A casual talk with a friend Mr. P.H.Thyagaraju a scientist by profession, enthused the author to present a snapshot of Chembur and trace its phenomenal growth over the past 6 decades. It seemed easy at first thought. It was interesting as my parents came to Bombay (Mumbai) in 1919 and I was born in 1942 at Chembur. However, it soon appeared to be a daunting task. Information had to be gathered from old residents of the area, which was difficult as there was none to tell about the events or history of the place prior to 1900. The camera was a rare possession in those days; nor did it have the color range and accuracy of the present day camera. Nevertheless, an attempt is made here to present as accurately as is possible of the topography, events, activities and lifestyle of the people of Chembur during the period.
Prior to 1950, Chembur was a scenic idle village. It could well have been a dream of Kalidasa or the English poets. Chembur was dotted by forested hills, hillocks, streamlets meandering aimlessly, meadows jostling with paddy fields and gently caressed by the backwaters of the Arabian Sea on its northern, eastern southern and western edges In fact, Chembur including Trombay was island.
The name Chembur is derived from the Marathi word chemburee which means a large crab, From this we can infer that the place was infested with large crabs. As the Englishmen found it difficult to pronounce chemburee the name Chembur stuck. So it was with Kurla.The Marathi word coorla means small crab that was later changed to Kurla! The Trombay hills were a magnificent sight from far and near It was an equally awesome spectacle of the fields, villages and the sea from the peak of the Trombay hill. It is however, not possible now to have the view from the peak of the Trombay hill as it is out of bounds for security reasons.
For people from the city, Chembur was a favourite and proximate weekend picnic resort. People did not prefer to settle in Chembur as it was too far from the city! Moreover, there was no direct road or rail link to the city. It was also not in the municipal limits of Bombay. Therefore, Thane and Kalyan though away from the city work place and had direct rail access to the city and were better options than Chembur. Almost 90 % offices were in the city around Bori Bunder, Flora Fountain, Ballard Estate, Churchgate, Dhobi Talao, Masjid Bunder. Apart from the large textile mills in the Parel-Worli area there were very few offices or industries beyond Bandra or Sion which were the city limits.
The government, in order to encourage people to settle in Chembur, allotted free-hold plots of approximately 600 square yards each to interested individuals at the rate of about 2 annas (about 12 paise) per square yard! Several individuals acquired such plots in the vicinity of the railway station and along the Central Avenue, Station Avenue and adjoining roads between 1925 and 1940. Some allotees acquired the land but did not build houses for want of funds. The collector then notified that in terms of the freehold agreement the allotees will have to construct the houses within a specified period failing which a penalty of about half-anna per square yard per annum will be imposed!
Quite expectedly, houses came up during 1930 and 1940 on all the allotted plots each house (ground floor only) costing about Rs. 3000 - Rs. 4000! Typically, the house would consist of a hall, with a verandah, two bedrooms, large kitchen, study, washing place an attic and a bathroom. The toilet would be outside the main house in the backyard. All window frames and doors were made from teak wood. Every door and window would have a ventilator above which could be opened when the door or window is shut due to rain. The internal and external walls were 18” thick. The height from floor to ceiling was usually 12 feet. Some houses had a terrace. Most houses had tiled roofs. Most houses in the Cherai, Gaothan and surrounding villages had tiled roof and those areas had no wide metalled roads. After completion of the house, the construction workers-men and women - mostly from Andhra would dance in the evening singing songs in their language in front of the owner’s family to bid good-bye! Large colourful rangoli decorations would be seen at the entrance of houses, especially during Divali and other festivals. That was middle-class housing! Difficult to imagine today, eh?
Published on Monday July 14, 2008 (Ashada Ekadashi)
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