By Tanvi Shenoy & Kavitha Iyer
RUNNING parallel to the Siddhivinayak Temple in Prabhadevi is a stretch of road with deep connections to both Mumbai’s evolution as an industrial hub and to the city’s working class residents who played a central role in that growth.
Appasaheb Marathe Marg, a prime commercial location, stretches from Jakadevi Chowk on Gokhale Road to Babasaheb Worlikar Chowk on Annie Besant road. The road is named after Sakharam Purushottam ‘Appasaheb’ Marathe, a Marathi Brahmin originally from Vengurla in the Konkan region, and is also home to the prominent Marathe Udyog Bhavan, built by Appasaheb Marathe in 1964, and used for manufacturing auto parts.
The Marathe family’s units shifted out of Mumbai about two decades back, and the Udyog Bhavan is now a well-known address for offices and commercial spaces. But ironically, the first road junction to the south of the Marathe Udyog Bhavan is the Leningrad Chowk, a literal intersection of two philosophies.
Leningrad Chowk was named thus around 1970, at a time when the Left had a stronghold in the textile hub of Central Mumbai, an area comprising Prabhadevi, Parel, Sewri and Lalbaug. According to his family, Appasaheb Marathe was born in 1911, in a small town near the Goa border. He came to Mumbai when he was 19 years old and began to work for a trading firm. He did a stint in Karachi and later started his own business (Sind Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd) manufacturing shark liver oil.
After Partition, he tried to stay back, but eventually heeded the advice of friends and returned to Mumbai in February 1948, with almost nothing, building his business from scratch by trading between 1948 and 1958, and then, in 1959, starting a workshop near Bandra, manufacturing auto components for Telco and Premier. Around 1960, he chanced upon information that land was available for lease in Prabhadevi, a plot owned then by the Portuguese Church in Dadar.
“I think the most significant thing about Appasaheb was that he was good at getting along with anyone and everyone, and that he was a risk taker,” says Yashwant Marathe, Appasaheb’s grandson. “He heard about the church-owned land. What were the chances of them leasing it to a Marathi Brahmin family? He took a chance, and was successful in getting the land on lease.”
The building was completed in 1964, at a time when the area around was mostly undeveloped, except for Standard Mills and some chawls. When Appasaheb died in 1969, his son Suresh Marathe began to manufacture offset printing machines.
According to Yashwant, it was around 1972 that the road was planned and named after Appasaheb, a pioneering businessman of the locality. At the time, it was still a single lane road.
Around the same time, in 1969-70, the Communist Party of India’s Lokvangmay Griha had moved from Khetwadi into a small two-storey building just off Leningrad Chowk, operating a press purchased through funds raised by CPI workers. Through the next decade, even as the area around developed, the press and the building were also upgraded. On November 7, 1981, Rajeshwar Rao, then all India Secretary of the CPI, inaugurated the new building and named it Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan, named after the four-term Communist Rajya Sabha Parliamentarian from West Bengal.
“The date was significant – it was the anniversary of the October Revolution,” says CPI leader Prakash Reddy.
Owned by Lokvangmay Griha (Home of People’s Literature), Bhupesh Gupta Bhavan continues to house a press and bookstore. It remains a hub for progressive thinkers, writers and artistes.
Appasaheb Marathe Marg, meanwhile, has become a hub of four-wheeler showrooms. Yashwant Marathe continues to manage the Marathe Udyog Bhavan’s activities. “I am one of the few people whose name and address are the same,” he says.