Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A new wave arrives at the MUMBAI docks

From the Portugese to the British, from a natural harbour to the country's ship building precinct, from an enclave of the rich and famous to the kibbutz of the working class, from a cosmopolitan mix of peoples of various faiths to ghettoised precincts of two or three communities, from being in the margins of Mumbai's march towards becoming a global city and to being at the centre of a major infrastructure project such as the eastern freeway, Mazgaon has been through more transformations than any other island in the group of seven islands that was the original Bombay.

Mazgaon is changing again, now, after a lull in the last two decades when businesses related to the docks began to move north, godowns lost their clientele, and industrial units and oil-masala mills gradually made way for new commerce.

The emerging Mazgaon - with a changed balance of residential and commercial, the eastern freeway and waterfront projects - is poised to become more prominent on the Mumbai map. It is, as urban planners see it, "an aspiring neighbourhood".
Layered between these sweeping macro changes are stories of people who made Mazgaon their home and workplace. People like the Savlas, a Kutchi retailer family, which for four generations has lived in the same place, a few blocks away from Dockyard station.
Or Victor - "write any surname, man, de Souza, de Lima, de beer, it don't matter" in one of the degenerating Goan clubs in Matharpakadi village, once a mini-Goa. Or the Jain family in a typical apartment complex near the Mazgaon circle, that's home also to the Sales Tax office.
"Christians are going away from Mazgaon, if they haven't already. It was like a parade on Sunday mornings with smartly turned out faithful on way to church, now it's a trickle of 20 people," says Nikhil Savla, retailer.
"Our area has become a magnet, man, magnet for new people who are very rich and want to live together," says Victor.
The "new people", the Jains and Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, are not exactly new to Mazgaon but their numbers - therefore their visibility - have substantially increased.
The Jains, Marwaris and other Hindu business communities have virtually taken over the famous Lovalane area, where old houses have been turned into new-age high-rises.
"One of the landmarks here is the Motisha temple, a sacred spot for the Jains. That's why the community has bought flats or has constructed buildings," says Pravin Jain, who runs a textile business in Kalbadevi, "besides, our business hubs are close by." 
Proximity to business centres in Crawford Market and Lohar Chawl, among others, is the impetus for inter-city migration of Bohris too.
"Also, our religious centre at Bhendi Bazar is close by. Hence, the high numbers here. There must be nearly 40,000 Bohris here. We are developing Anjeerwadi, the better-off are buying flats in Gunpowder area," says Qureish Raghib, long-time Mazgaon resident and spokesperson for the Syedna, religious head of the community.
The advent of malls is a happy development for some like Kimberley Lopez, 23, media trainee, who says "I don't have to go to Bandra and Colaba now" but hates the crowd because "it doesn't feel like my home-area anymore".
The dockland - vast stretch of prime land on the eastern front of the city - hardly enters the discussions on development, primarily because locals feel they have little say in what the authorities decide.
The urban planners' argument is to develop surplus land in the docks and integrate it in the larger vision for Mumbai, the central and state authorities resist any attempts at such integration.
"Both these positions avoid a negotiation with the region's social histories…they do not take into account the abilities of people living in the region  (to) contribute to the future use of that space in creative ways," writes Rahul Srivastava, urban anthropologist, in his paper The Necessity of Evoking Social Histories.
The saga of Mazgaon's transition, then, has just begun.
Emergence of new flashpoints
Mazgaon is in throes of transition on two parallel lines - one, the cyclical evolution that an area undergoes from time to time led by local uncoordinated initiatives, and the other, a planned growth or renewal led by agencies, urban planners and activists.
As the plans of eastern waterfront and freeway take shape, these parallel development narratives are likely to throw up a few flashpoints.
The increasing ghettoisation of the once pluralistic and multi-cultural Mazgaon could mark out un-drawn boundaries on the ground, falsely setting up say the Jain-dominated Lovelane against the Bohri Muslim mohalla, or either of those against the Christian village of Mathapakadi.
Also, there's increased density of people which calls for upgrading civic infrastructure, more traffic on narrow roads and more noise - none of which are being addressed by local leaders.
The dock area or docklands, governed by half a dozen government and autonomous agencies, will develop the waterfront and freeway; these mega projects would need cooperation from and participation of local residents as well as other less visible communities like loaders/unloaders, labourers, construction workers, scrap collectors, stone breakers, who have been the nuts-and-bolts of the dockland system.
"There's big talk about projects, who knows what they'll do to our work and homes," says Ramesh, 32, scrap-dealer.
From a residential area to a hub of commerce
For the emerging port city of Bombay in the 19th century, the natural habour at Mazgaon proved ideal. As the port and docks area developed, Mazgaon changed from a tony residential enclave to a bustling commercial zone.
The grey-ness and flat structures of godowns and warehouses eclipsed the majestic natural allure of the Mazgaon hill, but the humungous godowns encouraged ancillary industries and were eventually joined by a number of oil mills.
Coupled with the wholesale markets of perishables at nearby Byculla, it was the belly of Bombay's famed commerce and trade.
By the 1980s, the godowns, factories and oil mills began their downward cycle, the wholesale markets shifted to Vashi and Mazgaon's economic value to the city declined -until recently when the opening of a mall - and its success - showed the purchasing power in the area.

 Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
Mumbai, October 09, 2012