Businessman and philanthropist Narayan Dabholkar had dreamt of a home for his family along this road, but an untimely fall during the construction of the house led to his death in the late 1800s. Today, the road where his dream home would have stood bears his name. It is also the address of the state’s top ministers, with a row of government-owned bungalows lining this stretch of Malabar Hill. The bungalow that houses the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court also stands on this road.
“He died when he was 41. One day, during construction, he was standing on the balcony along with the architect and builder when the balcony collapsed. The other two were unhurt in the fall, but he died instantly. The area where he was to build his home now has government bungalows,” says Dabholkar’s great great grandson Chaitanya Dabholkar, who works with a private firm.
Narayan Dabholkar’s is a rags-to-riches story, according to his great great grandson. Their family was originally from Vengurla in Konkan and moved to Mumbai in the 1830s or 1840s. After moving to the city, they initially lived in the Lohar chawl area of Mumbai Central.
“Soon after their move, his father passed away when the plague hit the city. His mother used to take on odd jobs, with her elder sons helping her out to supplement her income. Narayan, however, was sent to school and was able to get an education,” said Chaitanya.
Incidentally, it was his love for horses that helped change the family’s destiny.
“He loved horses and used to ride horses in the Marine Lines area. During these rides, he was noticed by an Englishwoman, the wife of a Captain Black, the local chief of the Pacific & Oriental (P&O) shipping company,” Chaitanya explained.
They became acquainted and Narayan was eventually offered a job by her husband.
“He eventually progressed to the level of a ‘dubash’, or agent, for supplying provisions to the P&O ships that docked at Bombay port. He supplied every type of provision to the ships,” said Chaitanya. It was this trade that would eventually earn him a fortune.
When rumours began floating about alleged irregularities, an investigation was conducted from the company’s head offices in Britain, but nothing wrong was found with Dabholkar’s dealings and he was eventually given a clean chit.
He was known to be a contemporary of Jagannath Sunkersett and Dadabhai Naoroji.
“He was an extremely good speaker and was a nominated member of the governor’s legislative council,” Chaitanya said, adding that this was a fact that the family remained extremely proud of.
During his lifetime, he is known to have invested in several properties across Mumbai as well as in mines in the Parel area.
“He also had tenanted properties in Kalbadevi, which still has an area known as Dabholkar Wadi,” said Chaitanya, who came across his grandfather’s diaries that recounted the family’s history.
Narayan Dabhokar’s son Shantaram Dabholkar eventually built a big mansion behind Wilson College at Girgaum Chowpatty named ‘Anand Kanan’ and lived there with his family.
He owned several other properties in the area. He also built ‘Laxmi Baug’ at Girgaum in honour of his mother, originally built to host Hindustani musical performances, but eventually used as a venue for weddings and other functions.
Narayan Dabholkar Road on Malabar Hill is now a leafy, cool stretch known for VIP movement and popular among early-morning joggers.