A chaotic street flanked by temples, shops, slums and skyscrapers, NM Joshi Marg falls along the daily commute of varieties of Mumbaikars — those employed in the swanky offices occupying the former textile mills, party-goers visiting the watering holes and entertainment venues dotting this area, and the lakhs who live in the decrepit chawls of the locality. But chances are none of them can ask a Mumbai cabbie to go to N M Joshi Marg and expect to get to their destinations, for the road continues to be known by its former name, Delisle Road.
A significant road because of the arterial connection it makes from Byculla to Prabhadevi, the four-kilometre stretch runs parallel to the Central Railway line and passes three stations — Byculla, Chinchpokli and Currey Road. It also provides an access route to South bridge which leads to the zoo, the Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Mazgaon. It also provides an exit on to KK Road, another arterial street, making it an essential route in Mumbai’s complicated roadways.
According to many who have lived in these areas for generations, not much has changed on the road. “My family has run this business for over 70 years. There might be new towers, but they have not impacted the culture of the road,” says the owner of a moneylending company. The shops all along the road have been there for decades. “I have been working here for 25 years. The temples and shops are the same, the people are not,” says an employee at a grocery store.
Delisle Road was named after the Chief Engineer of the Bombay Water Works, Lieutenant Le Geyt De Lisle, who later became a general in the Royal Engineers of the Bombay Army. His contribution to the development of the colonial city’s water infrastructure is significant. “He proposed the construction of a reservoir in Vehar (present-day Vihar Lake),” writes Deepak Rao in his book Mumbai’s Water: A Glorious History of Bombay Water Works.
A few decades ago, the road was renamed Narayan Malhar Joshi Marg. Joshi was a trade unionist renowned for his efforts to improve workers’ conditions. Naming this road snaking along the textile mills of yore after the unionist was apt, for it was Joshi , along with Lala Lajpatrai, who started the All Indian Trade Union Congress (AITUC) in 1921. He also joined the Servants of India Society in 1909.
Joshi is renowned for his work on the Royal Commission on India, a report sent to the British government describing existing labour conditions, the health and living standards of workers and on the relations between employers and employees. Joshi, after his research, believed that there should be a significant reduction in working hours for labourers, as this could increase efficiency in many industrial sectors, especially Mumbai’s cotton industry.
He also represented India at the first International Labour Conference in 1919, when the International Labour Organisation was formed. According to Kurush Dalal, an archaeologist, “Joshi was extremely concerned about workers’ health. He believed that industrialisation led to the degradation of the worker.”