The 91-year-old single-screen theatre, Deepak-Matterden CFC, and the Doordarshan building in Worli mark the two ends of Pandurang Budhakar Marg, and in between lie several former mill compounds, the Century Mills, Victoria Mills and Bombay Textile Mills for example, which, over the years, made way for pubs, eateries and office towers. Pandurang Budhakar, a Dalit social worker who the street is named after, grew up in a chawl on N M Joshi Marg that runs very close to the road named after him. His wife, Sharda Budhakar, remembers the area as being riddled with alcoholics and petty thieves between 1955 and 1960.
At a young age, Budhakar decided to work for the upliftment of what he thought was a rapidly deteriorating society. However, his parents, who were mill workers, were barely able to make ends meet. “After his matriculation exam, he was forced to give up his education. He did odd jobs to be able to support his family. Then, along with a few friends, he bought a hotel, ‘Ajanta’, in Dadar, which became his primary source of income,” said Tushar Budhakar, eldest of Budhakar’s four children, who works as an insurance agent.
Budhakar then worked as an educator, encouraging mill workers to send their children, especially girls, to school. “In an impoverished society, not many could afford to send their children to school. So he used an empty room in the chawl as a classroom, and taught the children there. He was fondly known as ‘Budhakar Master’, symbolic of his love for teaching,” said Sharda.
A member of the Mumbai Kabaddi Association, Budhakar also founded the ‘Allhad Seva Mandal’, a kabaddi team that went on to win several titles in inter-city matches. “He didn’t believe in saving his income. Whatever he earned, he spent on trying to help people,” said his son. Budhakar passed away in 1968, when he was only 36, after he had a heart attack. Tushar was six at that time.
Some of the families of former mill workers still reside on this street, but most have moved away, as the former mill heartland — Parel, Lower Parel, Elphinstone Road, Worli — underwent rapid transformation.
“This street used to be active with rallies and strikes. The staff quarters for several mill workers were also on this street, and so they would gather here even when on strike. Now, this street is crowded only on weekends, when youngsters gather to enjoy nightlife,” said Chandrakumar Jain (57), whose family owns a jewellery shop on the street and has been running it for over 40 years now.
The street, previously known as ‘Globe Mill Passage’, was named after Budhakar in 1971. However, his children moved to Kandivali in 1993. “We were a family of eight living in one room in the chawl. After I got married, I had to move away for the sake of my children, even though there is a street named after my father in Lower Parel,” said Tushar.