The heritage precinct is both, a tree spangled island and the last bastion of a threatened community. To its residents, the BMC’s move to fill its streets with hawkers has become a metaphor of loss.
Jimmy Gymkhanawalla is flexing his muscles. Homi Homeopath looks like an overdose of Nux Vomica. Soli Solicitor is preparing a brief which is anything but. Dadar Parsi Colony has never been so agitated – and certainly never so united – in living memory.
Article By Bachi Karkaria, Mumbai Mirror
Mani Manor, Villoo Villa and Tehmi Terrace have been shaken to their foundations. While nibbling eclairs at Cafe 792, buying Bombay duck at the Katrak Road bazaar, flirting on the Five Gardens railings, waxing legs at Cinderella salon, practising a Shiamak sizzler, swotting for the CA exam, or even lighting a divo at the Rustom Framna Agiary, there’s only one demand: Save Us From Death By Hawkers.
The Damocles sword is the Street Vendors Act 2014, passed on the double-edged premise of “livelihood”. Some 1,800 hawkers have been “allotted” space across Dadar Parsi Colony, Hindu Colony and Matunga. Signature campaigns have been launched, the media co-opted, authorities appealed to. The municipal corporation has thrown up its helpless hands, saying that only the Supreme Court can decide on the matter. It would indeed be a landmark case, calling for a great leap out of the box.
Today, residents and “well-wishers” will march in protest from the police chowky to the statue of the Dadar Parsi Colony’s founder, Muncherji Joshi. The foresight of this Bombay Improvement Trust civil engineer created a residential haven for Parsis in 1920, far from their traditional concentration in congested, plague-ridden “Fort”. Joshi is remembered gratefully by their descendants who live in the spacious, airy, three-storied houses cosseted by a benign and profuse botanica: not just the spreading rain trees or the banyan – “wad” which gave Wadala its name, but also rare ebony and mahogany.
The colony is a heritage precinct, spared Mumbai’s marauding concrete by a trust deed which does not allow high rises and by a vigilant NGO led by Joshi’s intrepid granddaughter, Zarine Engineer. It has actively kept out encroachment, and demanded accountability of corporators squandering funds on ugliness in the name of “beautification”. But now, as many as 94 “pitch licences” have been given for the very thoroughfare named after the visionary aesthete, Muncherji Joshi.
The irony is compounded by mindless indifference to the user communities. Located here are the revered agiary to which most of the residents make their daily way to pray, and the secular JB Vachha High School for Parsi Girls and Ranina Day Nursery. The other Parsi Colony hawker licences are for the radial Firdoshi Road, also the site of the inclusive DPYA boys’ school – and the precious mahogany trees.
If the allottees come, can the illegal ones be far behind? One only has to get to the main Khodadad Circle, or worse, cross Tilak Bridge to Dadar (west) to see the raucous, littered fate that awaits the sylvan Parsi Colony at Five Gardens.
Middle-class Mumbai has been fighting a (mostly losing) battle against hawkers. Look at the gaudy merchandise which has obliterated the equally historic bungalows and churches of Bandra’s Hill Road, and turned pedestrian movement into a hazardous obstacle course. Gauge the rage over such a wholesale takeover of pavements from Mumbai Mirror’s 2013 campaign, “Talk the Walk”, the overwhelming public response to which brought even Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte on to the subverted streets.
But the hawkerfication of Dadar Parsi Colony cuts at something deeper. Yes, the sprawling eponymous Five Gardens and smaller parks are a breather for the thousands who descend here from miles around. From morning-walk bank managers to the Sunday congregation of bhaiyas; from taporis pumping iron at the al fresco roman rings to canoodlers and elders huddling closer for different reasons. Yes, it’s arguably the only middle-class area spared from hawkers; bar the handful of paan, pav bhaji, kala khatta and “Chines” stalls.
But, deep down, at the heart of the protest is not just paradise lost, but a bequest betrayed.
The Dadar Parsis study, shop, socialise within this enclave. It’s the home of their robust forefathers and their hope for an increasingly iffy future. The “Colony” is an island entire unto itself; a rare urban, mostly monocultural ethno-sphere. It’s the world’s largest concentration of Parsis/Iranis; every fourth Mumbai Zoroastrian lives here.
Being the creation of a Parsi for Parsis makes it akin to ancestral legacy, with all the attendant sense of entitlement. Belonging to a demographically threatened “molecularity”, the Dadar colony Parsis are far more obsessively possessive of their turf. Therefore the call to the barricades, the resistance to hawkers rattling at their genteel gates is much more than the usual NIMBY factor – Not In My Backyard.
Today’s collective indignation is laced with trepidation and paranoia. In 2009, the Dadar Colony may have won a six-year legal battle to stay exclusively Parsi, but already its architectural and ethnic signatures are smudged. The non-“covenanted” houses are being replaced by high rises, which has meant more non-Parsis moving in. A community which once created almost all of Mumbai is deeply wounded at now not even being allowed to hold on to its last little acre.
A COLONY PROTESTS
It was a herculean task for my grandfather to change this jungle into a paradise — with planned, open spaces, trees, schools, a library, fire temple, gymkhana and madressa. Now, suddenly, after nearly nine decades, the authorities want to turn our peaceful, residential area into a commercial zone. Parsi Colony alone is to be invaded by 214 hawkers, 96 of them on Muncherji Joshi road. Are our school girls and their parents expected to walk on the road? And what about the senior citizens of our ageing community? It’s the responsibility of the present generation to preserve the integrity and distinctive character of the colony; it’s an inheritance for future generations.
I do not see the point of hawkers’ zones thrust on a residential area. Not only will the tranquillity of the place be severely compromised, the clean and green space will be replaced with filth and waste. How will the safety of the children in the two schools here be ensured as crowds throng? The Wadala Market and shopping complex at Dadar TT are all close at hand. So, where’s the need for hawkers in the first place?
The hawkers’ zones will not just be a physical infringement but a mental invasion of our space. Taking the populist route, the BMC is trying to grab the few empty footpaths left in Mumbai. Our colony is one of the last few green lungs, and it will be left gasping for air – and privacy. Every effort has to be made to fight this onslaught on our rights – and sanity.
Our colony is not just a green belt for us residents but for thousands of Mumbaikars who come in religiously every morning and evening to walk and exercise. Five Gardens is our heritage, carefully preserved, with its gigantic trees and beautiful parks. To think of a hawking zone here is absolute madness.
I feel sad. During my walks through Muncherji Joshi Road and Firdoshi Road, instead of the yellow flowers of the Copper Pods, and the red winged seeds of the Mahogany, I’ll be forced to look upon ungainly tarpaulins and whatnots belonging to hawkers. The avenues of trees which are so much a part of Parsi Colony would lose their pride of place as they would be hidden from view. With it, the colony’s property value will also drop.