Just next to Madanpura, the thronging locality in the Nagpada area of South Bombay, is Mirza Ghalib Road. Here, legendary short story writer Sadat Hasan Manto lived and brought to life the area through characters like Mammad Bhai. Haunts such as the Haji Hotel, which no longer stands, was where Urdu giants like Kaifi Azmi and Kamal Amrohi would spent their evenings drinking tea.
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Today, walking down the alleys of Madanpura leads you to lines and lines of faux leather purse shops and stores selling bag material and fittings. The locality is made up of narrow cluttered alleys of old residential buildings with tiny rooms on the upper floors and lines of stores at the ground-floor level. The commerce spills out into the narrow lanes with a profusion of street food vendors and stalls selling bags and footwear. The area is in a state of visible dilapidation.
The popular story about the origin of the name Madanpura traces links with holy Islamic land. Supposedly, a person from Madina travelled till here and settled, lending his name to the locality. While the veracity of this cannot be proved at present, Madanpura carries a rich remembered history. The Muslims of this largely Islamic locality began migrating from the Allahabad-Azamgarh belt of what is now Uttar Pradesh from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. A majority of them were ansaris, of the weaver caste, and their movement was prompted by the decline of court patronage, especially after the 1857 revolt. These weavers came to be dominant in the weaving section of the Bombay textile mills in the area and Madanpura became a working-class locality where almost everyone worked at the mills.
According to Shamim Tariq, poet and columnist who is a former resident of Madanpura, this was an area with a community of labourers and the Communist movement in Bombay thrived here. “Leaders like Dange would often come and work with the people here. Only later the Congress and other opposition parties began to make inroads.”
An important part of the area’s Communist past, according to Zubair Azmi — who has actively been trying to revive the cultural heritage of Bhendi Bazaar — is the role it played in the cultural climate here. The Progressive Writer’s Movement which was established in London in 1932 developed close ties to Madanpura and, in the 1930s, this and other neighbouring areas of Bhendi Bazaar were home to Urdu literary figures like Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Kamal Amrohi.
“This area was the cultural hub of an older Bombay,” Azmi said.
Today, very little of that culture is left to see here. “That is a bygone era now. The consumerist world has absorbed Madanpura,” he added.
The Communist movement in Bombay weakened and the restructuring of the textile industry — which the political and cultural life of the locality revolved around — and switch to powerlooms led to the displacement of many Muslim weavers. Many shifted to Bhiwandi to work at the textile units there and, by the 1970s, the remaining population was transformed into one of small-time entrepreneurs and family businesses.
Of the early migrant residents, Tariq says, “They have no relation to UP today, they have links to it only through nostalgia. They are completely Mumbaikars.”
It is now a lower and middle class locality; the ex-mill workers were able to get their children educated so some have moved upward socially by practising law or medicine. A steady stream of migrants from other parts of UP and from Bihar has been flowing in in search of work.
Currently, the dominant feature of Madanpura seems to be its bag manufacturing and sale. In the gulli next to the gosht bazaar, shop after shop offers you these wares manufactured in the tiny rooms of the locality’s alleys.
According to Premji Bala, who is in the bag-selling business, “Those making the bags are mostly Bihari migrants, some are from UP. None of them are here with their families; they live as bachelors and work in fives or sixes in the small rooms. Nobody in particular other than the older property owners is from Madanpura; they work and sleep here. The bag business is not an industry; it functions in an unorganised way.”
According to Tariq, the top priority issues in Madanpura now should be the improvement of civic amenities like drainage, roads and the setting up of educational institutions. “The maintenance and development of the area seems to be nobody’s concern which is upsetting given the past this area has.