The Bombay I loved is Gone

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Sethi with granddaughter Abha

Jatinder Sethi, shown with his granddaughter Abha, was born in Lyallpur, now Faisalabad, in pre-Independence India. He finished his M.A. (English) from Delhi University in 1956, and went off to London to study Advertising in 1958. He passed his Membership Exam of The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (M.I.P.A) in1965, and joined Rallis India in Bombay. Later, for over 20 years, he worked for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. Now retired, he helps his son in his ad agency in Delhi.

The old (1956) Dev Anand movie C I D - had this very popular song

Zarra Hut Kay, Zarra Bucch Kay
Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan

Sung by Mohammed Rafi and Geeta Dutt, filmed on the great Johnny Walker.

In 1956/57, after finishing my Masters in English from Delhi University, and having found my love of life, like hundreds of other non-professional job-seekers, I went to Bombay hoping to strike gold and find a job. A job could then be the jumping ground for my marriage proposal. I stayed with my elder sister, who lived at R P Masani Road, Matunga.

In those days, this road was known as Hollywood Lane. Prithvi Raj Kapoor, K N Singh, and others like Manna Dey, the singer, used to live in that small street, which had totally about 20 houses. K L Saigal used to live there earlier.

At that time, Matunga was almost the end of Bombay. And it essentially had become a South Indian (what we Punjabi used to call as ‘Madrasi', short-hand for South India) Colony. It had a big market where you could get the best Dosas, Idli, Wada, Samber, and filter coffee. People living in Church Gate and Colaba used to come there on Sundays to have South Indian delicacies, especially the filter coffee.

Another Matunga attraction was the shops selling South Indian Cotton Saris. Their price was between Rs. 30 and Rs. 50. I remember having bought quite a few for my friend in Delhi, as she used to wear saris of South Indian check prints.

Chembur and other colonies were still being developed. One could, in those days see the Salt Pans, which later on disappeared, miles and miles away. Trams and Trolley buses were the common mode of travel.

Dadar, like Matunga was mostly ‘Madrasi'. Dadar also had large number of Parsi families with their own Fire Temples and wedding place. They were the real genuine people, who would never cheat any one they came in contact with. Second-hand Fiat cars used to fetch much more value if they were Parsi-owned.

To look for a job, I used to walk from Matunga to Dadar Tram Terminus, catch a Tram to Bori Bunder, and then walk into big business houses around Ballard Pier, hunting for a job.

Bombay had not become the Metropolis that it became many years later. The sea was just being reclaimed for Air India and other buildings to come up at Nariman Point.

That used to be the end of land, before the sea waves took you over. People, especially Parsi couples, used to love to sit down at the edge of sea, and get wet with sea waves. I think you can still enjoy that spray of high tide at that old end of Bombay in some of the old Bombay movies.

I was lucky that I had a decent place to stay (courtesy my sister Santosh). I was even luckier to find a job with one of the Mahindra & Mahindra companies.

I had a Vespa scooter to travel from Matunga to Ballard Pier.

At lunch time, the office and Port crowd would come out, and walk right into, literally hundreds of restaurants, all run by Iranis. Famous with marble tables, egg curry, Goshat, Bhaija Masala or Parsi dishes.

Tea with Bun Muska used to be another specialty of the Iranis hotels, which now have completely disappeared from Bombay.

I must mention here that in those days Amul butter had just come out, and was not well-known. The most popular and common butter available was Polson, which was synonymous with butter. (A saying used to be वह उसको पोलसन लगा रहा है (Woh Usko Polson Laga Raha hai), meaning "He is buttering that person.)

Amul came much later and then Polson disappeared. But, Amul never became synonymous with "Muska'.

That Was Bombay, Meri Jaan, when you could still get Tail Malash (Head Massage) at Chowpatty Beach. Johnny Walker can bring old Bombay alive. See him in Champi-Tail Malish

I left Bombay before it started to spread on its reclaimed land all around, making the sea and beaches vanish. With my wife, I went to England.

Like the writer of Maximum City, I came back to Bombay in the month of January 1965 to live in this city spread far out to the vanished reclaimed sea. You had to go to Alibag to enjoy the sea. And it had become the most expensive of beaches, bought over by the big business tycoons.

Shivaji Park Beach had almost disappeared. Kids could no longer collect shells or make sand castles. The joys of childhood eaten away by land sharks?

The things I loved about Bombay (including Johnny Walker - both the drink and the actor) have all but disappeared.

Disappeared are the some of my favourite things I loved. The iconic places I attached tremendous emotional value, during our sojourn there. These were the places that lent charm to old Bombay.

Rhythm House

This was one of the oldest, in fact the only Music Shop located at Kala Ghoda. Stocked and well displayed LPs (Long Playing) records. The place was owned by Curmallys, an old-money Khoja family of Bombay.

The great thing about this place, huge inside, was that it had about five sound-proof cubicals. Each cubical had 2-3 stools and a turn-table (Player) attached to the centre table. Anyone could walk into the Rhythm House through a small door, walk around, choose and pick up the LPs you want to listen, take them to one of the cabins, and lock inside. And play the music to your heart. Invariably it was always the young couples, during lunch break at college or office that would drop in Rhythm House and spend hours, listening to music in an exclusive cabin. You may eventually select to buy couple of LPs or not buy anything - the owners ever questioned you.

I have spent hours in there listening to Ray Charles, Billy Holiday Duke Ellington and K L Saigal. I never bought a thing as I did not own a player at home to play the discs. My office in 1957/58 used to be right opposite Rhythm House, on the other side of the road at Army Navy Building at Kala Ghoda.

Eventually the place got caught into the modernization mode, with latest gadgets (no more cabins and turn-tables), and influence of Apple, etc. The place decided to shut down in 2016.

Like many old-timers, I am very nostalgic about it. I feel the loss as personal. Bombay without Rhythm House is not the Bombay I loved.

The Wayside Inn

It was a small Parsi restaurant at the corner building of Kala Ghoda. Just before the Rhythm House. It is another old iconic place of Bombay. Like Rhythm House, this place was owned by an old Bombay Parsi couple.

The Parsi lady owner herself would always be there to serve and supervise the food.

Great small place with about six or seven tables. Check table cloth. Typical Parsi décor - simple and inviting.

Thursday was always the Dhansak (the famous Parsi rice, meat, dal dish) day.

Friday was the typical Fish Fillet Day with Bun & Muska (butter).

I have spent many an afternoon, over 30 years, for lunch on Fridays with friends. The menu always was the same Wayside Inn Friday Special. Fish fillets, Bun, Muska and chilled King Fisher beer. Followed by a sweet dish.

Sometime a Parsi friend would take me for lunch on Thursday since it used to be the Dhansak day. But we always would start with cold beer and Bun & Muska as a starter. That was Wayside Inn specialty.

The Parsi Couple never missed a day of attendance. They used to serve great Egg breakfast for people like Rusi Modi who used to have Omelettes of 80 (yes, eighty) eggs.

The opening of Thai Restaurant and the Indian Khyber next door eventually took its toll, and Wayside Inn was laid on the wayside of Great Bombay Metropolis.

CAFÉ SAMOVAR at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Kala Ghoda

I miss this place as much as the Wayside Inn.

This was the place where people like me, with little cash to spare had a wonderful time.

This was an Art & Culture Hub patronised both by young and old - students, executives, and well-known artists, theatre /drama people and journalists. They mingled with each other over chilled beer or a cup of tea as born of the same earth.

This place looked like a Third Class Train Dining side-car compartment. It had two rows of tables/chairs, with hardly a small passageway for people to serve and move around.

But it was part of the Jehangir art Gallery, where all the big name artists would come to exhibit their masterpieces. Then walk into the Cafe Samovar for a cup of tea or chilled beer, personally served by the lady who started it. The lady was Usha Khanna, a young niece of Balraj Sahni (film actor). She later became the mother-in-law of the famous food/hotel critic and well-known journalist - Vir Sanghvi.

She used to serve almost pure home-made type light food. Kabab, goshat, aloo parathas, and regular thali. Chilled beer and tea were the most popular.

The artists who could not get a date to exhibit their work in Jehangir were free to place them inside Cafe Samovar for art-lovers to see and appreciate. If you were a poet or a writer and wanted to read poetry at lunch time to a packed house, you could do that.

Along with my wife and children and friends, I spent almost ten years of my 30 year stay in Bombay here at Cafe Samovar, drinking beer and watching celebrities sit next to us in this third class Rail-Ka-Dibba type café, which became a "must" hub for people like me from the advertising world.

Pity it had to close down after 50 years of being a melting pot where bare-feet Hussain, Busybee D'Souza, and Amitabh cut their teeth. Bombay, Jehangir Art Gallery, and Kala ghoda were never the same again without Cafe Samovar.

Gaylord

For almost 30 years in Bombay, my wife and I spent almost every Friday evening at this great Iconic place, known as Gaylord. It used to be the known haunt of Raj Kapoor, and his music directors Shankar Jaikishan.

On Friday evenings, my wife would take the Local evening 5.30 from Bandra and reach Churchgate station by 6.15pm. She would cross over the road to come into Gaylord. And occupy one of the few marble tables laid out -side near the side walk. I would drive in from my office at Steel Crete House, and join her.

It was leisurely tea and chicken sandwiches, always. You couldn't get better tea and chicken sandwiches anywhere in Bombay. Moreover, the best part was that the tea-pot was pure china, and typically English country-side type large aristocratic size. As far as the Chicken sandwiches were concerned, I have no words to describe. We loved them. In fact, my wife used to get them packed for the kids at home. The kids used to accompany their mother to Gaylord whenever they had school holiday. It used to be good outing for all of us. Miss it!!

My wife and I used to sit in Gaylord over our cups of tea (the cost was per head) for hours, and watch the world go by. Then drive home to Bandra and look forward to the relaxed week-end.

Gaylord broke lot of people's heart when it decided to shut. But Shut it did.

Gurdaon (I am not sure of the spelling)

This was an open large Hall restaurant, right adjacent to Gaylord. It was owned and run by a French national. This was a place that served the best juicy Steak (rare or well-done) in whole of Bombay, including the 5-Star hotels.

I used to love eating there. And needed some excuse to visit Gurdaon. I started entertaining one of my clients from Bayer (of Leverkusen) who also loved steak. So almost once a week, I would invite him for steak lunch, which he readily accepted. The French owner used to serve a large jar of white, small onions pickled in vinegar with the steak. We both used to finish whole jar with our steak.

Surprisingly, we never liked to drink beer here with the Gurdaon Steak.

Among all the iconic places that I loved, Gurdaon was the first place to close down. The French owner perhaps went back to Paris.

I never had a steak, afterwards, anywhere in Bombay as long as I lived there.

Ritz hotel

One more iconic place that Bombay has lost to the ravages of time is an old 5 -Star hotel at Church Gate. It was an Ogilvy Adda (meeting place) for years and years. I have lost count of the vodka-fuelled lunches we've had there, courtesy of my boss, Mani.

I have been interviewed in this hotel. I have also interviewed people for jobs in my company. I had spent lot of Friday evenings over drinks and cigarettes, with my friend Sam Balsara and Krishnamurthy of Mudra Advertising, negotiating for change of jobs.

It was the favourite haunt of Krishna Menon, the politician. It was where chef Mario turned out his famous Lasagna. And where countless bands and cabaret acts played during its heydays. Legend also has it that an exotic, foreign cabaret star used to keep a panther in her room.

Epilogue

After having worked and lived in Bombay for almost 35 years, my wife and I left it for the newly built Millennium city Gurgaon, near Delhi. And since January 2000, we have lived here.

No doubt, today's Mumbai offers, perhaps, a more internationally vibrant life style acceptable to the new and old generations of Mumbaikars.

The local Mumbaikars, I am sure, still love their city as ever.

But, for me, Bombay has spread too big, and has already lost its old-fashioned charm. And some of the older generation of people MISS the old charm of Bombay of their times. Like I miss the Bombay of gone-by days.

But, I am happy in Gurgaon. I have never gone back to Bombay, now renamed Mumbai.

Let me end with Ghalib's Dil hi to hai.

ghlaib sher

'Ghalib'-e-Khasta ke baGHair kaun se kaam band haiN?
Without the wretched/devastated "Ghalib", has any activity come to a halt?

roiye zaar-zaar kya, keejiye haay-haay kyoN?
What then is the need to cry bitterly? What then is the need to wail and brood?

_______________________________________

© Jatinder Sethi 2016

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Comments
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rima hooja   |2016-10-01
Enjoyed this 'visit' to the Bombay-that-was. Thank you Mr. Sethi.
JATINDER SETHI   |2016-10-01
A BIG thank you rime to find this blogf,read it and be the first to comment
I
would be interested to knowif you are a Mumbai resident. Incidently, in my own
original write up I had included photos of all those place but the Editor
couldnt use as they wre all from the NET. Thanks once again
Maithili Daphtary   |2016-10-01
Enjoyed reading about all the places that I too knew well, some like Gordon only
as a kid, one of our favorite places to eat at.
I do not agree with him about
beaches in Bombay and Alibag, enjoyed both growing up in Bombay, what he says
may be true in the last decade or so.

My favorite dessert at Gordon was
meringue and icecream.
Juhu beach was lovely in the 60s and at least early 70s.
My grandfather had a house on the beach, there was no house or hotel around it.
We and my aunt and her family would spend weekends there and Mummy would take us
with her friend and her children during the week too just to go to the beach
which was nice and not crowded.

In the 70s and 80s we used to go to Nagaon,
near Alibag and the beaches were deserted. We would be the only people on the
beach. I remember we would put a stick in the sand, hang our towels on that and
leave our belongings there and then go and swim and take long walks on the
beach. We rarely saw anyone. Early in the morning we may see fishermen.
JATINDER SETHI   |2016-10-01
Dear Maithili,You know you are NOT the first Not to agree with me. The first
critique ,before this was posted,came from daughter-in-law,KISHORI. She is
Maharashtrian, and lived all her life just a couple of km from the Shvaji Park
beach. Her parents stayed just behind the Scouts Pavillion near the Shivaji
Park. So you can understand her not very much agreeing with me.
I having lived
in Bombay for donkey years, have seen all the beautiful beaches,and enjoyed
week-ends with my wife and kids, We used to get a shack at Juhu and roam around
almost naked in those days. Later on also beach was not that littered with
sellers of all kind eatables etc,I was a regular there as my Friends Khannas had
open their Holiday Inn hotel,and I used to handle their advertising.The week end
routine,when kids were in school at Bandra,Juhu beach, off to NATURAL ICE CREAM
for CHIKOO ice cream
And you know, the first time I visited Alibag was in1957
when there was no Thna link. Nagaon, I fully agree with you. We,as family went
there twice. Since there was no other soul,we used to get frightend and leave
after some time. I am talking about the Mumbai and encroachments on the beaches.
I admit that we left Mumbai on X-Mas day 1999 for Gurgaon;and my last visit to
these beaches was when I ,last time, mr. Dinesh Khanna of Holiday Inn.
My
daughter in law has also objected to my views, but I still thinkto me, Mumbai is
no place to live. There is an excellent written piece on the History of Bombay
that you must read, I can send you that if you send your email to me. I honestle
appreciate your point of view-Daphtary is Parsi?My wifes cousin in Delhi is
married to one Daphtary)Sikand family of Delhi)
I also thank you to read this
post(I have many on this site) so quicly and taking time to pat on my bacl and
slap on face
JATINDER SETHI   |2016-10-12
PLEASE NOTE :-I have been informed that GAYLORD is STILL VERY MUCH THERE where
it used to be. It NEVER closed down
My apologies ton readers and GAYLORD
MANAGEMENT for this error on my part.
HOPE I AM FORGIVEN.
JATINDER SETHI   |2016-10-12
I, However STAND BY my opinion of the GAYLORD AND WHAT I SAID ABOUT THEIR
EXCELLENT SERVICE and WONDERFUL TEA and CHIKEN SANDWICHES. My mistake stands
corrected.
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