Dr Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg: The name does little to keep the memory of Mumbai’s first mayor alive

In 1962, on the same piece of land, Deshmukh, the first mayor of Mumbai after Independence and also the first president of Indian Medical Association, had breathed his last at age of 78.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Published: July 24, 2017 4:56 am
first mayor of mumbai, deshmukh marg, dr gopalrao deshmukh, bmc, mumbai heritage, kalpataru building, indian express The road was earlier named after W G Pedder, city’s civic commissioner in 1879. (Prashant Nadkar)

This bustling arterial road houses the who’s who of Mumbai’s elite. While many still refer to it through its old anglicised name of Pedder Road, there are only a handful who know that the now rechristened Dr Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg was named after Mumbai’s first mayor. “Even we didn’t know the road has been renamed after our grandfather until a day after BMC did it,” says Nisha Joshi, 71, who resides in Kalpataru Building, exactly where Deshmukh’s palatial bungalow stood until 1969.

In 1962, on the same piece of land, Deshmukh, the first mayor of Mumbai after Independence and also the first president of Indian Medical Association (IMA), had breathed his last at age of 78. The busy road starts from where city’s first flyover ends at Kemps Corner, snaking uphill and down all the way till Haji Ali square. Deshmukh lived in a two-storey white bungalow whose entrance was marked by a circular winding path that led to a flight of 15 marble steps to an enormous foyer. He had bought it in 1929 from Homi Bhabha, who used the space for a guest house.

Historian Bharat Gothoskar says there were four bungalows on that street. “They were all huge, beautiful and belonged to well-known families,” Gothoskar says.

In 1960s, however, several were demolished to construct buildings. “This is how it has been. The quaint street was full of trees and lovely bungalows. From 1955, a lot of them gave way to buildings,” says historian Deepak Rao. Deshmukh’s bungalow was demolished and a year later, the present building was completed.

Deshmukh, a general surgeon, is known in the medical field for setting up KEM hospital and being one of the first teachers in the medical college along with Dr R N Cooper. He donated a large sum for construction of Sion Hospital, which later named its maternity ward after his wife, Annapurna.

In 1935, Deshmukh founded the Mumbai branch of IMA, an old building that still stands near Haji Ali as the original IMA headquarters. “He was much ahead of us. Every doctor in IMA Mumbai knows him,” says Dr Anil Pachnekar, former IMA president. According to IMA member Dr Shivkumar Utture, the association began oration lectures by specialist doctors under the banner of G V Deshmukh oration to keep his name alive.
But very few apart from doctors remember the contributions of Deshmukh. “He would treat several people for free, sometimes visit their house and treat them,” says Joshi. Deshmukh, who later entered politics, introduced three bills that were passed in parliament on the rights to property, divorce and to separate house.

first mayor of mumbai, deshmukh marg, dr gopalrao deshmukh, bmc, mumbai heritage, kalpataru building, indian express In 1935, Deshmukh founded the Mumbai branch of IMA, an old building that still stands near Haji Ali as the original IMA headquarters. (Prashant Nadkar)

Joshi and sister Dr Ananta Samant grew up in Deshmukh’s bungalow, remembering him for his habit to sit by the staircase and watch the activity on road. “The entrance extended till where the present day divider on road is. In backyard, we had servant quarters. There was separate kitchen to cook non-vegetarian in our house,” says Joshi.

The road was earlier named after W G Pedder, municipal commissioner of then Bombay in 1879. The family does not remember the year the road was renamed after Deshmukh. “As was the case with several streets named after Britons, the BMC decided to give them Indian names,” says Rao. The renaming spree, historians say, began after 1960.

Deshmukh’s name, however, is alive only on a postal address. “Very few living on this road know my grandfather or us. Only those in our building know this plot belonged to him,” says Joshi.

Deshmukh was very social, known to hold grand celebrations during Ganpati festivals. His family says he loved playing golf and often told his family he wanted to die on a golf course. “His wish could not come true. He died after remaining bed ridden for three years in the house,” says Joshi.

Deshmukh was also the first to introduce the concept of electric crematorium in the city. Before his death, he had made an exclusive request to be cremated in an electric crematorium without any religious ceremony.

On Pedder Road, however, there remains no trace or mention of his bungalow or his work, just a signboard that says the road is named after him.

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