Monday, July 12, 2010

RVR Autobio Excerpts -1 Matunga Little Madras

We were living in a chawl (a building which housed 27 tenements with just two rooms in each tenement) in Matunga which was dominated by South Indian (Palghat) Brahmins and Gujarathis. Matunga! The lit¬tle Madras of Bombay like the Serangoon Road in Singapore. Twenty six years out of the twenty nine years in Bombay, I lived in this Cen¬tral suburb. Walking around the streets of Matunga, especially the main market area near Matunga Central Station (There is another Matunga Road Station in the Western suburbs), one felt like being in Madras with mamis(ladies) wearing 9 yard sarees and mamas (men) with folded dhotis walking around the market place doing shopping!

The chawl where my family was staying was the first building on the right, when one stepped out of the station. Those days a full fledged fruit market was operating on the footpath adjacent to the outer wall of our building, making it difficult for the commuters to enter or exit from the station. This fruit market was of course removed subsequently and relocated to a multi storied building which was put up by the Bombay Municipal Corporation nearby clearing the way for a parking lot for vehicles in front of the station.
Matunga was truly a place where you could get everything from ‘a pin to an elephant’, as they say. Step out of the station and bang op¬posite you had a choice of Gujarathi, Udipi and Iranian restaurants; a fruit and vegetable market, grocery shops, a silk saree shop, a jewellery shop etc. The vegetable market had all the items, including those that were unique to the South Indians like drumstick, small (sambar) onion etc. The flower bazaar with a row of shops next to the Matunga post office resembled the typical flower shop one finds outside temples in Tamilnadu. The smell of Jasmine and Rose would envelope you as you walk along. Suddenly if you get a whiff of fresh ground coffee it means you are close to Philips Coffee House, which sold fresh ground coffee powder to customers! Close to the flower bazaar were two temples – one Bajhana Samaj and another called Asthika Samaj where you would find the Sanctum-sanctorum filled with big, framed pictures of every popular deity you can think of. In the evenings, these temples would be crowded with both young and old `Madrasis` who came to listen to discourses by religious leaders of the time, narrating stories of Ramayana or Mahabaratha.

Gujarathi, Tamil and Marathi medium schools, a Commerce and Arts & Science College were not far away from the station. VJTI (Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute), an old and well knownEngineering College was about 20 minutes walk from the station. Aurora Cinema, in Kings Circle, close to Matunga was the only cinema theatre to screen popular Tamil movies on Sunday mornings! Later, when the Tamil population in Matunga grew in leaps and bounds, Aurora started featuring Tamil films during regu¬lar shows.

I keep going back to Matunga at least once a year on my way to the Bombay airport to buy my favourite Gujarathi Teplas, Dhoklas and Kand¬vis from Cheddha Stores opposite to the Matunga Railway Station.

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