Communities, Padas and Mohallas

My office is located in Lower Parel area of Mumbai city, which was earlier mill area. All the spinning mills of the yore- Century, Phoenix, Bombay Dyeing, Ruby etc- had their works in and around this area. Most of the erstwhile mill lands have been redeveloped as commercial complexes and swanky malls and several posh and high rise residential projects, including the iconic Trump Tower, are coming up in this area. However, the last vestiges of the now closed mills can still be found here. If the mills were there, mill workers also required accommodation. So we still have several chawls and other low cost community residential structures still in existence.

Enroute Office, I just noticed a death notice on the community black board ( kept outside every such residential area to announce any event of common interest) grieving the death of a community elder. This spirit of oneness by co-existing in the same area for generations is unique not only to Mumbai but to this country called India! The names could be different – mohalla in Delhi and north, pada in Kolkata and East and Chawls in Mumbai, it’s all the same where communities stay together, share joys and sorrows, lend help to each other and are bereft of ego and selfishness! It’s the marriage of not my daughter or your daughter, but our daughter; when an elder dies, he is not only individual’s father but everyone’s chacha, mama, Kaku or dada! Festivals are celebrated together, it’s always community’s Durga Puja or Ganpati or Jagrata; leisure hours are for reading newspapers together, playing carrom board with neighbours or simply gossiping! There’s a great sense of security and comfort in being together!

Not too long ago, this feeling was all pervasive in even middle class residential societies. After finishing daily chores, ladies would sit together, children played outdoor games, men would meet on holidays and sweets exchanged on occasions such as Diwali.

Fast forward it to today, for 6.5 years, we had same neighbours on the same floor with entrances facing each other. Ladies must have exchanged pleasantries not more than 6 times ( that makes it an average of 1 hi per year), while men chose to look through each other in the rarest of the rare circumstances of bumping into each other. Whether they went through any problems, difficulties or sorrows, we were totally unaware and ditto on their side! I guess they had very good culinary skills because aromas from their home were very tempting and I would frequently lament about drab food repeatedly eaten by us! But never received even a morsel of yummy dishes made by them!

Communities shrunk into large families and progressively further into joint families and finally into nuclear families! These nuclear families of 2-3 members neither know any of their neighbours nor any traditions or customs. On Diwali days, scared of the noise and air pollutions, they take a quick getaway to Dubai or Thailand. I am not sure how long these community events like Durga Puja, Ganpati or Ram Lila are going to survive! If man is a social animal why is he avoiding society and becoming asocial?

2 thoughts on “Communities, Padas and Mohallas

  1. Wonderfully captured, Dada. I’ve been fortunate to experience this community spirit first-hand while growing up in Mayapuri, Delhi. Our neighbors there were (and still are) closer to us than most relatives. Sometime back when Ma had to go to Kolkata urgently, leaving behind Baba in Delhi, I was worried and called him to enquire how he would manage his food alone. He was in high spirits and rattled off the list of invites right from lunch to dinner that he had already been booked for through the week, by the various neigbors! And how ABC Uncle and Aunty called to say they would just now be sending “just off the stove”, steaming hot aloo parathas with aam ka achaar and mint raita for his breakfast. Clearly, Baba was sorted πŸ™‚ That is the magic of a community, of a neighborhood, that has all but died today.

    Each time I’ve moved into a high-rise building, I’ve always wondered if the neighbors would pass the “cup of sugar” test”. Sounds familiar?
    Remember the erstwhile days when knocking on a neighbor’s door and asking for a cup of sugar or some chai patti were things that were part of the rhythms of life? πŸ™‚ It’s probably an alien concept now and we’ll probably be greeted with suspicious stares or seen as freeloaders if we do the same! πŸ™‚


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