A walk from the station to Tulsi Pipe Road offers a glimpse into the paradox of Lower Parel, where past and present coexist in such close quarters. People selling fish and groceries line the road. A group of loaders carries cardboard boxes from the godown close by. Men, steel tiffin boxes shining in their hands, make their way to the station. Every few minutes, a car drives in, horn blaring, carefully navigating the limited space. But once you reach the main road, the scene alters dramatically — a large mass of concrete-and-glass bursts into view. The buildings in these complexes house residences, offices, malls, boutiques and upscale restaurants. Standing on the road, looking ahead, it’s also all one can see — the city of gold.
It is this that Jaideep Singh Bika bought into when he decided to open Talaiva in Kamala Mills compound a year ago. “In seven years, Lower Parel has become a happening place with malls, restaurants and pubs. The clientele is never out of options,” says Bika, who launched his eatery two months ago and views parking space as a big advantage.
But saying that Lower Parel has emerged as a hub over the last decade would be denying it its place in the city’s history. Formerly part of Girangaon, which literally translates to ‘mill village’, it was home to some of the biggest mills, set up by the British in the 19th century. With schools, hospitals, theatres and chawls a walk away, it was the city of gold. But after the closure of the mills in the 1980s and a long legal battle between the owners and workers, the land finally opened up for redevelopment in the 1990s.
When High Street Phoenix opened in 1996, it set the precedent by retaining the high ceilings and other elements of the old mills. Many restaurants and pubs continue to have the industrial look. But the greatest draw was the vast amount of space in the heart of the city that had suddenly opened up for commercial purposes.
Among the early movers was A D Singh, who opened The Bowling Company in 1999. “It was the catalyst to open up mill areas to leisure and lifestyle. The huge growth that followed was largely due to the availability of so much real estate so close to South Mumbai,” points out Singh, who recently launched Lady Baga, a Goa-themed restaurant at Kamala Mills.
Kamala Mills, in fact, arrived on the scene rather late. Cafe Zoe at Mathuradas Mill Compound was among the first prominent and spacious restaurants to open up in the neighbourhood. With The Loft, an art gallery, next door, and Good Earth in Raghuvanshi Mills, Lower Parel started to shape up the way we know it today. In the last seven to nine years, at least 50-odd upscale F&B outlets must have opened and shuttered across Phoenix, Raghuvanshi, Mathuradas and Kamala mills. Most of the 30-odd restaurants in Kamala Mills have popped up over the last three years. In fact, 1 Above, where the tragedy took place Thursday night, is less than a year old.
Architect and activist Neera Adarkar, who has fought alongside mill workers for their right to the land, believes one cannot view the tragedy in isolation. “The development of the mill land was envisioned very differently. Architect Charles Correa, as part of the committee set up to plan mill land redevelopment, had proposed that the 58 mills be viewed as a chunk of land that can be freed and made available for development,” she says. The idea was to reclaim those mills for open spaces which were located in a cluster and connect them via walkways. That could become a promenade and an open park for the city while portions could have been transformed into a cultural hub.
Pointing out that the promised public spaces were never handed over to BMC by developers, Adarkar says, “Each mill had a water body, meant for countering tragedies such as fire. When the redevelopment plan was drawn up, these water bodies were supposed to be retained. Where are the water bodies that were part of Kamala Mills and Victoria Mills?”
Brit Awards 2018: Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa among the best dressed on the red carpet