Strange things are afoot in Dadar Parsi Colony. This summer, for the first time in 89 years, the well at the Rustomji Faramna Agiary on Dinshaw Master Road ran dry. Then the BMC tried to separate the area from its northern neighbour Five Gardens in a re-warding plan. Just this week, we learned that the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee wants to widen some of its 100-year old roads. (Did they forget what happened to the hawker zone proposal?)
But if much is taken, much abides in the sunlit, tree-shaded, broad-avenued life of what’s often called Bombay’s only un-walled Parsi enclave. The Parsi Colony’s new celebrities may be speed-racing teenager Jehan Daruvala – Bombay’s real baby driver?– and designer Rooshad Shroff, but it’s also home to celebrities other than Penaz Masani and the extended family of Freddie Mercury. Here’s a starter-kit Who’s Who of Dadar Parsi Colony’s past, present and future:
Mr Jimmy, Café 792: This tiny three-year old Parsi eatery wears the look of a modern café, but conceals the soul of an old Irani in its tiny kitchen, manned by busy cooks frying up roast chicken while staff oversees counters of chocolate eclairs and daily-special boxes. Recipes are said to come from friends and neighbours in the area, and 792 caters to many older people who can’t be bothered to slow-cook dhansak for lunch any more. Pay your respects to Jimmy, manager of the establishment, in order to be handed a menu and served your papeta per eedu at table. 792, Dina Manzil (outhouse), corner of Jam-e-Jamshed Road and Tilak Road, call 24140792.
The Other Jimmy, Della Tower: Put your shades on at the southern entrance of Jam-e-Jamshed Road if you don’t want to be blinded by the most sensational structure ever to appear in the colony. Many Parsi builders may have designs on the neighbourhood, but none have made a splash as spectacular as Jimmy Mistry, the real estate baron who constructed the colony’s most spectacular break from the past.
You’ll find Mr Mistry, or at least his head office, in the sky-scraping Della Tower, whose facade is covered in copper leaf and reliefs that mimic the stone walls of Persepolis and Pasargadae. (Who needs that Iran holiday anyway?) A residential apartment building that replaced an old three-storey house, Della Tower makes its neighbours, low-rise bungalows with names like Khorshedabad and Sarosh Bhavan, appear modest. Unlike newer buildings (with names such as “Ornate Galaxy”) replacing these houses, however, this is a firm reminder of where you are, and what some residents may hope for it to become. Della Tower, Jam-e-Jamshed Road, call the Della Group head office at 67451400.
Though much is taken, much abides in the sunlit, tree-shaded, broad-avenued life of what’s often called Bombay’s only un-walled Parsi enclave.
Perviz Tarapore: The late lamented daughter of Bombay philanthropist Mr Jehanbux Tarapore, Perviz gave her name posthumously to a building that Jehanbux funded in 1947 and granted to the Dadar Parsee Youths Assembly. Today, the assembly lends its name to a neighbourhood school – and to the DPYA Snacks Centre, fuelled by the talents of Parsi aunties and purveyors of mutton cutlets upon which entire generations have grown up. Perviz Hall, 803-D, Ambedkar Road, call 24129437.
Katie Bagli: You may, if you’re lucky, encounter environmentalist Katie Bagli on a Sunday walk with fellow dendrophiles, identifying the copperpods and Ashokas that have lined Parsi Colony streets longer than most of its inhabitants have been alive. If you don’t know how to get hold of her, though, console yourself with her book, Trees Of Parsi Colony, filled with the stories of some of the stateliest old Parsis of all. Buy a copy from the offices of NGO Greenlines at Don Bosco Provincial House (Don Bosco School), Nathalal Parekh Marg, Matunga.
Perzen Patel: The Bawi Bride blogger is now a Bawi Mummy, and master of a kitchen that delivers “Bawisasu ni kaju chicken” and “Shirinbai’s cheese and egg cutlets” around the city. A truer key to her neighbourhood, however, may lie in the customised cooking classes she conducts in her home, in which you’ll be taught to make salli boti and mawa kopra pak as though you were bhonu do it. Send Perzen inquiries through her Facebook page here.
Kamu Iyer: We’re cheating, since one of Bombay’s best-loved architects lives in Five Gardens, across the invisible boundary that divides Parsi Colony from its less Parsi neighbour. You must, however, read his lovely book Boombay: From Precincts To Sprawl, part-memoir, part-architectural exegesis of the city’s buildings. Among other things, Boombay explains what why the facades of Parsi Colony bungalows are distinct from those elsewhere in the city, and why the average Parsi got 10 sq metres of space more than his neighbours in Parel just down the road.
Rustom Tirandaz: It’s easy to think that our favourite park in the colony – a radiantly green triangle facing Five Gardens– must have been named for a Persian poet. But in fact, the late Mr Tirandaz was one of the leading lights of Parsi politics, former vice-chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet and a BMC corporator who represented his neighbourhood for seventeen years. (From a moving obituary we also learn he once wrote an entire essay without a period, partially confirming our early impression of literary artistry.) Rustom Tirandaz Garden, Khareghat Road, west of Five Gardens.
Zarine Engineer: The president of the Mancherji Edulji Joshi Colony Residents Association is a mainstay of sorts for outsiders: call her for a quote in a story (we did!), a potted history, an update on the status of any of the public fights waged by residents to preserve their surroundings – and even, if you’re feeling lucky, an educational walk through the neighbourhood.
“Mancherji Joshi pushed for Parsi reservation in this neighbourhood so that people from the community could afford housing here in the 1920s, when it was first built,” she explains to us. “But only about 113 of the buildings are actually covenanted” under reservation for Parsi residents. Zarine’s status as colony activist and public historian owes something to a family connection: her grandfather was the man whose name officially graces the colony he built. Say hello to…
Mancherji Joshi: A bust of Zarine’s handsome grandfather stands at the southern entrance of Parsi Colony (around the block from Café 792). In 1921, Joshi was a young civil engineer with the Bombay Improvement Trust, tasked with creating affordable housing that encouraged people to move out of the plague-stricken environs of South Bombay. You could say he succeeded: the Parsi Colony he created (and which was named after him) may be the world’s largest Zoroastrian enclave.
Getting there: Dadar Parsi Colony, Ambedkar Road, Dadar East, between Five Gardens and the BEST Workshop, Wadala.
Thanks to Shekhar Krishnan and Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar for their insights.
Image credit: Flickr / Robin Singer