Saturday, July 31, 2010

Govt Colony Bandra East - an article in Times of India

With the redevelopment of Government Colony at Bandra (East) round the corner, nostalgic old-timers say it was the best place to grow up in.

"We had the feeling of living in one big family," said Syed Ismatulla Pasha, a resident from 1964 to 1977, who now lives at Andheri. "As kids, we played together and went to the same school. We practically lived in our neighbours' houses," he said. "Whenever there was wedding in the neighbourhood, all of us worked as if it was in our own family," recalled Pasha, general manager at an IT firm.

The colony for state government employees was developed on 100 acres between 1958 and 1968 and its two and three-storey buildings have almost 5,000 flats for Class I to Class IV employees. Now, these are to be replaced with 12-storey buildings.

Manisha Gujar spent 25 years there from 1961 to 1986 and is still attached to the colony. "I know every lane and every building," said the mother of two grown-up girls. She said that it was such a safe place that her parents were never worried where she was. "Now, at my sister's place, we constantly check whether her son is within the building compound."

Government Colony was predominantly Maharashtrian, but no one felt like an outsider. "Our neighbours were brahmins and we had the best of relations with them," said Pasha. Gujar pointed out that almost all Muslim families had Hindu neighbours.

The colony is the perfect example of a planned residential enclave with abundant open spaces and roads intersecting at right angles. Although a sizable number of the flats were for Class III employees, they had a comfortable carpet area of 350 sq ft, cross ventilation, high ceilings and an open air balcony.

According to entrepreneur Anil Nair, who lived there from 1962 to 1988, the distinguishing feature of the colony is the quadrangular buildings with a large open area in the centre. "Each square had its own cricket team, its own Ganapati mandal and its own 'holi' pyre," he said, adding that boys used to go around collecting wood from wherever they could find it and then drying it meticulously a fortnight before holi.

The worst time the place has seen were the communal riots of 1993, where Muslim bakeries and shops in the colony were torched despite Kherwadi police station being located in it.

"It was a conservative place and girls kept to themselves; it was scandalous for a girl to speak to a boy," remembered Nair, who recently organised a reunion for his SSC batchmates of 1977 from Cardinal Gracias High School, which is on the edge of the colony.

The bonding between neighbours who came from the same social strata led to life-long ties. Gujar, in Mumbai for a few days, is visiting old friends. Pasha is till in touch with his brahmin neighbours although he moved out of the colony three decades ago. In fact, many old neighbours still live together in other parts of the city, thanks to the cooperative housing societies they formed before retiring.

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