Dotted with high-rise buildings and offices, Barrister Rajni Patel Marg is a forked road off Marine Drive. The stretch has been named after Rajni Patel, a top Congress leader and barrister, who is prominently remembered for being a part of the battery of top lawyers that defended naval officer Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati. The officer was facing trial for the murder of Prem Ahuja, the alleged lover of his English wife Sylvia, in 1959.
The road had got its name in 1986, but till recently it existed mostly in a signage and official documents. Regular users became familiarised with the name through navigation apps only after cab aggregators became operational. “I’ve been working here for 10 years but learnt the name of the road recently, after Uber drivers began operating in this area” said Ankush Shinde. “Rajni Patel Marg is the name on the GPS location,” he added.
A leading lawyer, Patel later joined the Congress party and had been known to be close to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Veteran journalist Bharatkumar Raut said, “Barrister Patel began as a communist and later went on to join the Congress under Indira Gandhi in the late 60’s. He qualified as a barrister from London and had a roaring practice in Mumbai.” he added, “It was said that he was so close to Mrs Gandhi that he would have been made the CM of Maharashtra in 1972, had he been able to speak Marathi.”
Raut added that Patel was a very knowledgeable man and well-versed on an array of subjects. In the early 70’s, he was made the president of the Mumbai Pradesh Congress Committee, Raut said. His granddaughter, Ameesha Patel, has acted in a string of Bollywood movies.
Solicitor Rajan Jayakar, whose father was a friend of Patel, said: “To give you an example of the kind of man he was, I will narrate an anecdote. He had once given us an appointment and the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr Sharad Pawar also came to meet him at the same time. Since we had the appointment, so for us he kept Mr Pawar waiting.” He added, “Also, whenever my father and I had gone to meet him, he used to walk us to the lift.”
Shaded by trees on either side and with a fully-functional pavement, the road runs for nearly half a kilometre from Netaji Subash Chandra Bose Road (Marine Drive) to Vidhan Bhavan. Beyond this, once the area used to be the address of old offices of several poltical parties, including Congress and Shiv Sena. Now, one can see corrugated sheets barricading the Metro Construction site in the area.
“Metro construction has led to an increased traffic congestion on the road,” said Maroti Waghmare, a traffic marshal. “The project has even knocked over the signage indicating the name and direction of Barrister Rajni Patel Marg.”
Old timers, however, recall a time when buildings were few and the sea was in plain sight from the road. They can rank the construction of the towers chronologically starting with Nirmal Towers and ending with CR2. The stretch is frequented by pedestrians milling towards the Inox multiplex, situated at Nariman Point’s only shopping mall CR2. It’s the newest building on the block and has come up in the place of a playground. “There used to be an open space where children played cricket and football,” reminisces Jaganath Singh, a peon who has worked in a building off Rajni Patel Marg since 1976.
The pavement outside Bajaj Bhavan, which houses the Kamalnayan Bajaj Hall of Gallery and Art, was earlier occupied by squatters. They were relocated to a housing in Malad and in their place pavement gardens had come up. Walking down further and on a little indentation on the footpath lies Mukesh’s Shoe Mart, which has been there for 40 years. Earlier, the shop was run by his father and now Mukesh spent 10 hours a day on this road to make a living. He described his years spent on Rajni Patel Marg as largely uneventful, except for the night of 26/11 terrorist attacks. “I saw Army personnel coming down this very road,” he said. “I got scared, ran and took shelter in that building,” pointing to the multi-storeyed building, which houses offices of several big-chain stores.