Life In Chembur
 

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The pace of life was slow, leisurely and free of tension. There was a benign smile on every face-young and old, man and woman. The children were put in school at the age of five. There was no talk of pre-nursery or kintergarten. The child indeed spent the first five years at home with the family. Children had real play time in the evenings as they played with friends. Unlike in the present day, only the mediocre student would stealthily go for tuitions! Vacations (summer, winter and Divali) were full of excitement with no homework or tuitions to be bothered about. How sadly different it is today when students rush to “vacation” classes. Climbing trees to steal mangoes or tamarind, pelting stones to get guavas or berries was an enjoyable sport, though it was necessary to be alert lest one is caught by the owner. Fresh milk would be delivered at the doorstep every morning by the “bhayya” Extra milk if needed would be provided. The milk “bhayya” would take another round in the afternoon at about 3 o'clock.

             

The refrigerator was to be seen only in the kitchens of the few rich. Washing machines were unknown. The maidservant came in twice a day to clean the house, wash vessels and clothes. Sometimes even water the plants in the garden. The radio would provide news and music eagerly awaited by listeners. However, not many could afford the radio. In addition, a radio license fee was payable annually. In the early fifties, listening to Radio Ceylon, especially the extremely popular Binaca Geetmala on Wednesday nights was a familiar pastime with members of the family around the dinner table. The Radio Ceylon would play a song of the legendary Saigal at 7.55 every morning, which was a good beginning for the day. One is instantly reminded of the popular song of Pankaj Mullick "Guzar gaya woh zamana kaisa, kaisa"!! Another favorite of the day was the daily listeners’ choice of film songs relayed by Radio Pakistan in the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

 

There were few motor cycles-the only 2-wheeler in those days. Cars, mostly British and American models (Ford Mercury, Ford Prefect, Ford  Anglia, Hillman, Austin, Morris, Studebaker, Pontiac, Dodge, Plymouth, Desoto, Vauxhall) were even less in Chembur. One family owned a Buick the costliest car of the times. The bi-cycle was a prized and useful possession of many. There were no public telephone booths. Very few had a telephone the use of which was often restricted to emergencies. Malls were unheard of. Festival shopping was mostly at Dadar or the city. School uniforms had to be procured from a specified shop in the city.

 

The BEST started the tramway in 1874 and the bus service much later in the city. The bullock cart was a means of transport for people and goods in the Chembur-Trombay Island. That was neither convenient nor comfortable. A private operator used to run a bus service between Sion and Trombay carrying mainly fisher folk of Trombay and others from surrounding villages. The conductor of the bus would have to get down often along the route to drive away the cattle with a baton. The first BEST bus service (suburban route “N”) was introduced in 1956 between Sion and Trombay via Chunabatti. Later the same year. Route N2 was started between Chembur (opposite Canara Bank) and Sion. Route “P” (suburban) was operated between Ghatkopar and Atomic Energy Establishment as it was then called (the present BARC). This bus would often  halt at the railway crossing at Chembur for 5-10 minutes as the road was closed for vehicles to give passage to the trains. Also, route “L” plied between Mahul and Kurla East. The running time for these routes was 25 minutes to 39 minutes. On completion of the highway between Sion and Chembur direct routes A6 Ltd and A8 Ltd operated between Chembur Colony and Electric House and Chembur Station and Electric House respectively. Other bus routes were introduced subsequently connecting Chembur to the other parts of the city, northern and western suburbs. The fare in 1967 between Sion and Trombay was 30 paise. The Deonar depot came up in 1969.

 

There were no auto rickshaws. During the nineteen fifties taxis would hesitate to ply to Chembur due to lack of “return fare” and the fear of being looted. as the area was deserted.

 

There was no building more than two floors. Most houses were independent ground floor structures with adequate open space around. Many houses had a well laid out garden of flowers such as the bright red hibiscus, sweet smelling parijath both special for the worship of Lord Ganesh. The pleasant fragrance of flowers, sometimes a strong aroma of the champak and sontaka would fill the gardens. There were also trees of mango, jambul, chikko, custard apple, banana and vegetables like brinjal, ladies finger, beans, and tomatoes in many gardens. Gardening was a passionate hobby and a lot of time on Sundays and holidays was spent trimming, watering and cleaning the garden. Garden implements like spades of different sizes, small hand plough, gamelas, water hose, cans and garden scissors were stored in the houses.

 

It was great fun to watch the aeroplanes taking off or landing at the old SantaCruz (Kalina) airport from housetops in Chembur, as there were no obstacles in between. Eyebrows were raised when a taxi entered Chembur! Visitors and new comers would be guided with care to their destination.

 

The famous RK studio was a distinct landmark of Chembur. when indoor shooting was popular. The areas in and around Chembur were favorite sites for film units. The Union Park near the RK studios was home to many popular actors and others connected with film production. The popular actress of Hindi and Marathi cinema Nutan stayed in a bungalow on 10th Road for many years. Hers was the only bungalow with a swimming pool. A setting of a film on the Rani of Jhansi caught fire at Govandi during shooting in the early part of 1953. There were frequent fires in the areas near Deonar and Govandi.

 

Monkeys were a regular menace and would harass the women around the station and the tank areas. These creatures would descend suddenly at about 10 a.m. in search of food when the men and children would be away. The areas were also infested with snakes; some deadly, Hyenas and jackals strayed occasionally at night from the Trombay hills. Their hooting and howls could be heard at nights. Many rare birds big and small, of colorful hues such as the melodious koel, bluebird, kingfisher, the red breasted robin, the common black-yellow-brown mina, sparrow, woodpecker, owl and parrot were often seen in the area. The white graceful gulls, starlings near the sea and saltpans and swallows are missed today. A few families reared fowls and goats in their homes. Some cattle sheds are seen even today. The daring vultures can even today be seen hovering over the Deonar dumping ground Many parts of Chembur were sparsely inhabited. Chembur was (and is) the greenest suburb of Bombay, the golf course also contributing to the greenery.

 

After partition, a large number of refugees were resettled in barracks and small tenements in what is even today called Chembur Camp. There were few small industrial units located away from the railway stations of Chembur and Govandi. The ayurvedic factory of the Sandu family located near Naka was started in the early years of the century. The only unit in the north was the glass factory (since closed) on the narrow Ghatkopar road. The few people passing on the road would wait and watch the workers of the factory blowing the glass to make bottles and containers. The watchman of the factory would ring the bell at hourly interval, which could be heard as far as the railway station.

 

The families of Chemburkar, Mhatre, Purav, Pathare, Sandu, Rane, Sathe, Karambelkar, Ghanekar, Bhatte, Adhikari, Raote, Shinde, Acharya, Pradhan Patil, Patankar, Patharpekar, Pancholi, Irani, Saores and other old residents still reside in Chembur. The old temples situated to the west of the tank (present swimming pool) on Station Avenue were set up in 1865. The temples of Ganesh, the two Shiva temples (Someshwar and Bhulingeshwar), Ram, Laksman, Sita, Hanuman, Sheetaladevi, Vithobha, Rukmini are located in these pretincts. The electrification of the temples was carried out in 1920. The temples would be gaily decorated with sweet scented flowers and illuminated on festival days like Ganesh Chaturthi, Mahasivaratri, Gudipadva, Ramnavami, Daserrah, Ashadi Ekadasi. Large number of devotees would visit the temples on these days and special discourses or religious programmes conducted in the temple. There were many wells including the well that is still in use at the temple premises. The priests and employees of the temple were provided residence in the premises. The pristine atmosphere and the tranquil old world charm is still retained within the temple premises. Small old temples can be found in Trombay, Mahul, Govandi and Wadavli villages. The temple at Trombay is large and has a tank in the premises.

 

Tragedy struck one night (the exact year is not known but it must have been 1951) - at about eight o'clock when a lady of the convent returning by train from Kurla fell in the well in the jungle along the central avenue close to the station. The lady had gone to attend call of nature without knowing that there was a well that had no protective wall. There was hardly any activity or people on the roads after 7 p.m. People who lived near the well heard the scream of the lady and rushed to the spot. The lady’s companion waiting for her return was weeping. It was pitch dark and efforts to save the woman failed. The following morning the body of the woman was brought out by the Fire Brigade.

 

The only cinema hall “Vijay” was a kutcha structure with wooden benches as in a school classroom! This cinema hall was located on Sion-Trombay road at Chembur naka opposite the present Vijay cinema. Open drains would pass through the cinema hall and one had to take care not to slip into them!

 

Occasionally, an outsider would provide entertainment to the locals by bringing trained monkeys and bears to perform acrobatics. He would of course pocket the meagre cash collected. The snake charmers would arrive to entertain crowds during the month of Shravan after the monsoon. A branch of Sane Guruji Kathamala was opened in Anik, Mahul in 1954. There were no crowds even during the festival season. Hardly anyone dared to venture beyond the present Diamond Garden even during the day as the area was lonely and there was thick jungle on both sides of the road towards Trombay or Sion. As there were no street lights the area would be pitch dark after 7 p.m. The Diamond Garden had not been given any name then. The garden was a dense jungle of trees, shrubs and bushes with a narrow circular lonely road going from the north-end of the garden to the Sion-Trombay road.