From gunpowder factory to ship scrap business, an area’s changing fortunes

Darukhana area of Mazgaon, with its bustling ironworks units, shacks, godowns and shops, may seem nondescript but few are aware of its interesting history.

Mumbai | Updated: February 6, 2014 11:29 am
A ship-breaking yard at Retibunder near Darukhana on Monday. (Kevin D’Souza) A ship-breaking yard at Retibunder near Darukhana on Monday. (Kevin D’Souza)

Shreya Ramann

Darukhana is an area of Mazgaon, popularly known for its ship-breaking and ironworks industries. Packed with dingy tin godowns, narrow lanes and factories, it may not catch the eye of every passerby but the area conceals a remarkable history.

Darukhana, literally meaning ‘gunpowder factory’, was named for the gunpowder industry in the area. Previously located in Kamathipura, the growing population in the area forced the factory to move to Mazgaon in 1790. The factory also lent its name to Gunpowder Road, a quiet road leading to what is now the main area of Darukhana.

Back in the 19th century, the Darukhana area was purely industrial, while its surrounding areas of Mazgaon and Byculla were home to erstwhile Bombay’s elite.

The area was the site of Bombay’s first ever scam in the 1860s, the Mazgaon-Sewri Reclamation Scam, wherein three men, often referred to as ‘The Gunpowder Trio’, projected a scheme for improving and developing the gunpowder works area at Mazgaon and reclaiming a ‘bunder’ close to it. They were duped by a famous Bombay businessman, Premchand Roychand, into entering and investing in vast speculation, which ultimately led them to financial ruin. Roychand also lost his fortune in this scam.

Over the last 20 years, however, the area has changed dramatically. Rafique Baghdadi, a history buff who grew up near Darukhana, told Newsline, “With the coming of the railways, the landscape completely changed. When we used to go there as kids, it was completely deserted, with only a few factories. Now, there is a lot of encroachment and the landscape has changed tremendously.”
Most of the area’s bungalows have been torn down, and the few that remain are in a dilapidated condition.

Walking down the Gunpowder Road, one enters the heart of Darukhana, a bustling maze of shops, shacks and godowns. Since the creation of the Mazgaon dockyard in the 18th century, the area has been dominated by the shipping industry, with a large number of the people involved in ironworks and dealing in parts of ships that are broken at the harbour. The winding lanes are packed with such shacks, where men are busy breaking down huge rods of iron, melting metal and storing piles of thick ropes, all remnants of old ships.

“We receive our iron from the ships that are broken here as well as other places. Nowhere else in Bombay is there so much space to work. We melt the iron and sell it it to other dealers. Most of the iron-workers live in Darukhana,” said a local ironsmith.
Many scrap dealers come to Darukhana to a variety of parts which would otherwise go to waste.

According to Baghdadi, “Several artists also frequent this place, to find knick-knacks like nuts and bolts, for their sculptures and murals. Sudarshan Shetty, a famous contemporary Indian artist, used to buy several scraps from these broken ships. It is also a hub for antique dealers, who see if they chance upon old furniture and other objects which are recovered from these old ships.”
Apart from the godowns, the narrow lanes are packed with shops of all kinds, from food to jewellery and clothing. At the end of one of these bustling lanes is the famous Sayyed Ali Mira Datar Dargah. “It attracts a number of people. It is known as a place to cure the mentally ill,” said city historian, Deepak Rao.

mumbai.newsline@expressindia.com

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