Mumbai’s Kemp’s Corner flyover turns 50

“You know when the Kemp’s Corner flyover was being built… It was like a smooth concrete stretch. I’d sneak up there with my bicycle and it would feel heady to feel the bike hurtle down with the breeze in my hair and my heart in my mouth,” remembers Fali Master a Kemp’s Corner resident who was only nine when the 50 year-old flyover was being built.

Article by Yogesh Pawar | DNA India

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But that little boy’s indiscretion nearly half a century ago still arouses the motherly wrath in his nonagenarian mother Dina who feebly cuffs him even as both Fali and his wife Rashna giggle.

He’s not the only one gripped with nostalgia with the city’s toniest landmark turning 50. “I still remember walking to our Altamount Road home seeing the street lights being lit,” Zoroastrian scholar Khojeste Mistree who was in school then remembers. “You know the streetlights ran on gas and there would be a civic employee who went on lighting them one by one.”

He recounts: “Forget the Kemps Corner flyover… At the crossing, there wasn’t even a signal 50 years ago.” Mistree’s family has lived in the neighbourhood for several generations. “The police manned the crossing rather efficiently. But there was hardly any traffic since there were so few cars till the mid-60s. Buying one meant waiting for nearly seven to eight years in those times,” he laughs, remembering how those mostly included Ambassadors and Fiats.

He recounts a Kwality’s outlet and Zoroastrian dwelling that was located at the spot under the flyover. “Where there is Prithvi Apartment, was Dadyseth House with a huge collection of antique cars.”

Master recalls Kemp & Company – a huge ground plus one prescription medical store. “The kind where they mixed liquids and powders based on what the doctors said and stuck paper design to mark dosage on the bottle, which one had to carry.” His favourite of course was Palmer & Company near the Doongerwadi gate. “They stocked sweets and tucks. Most of us kids’ pace slackened when we crossed that outlet.”

Others like then Fort-resident electrical engineer Raj Bhaiyya, 76, who now resides in Kalyan are, however, not so romantically inclined when they talk of the flyover. “Now as and when they build the Peddar Road flyover, they will have to demolish the Kemps Corner one,” says the retired engineer. “If they don’t keep doing this, how will they make money?” he asks cynically pointing out to structures built by the British that have stood the test of time.

He cites the instance of the Lalbaug flyover, built in 1971 that was demolished in May 2009 to accommodate the Lalbaug Ganesh idol. “Can anything more strange ever happen? Instead of showing the rule book to the Ganesh mandal, an entire flyover was rebuilt.”

While the residents of the far Western suburbs grumble over the crawling traffic at Kherwadi where a new flyover is being built, many wonder how the then PWD minister Nitin Gadkari got 13 of them built in one stretch. BJP loyalist stock trader from Borivli can’t stop making a political point on this too. “The Congress ruled for 45 years and not one flyover was built. The Sena-BJP government was around for only five and see how they changed the city.”

Not all are exactly happy with flyovers. Experts like Dr A Shastri from the Michigan University call them “gigantic band-aids”. According to him, “We have a festering problem with poor public transport. Instead of addressing that, we myopically build flyovers giving people an impetus to buy more and more cars.” He laments what he calls, “Creation of exclusivist infrastructure for car-owners at the cost of others.”

  • Janet Childs Price

    I too remember Kemp’s Corner in 1961/2 and of course the chemist and so sad to see the monstrous concrete flyover when I returned to Bombay thirty years later. I do love the Crossword Bookshop though!