Written by Pia Krishnakutty and Mohamed Thaver
The nearly 400-metre-road from Kala Ghoda junction to the Shahid Bhagat Singh Road in south Mumbai known as the VB Gandhi Road is named after Vitthal Balkrishna Gandhi also referred to as the “American Gandhi”.
The road that houses among other things, the 134-year-old blue synagogue, Artisans’ Art Gallery, hosts the Kala Ghoda festival and several eateries.
At one point, it also was home to Rhythm House, the iconic south Mumbai music store that shut shop in 2016. Gandhi was an Indian social reformer, political leader and businessman. Born to a humble family in Ratnagiri in 1896, Gandhi studied at the Wilson College before pursuing a Masters degree at the Columbia University in 1919.
“When he was in Wilson College, he read a book by Lala Lajpat Rai that said American education was better than English education as in the former there is dignity for both poor and rich. Hence, he decided to go the US to study,” Leena Gandhi Tewari, Gandhi’s daughter had told a news channel in 2013. After he decided to return to India to contribute to the freedom struggle in the 1920s, he earned the monicker “American Gandhi”.
According to Tewari, Gandhi was involved in the conception and building of the Vaitarna dam as Mumbai had been facing water supply problems. Prior to Gandhi, the road was called Forbes Street named after J A Forbes who was President of the Municipal Corporation, 1874-75.
At the top of the road sits a tiny, 70-year old store called ‘Stylo Tailors and Clothers’. The owner Indru K Kishnani says, “My grandfather set up this shop in 1948 after our family moved to India after partition. I remember the road was always busy. There were mostly machine tool shops selling electronics, air-conditioners and generators. Eventually, they all sold their shops once the road became a hub for boutiques and fancy restaurants.”
Other than the road’s new demographic, Kishnani says a major change was the beefed up security around Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue following the 26/11 terror attack in 2008.
“The guards strictly don’t allow pictures of the synagogue. Before the attacks, I would see hoards of people going for Shabbath on Fridays but nowadays, I see smaller crowds,” he adds. Located mid-street, the blue house of worship, currently under repair and renovation, is surrounded by scaffoldings and green mesh.
Located opposite the synagogue is Discover Art Gallery (DAG) that opened in 2013. Manager Prakash Atmakour (44) says that initially it was a cobbled street. The road was tarred last year, adds Atmakour, because of the increase in vehicles coming down the busy area.
Kamal Parekh, 81-year-old owner of three mid-road properties said that after a renowned designer set up a boutique opposite the synagogue from 2006 to 2013, the value of properties on the road increased and other popular artists also set up shop there.
Parekh recalls, “In the late 80s, there were mainly office premises and machine tool stores here. Madras Cafe was a popular joint on this road, famous for their paper dosas. But come 6 o’clock when everyone went home, all the carousers and bachelors would come here to drink. Most women would walk all along the main road to avoid cutting through the lane.”
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