise their kids well, but I would say they didn’t really make them understand the difference between responsibility and negligence. Most of them are known as local goons of the lanes surrounding us, like Bawa Galli, Chas Mohalla, Attar Gali, Jhanda Galli and whenever they see me they never ask, ‘How are you uncle?’ but address me by asking, ‘Sab thik na uncle? koi tension to nahi hai?’ The younger ones are no less than their fathers!
Also, these local goons have their own license to break any law or go against anyone as per their whim. For them, it’s their birth right to park anywhere, put a tent anywhere, extend their passages and not pay heed to any legal formats. Also, the local police seem to have lost interest in filing endless complaints.
The ‘mohalla’ I have known and where I have lived all these many years is no more a tourist attraction which was known for its century old traditions and cuisines. Forget tourists, even a normal citizen thinks twice before entering our gallis.
On top of their mind is the fact that any uncertainty can take place any minute, and that is too bad.”