Friday, 23 August 2013

Colaba Musings

Colaba in the 60's

Colaba Causeway was Bombay's elitist  area  in those  days.Even those living in far flung suburbs would head to causeway for an  whole day outing.The road stretching  from Regal cinema to Colaba market was a paradise for shoppers.Only a few shops lined the causeway of which  few have remained.But you got  everything you wanted.Majority of Colaba's residents were Sindhi's who had flourishing businesses in the area and owned shops. There were a fair amount of Anglo-Indians ,Christians and Parsis.
 The oil boom in the Middle-east saw rich  Arabs flocking to Bombay often luring the locals populace with their newly acquired wealth. This resulted in mushrooming of several seedy and cheap lodges near and around the Taj Mahal Hotel encouraging prostitution, smuggling and other anti-social activities One could see shops with desi-goods but if you wanted a particular foreign  item you could get it through the right contact.Smuggled goods were stocked behind some shops and under the staircases of decrepit  buildings and acquired only when the shop keeper was convinced about the customer.The more you frequented him the easier it became to procure goods, then sold clandestinely after a fair amount of bargaining.Cosmetics, fabrics like (American georgette  chiffon, crepes were a rage ,ready-made garments,denims (one could kill for a good fitting pair of  denim jeans in those days)  lingerie, electronic goods, exotic food items chocolates and toys  were fast selling item . And believe me they were on everyone's wish list. Foreign ships which docked at Bombay Harbour  frequently were another source from where goods were unloaded unchecked made an entry into the market. The type of goods and the variety and hordes of hawkers  you see now was absent, instead the promenade inside causeway was clean, uncluttered with lots of space to walk, browse and window shop

Few cafes and small hotels too were situated in between shops.Cafe' Mondegar and Leopold Cafe , the all time  popular joints were often frequented by the old and young.College kids and even us school kids from senior school haunted these places which was affordable with its sumptuous fare . Foreigners patronised them even then in large numbers. It was truly a vibrant hang out.An interesting feature of the causeway was that you had to constantly dodge the pimps and middlemen who used to pester the oil-rich Arabs for money openly. Young and nubile girls were compelled to  avoid these Arabs and their lecherous looks .Often they would follow unsuspecting young girls  till they disappeared into the dark by lanes of causeway.Parents would be petrified   if we mentioned we were  taking a walk down Colaba causeway. On hindsight why blame the Arabs  a few of us would also lech at the handsome foreign sailors who came ashore from their ships, donning their smart uniforms and caps also on the lookout for some fun and  frequented the causeway. The causeway was a wanderers delight!.Bookstalls with library facilities dotted the causeway and one could get MAD magazines, Archie comics and Playboy  besides some excellent classics. And we lapped it all up ! 

Walking southwards towards the defense area, there was Paradise Restaurant (still there) known for its chicken lollies, a Paradise special, and continental food.The fare today is still delicious --its Parsi food, fish and mutton cutlets. This restaurant was always packed with an Anglo-Indian crowd  as they devoured the continental fare of roast chicken and potatoes. Just before paradise, turning left was a quiet  tree-line lane with beautiful apartments and houses. Another turn to the right and one came across the most frequented theatre - Strand  which is defunct now. Strand screened the most popular Hollywood films like The Beatles- A Hard Days Night,Cliff Richards - Summer Holiday and The Young Ones and I recall seeing old Hitchcock films on  Sunday mornings. 

Strand was right in the midst of Colaba market which sold variety of vegetables and fruit (Both exotic and local).The market used to be flooded on  weekends. Fish was procured from the nearby Sassoon Dock. Fisher folk from far off suburbs would come with their baskets  by train from Victoria Terminus on the central line  and Churchgate station on the western line  to buy fish in bulk which I presumed was sold cheap when bought in large quantities .

Living in Colaba was considered prestigious and I luckily happened to be one  thanks to my fathers posting while in the Indian Navy. Living across the road from Colaba Causeway and across Paradise Restaurant in a narrow  lane were a block of residences known as Brady's Flats. Those were the idyllic days when  I look back now. It was  was pure joy just soaking in the fun-filled   life in Bombay which was peaceful, uncomplicated, less populous, free of violent crime and where  terrorism was unheard of.         

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