The Andheri Metro Station and the Saki Naka Metro Station on the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) corridor mark the beginning and end of the Sir Mathuradas Vasanji Road, which encompasses landmarks including the Metropolitan Magistrate’s court, Andheri and the Vissanji Academy, a 54-year old educational institution. The busy suburban road gets its name from Sir Mathuradas Vissanji, a prominent Congress leader between 1925 and 38 and founder of the school.
Chaotic because of heavy traffic in office hours, the Sir Mathuradas Vasanji Road, also called the Andheri-Kurla Road, connects the eastern and western suburbs. Even after the opening of the VAG Metro in 2014, the road continues to be a critical connector in the suburbs. Half the stations on the VAG Metro corridor fall on the Sir Mathuradas Vasanji Road.
“I remember 20-25 years ago, markets used to cover half of what is roads now. The road was much narrower then, all you could see were shops of clothes and food. In recent years, a lot of shops were forced to close down so the road could widened to accommodate more vehicles,” says Riyaz Nadaf, owner of a small children’s clothes shop on the Sir Mathuradas Vasanji Road.
According to historian Arvind Ganacharya, Mathuradas Vissanji was a visionary of the textile industry and was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1935 by members of the Indian Merchants’ Chamber as their representative. Much of the land where the road exists today was part of Vissanji’s property. A pioneer of the insurance business, he was given the title of ‘Sir’ by the British and was an ardent follower of the Gandhian movement and philosophy. Gandhi was particularly close to Vissanji because of the respect the latter had in the merchant community, Ganacharya said.
Founder of the Vissanji Academy, the school describes him as “an eminent industrialist, a philanthropist, a Doctor of Literature (conferred upon him by the Banaras Hindu University), a member of the Central Assembly, the President of the Indian Merchants Chamber, the list is endless…”
“The best way to describe him is ‘the silent benefactor’. Those in need turned to him for help and guidance and he helped them in various ways. His philanthropy became known to his family and friends only after his passing when the recipients of his generosity spoke about it. Such was the nature of my grandfather,” says Hemant Vissanji, Sir Mathuradas Vissanji’s grandson and currently the Chairman and Managing Director of Wallace Flour Mills Co Pvt Ltd.
“Mathuradas Vissanji and Ghanshyam Das Birla were well connected to Mahatma Gandhi. Birla was the founding president of Harijan Sevak Sang, of which Vasanji was quite an influential member,” says Ganacharya, former head of the history department at the Mumbai University.
Once the President of the Indian Education Society, Vissanji founded the Andheri Education Society. “This education institution (located near the BMC Office) was his dream, in which he wished to educate girl children in pre-independence India, and was brought to reality by his son, Pratapsinh Vissanji,” says an administrative official from the Vissanji Academy.