A nostalgic trip to Girgaum Chowpatty when the iconic Mumbai landmark gets its new name Swaraj Bhoomi!

“Chowpatty jayenge bhel puri khayenge

Achi achi surto se najre ladayenge

Halla machayenge gulla machayenge

Band baja bajega dhum dhum dhum

Remember the song from Rishi Kapoor, Moushumi Chatterjee starrer 1978 film, ‘Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan’? Where Vishal, i.e., Rishi Kapoor takes Manu Bhai’s motor car out for a spin in Mumbai and sings that Kishore Kumar number, Chowpatty jayenge, Bhelpuri khayenge (I’ll go to Chowpatty and eat Bhelpuri).

Undoubtedly, there is no comparison of Chowpatty brand of ‘Bhelpuri,’ anywhere in the world!

So is the place.

Girgaum Chowpatty is the iconic Mumbai landmark, the most popular sea beach in the claustrophobic city.

For all these years the outsiders have made it sure to visit this beach as part of their tour of this city by the Arabian Sea. And for the Mumbaikars, it’s a great escapade, everytime!

Chowpatty mumbai Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

Of course there are the Juhu Chowpatty, Mahim Chowpatty, and in Mumbai’s current political canvas, Dadar Chowpatty, an area dominated by both the Sena and MNS and the predominant Maharashtrians, which has grown as a prestigious location these days, but for us the Taporis to the chic visitors, Girgaum Chowpatty is ever synonymous with the term Chowpatty.

And that is going to change.

Chowpatty Will Be Swarajya Bhoomi!

Maharashtra Government has decided to rename Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty area, where freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak was cremated, as ‘Swarajya Bhoomi’.

According to a proposal tabled in the BMC’s General Body Meeting recently, the prime civic body had approved the name changing procedure of the beach span to Swarajya Bhoomi.

According to Local MLA Anil Parab, the proposal was to change the name of Girgaum Chowpatty to Swarajya Bhoomi. He added that this proposal was also accepted by the State Government.

Corporators from BMC Wards of south Mumbai are saying that, the proposal was not to change the name of the beach, but that of the Lokmanya Gangadhar Tilak memorial erected there.

“The proposal, which was passed by a voice-vote in the BMC house meeting, was to change the name of the memorial and not the beach,” Mayor Snehal Ambekar said.

According to a senior State Government official, “Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has reportedly accepted the proposal in this regard, by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation”.

girgaum chowpatty swaraj bhoomi Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

The BJP had last year raised the issue that the Garden along Girgaum Chowpatty where Lokmanya Tilak was cremated should be renamed as ‘Swarajya Bhoomi’, and it was a long standing demand of ‘Lokmanya Tilak Gaurav Samiti.’

Tilak And Chowpatty

Prakash Silam, the founder of ‘Lokmanya Tilak Swarajya Bhoomi Smarak Samiti’, has reiterated that many Mumbaikars are unaware of the role of Girgaum in Tilak’s life.

Born in Chikhalgaon, in Ratnagiri, in the year 1856, the legendary Freedom Fighter had spent a sizable period of his life, in the Girgaum area, while he was vehemently protesting against the British rule.

“During his visits to the city, he used to stay at Sardar Griha Lodge in Girgaum. He also started the first-ever Ganesh Utsav at Keshavji Naik Chawl, which is a few blocks away from Girgaum Chowpatty,” Mumbai’s city chroniclers have said.

lokmanya tillak chowpatty Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

Girgaum Chowpatty was also the place where Tilak’s funeral was held on August 1, 1920. . Immensely popular in his life, his funeral procession in August 1920 brought Bombay to standstill.

Leading National leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru joined endless numbers of Maharastrians and freedom fighters from all along the nation had come to Girgaum Chowpatty to pay their last homage to Tilak.

“It was here that Gandhiji called him the Maker of Modern India,” remembers Prakash Silam, who is the grandson of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly’s first Speaker Laxman Silam.

Silam asks, “If we can have a magnificent Rajghat in the honour of Mahatma Gandhi, Shakti Sthal for Indira Gandhi, then why not a Swarajya Bhoomi in Tilak’s honour?”

Rohit Tilak, the great grandson of Lokmanya Tilak, appreciates Government’s decision, by saying that it is necessary to name prominent structures after the nation’s freedom fighters to inspire the modern generation. It will be an ideal way of spreading awareness about the life and deeds of the great freedom fighter.

Apart from that, the place Chowpatty has a significant association with India’s freedom struggle that goes beyond the memory of Tilak’s cremation.

It was the place where Mahatma Gandhi and thousands of freedom fighters took a symbolic sea bath, during the widespread protest against the ill-famed Rowlatt Act, in April 1919.

In the year 1930, when Gandhiji embarked on historical Dandi March, Chowpatty was the Mumbai location for thousands to assemble for their own kind of protest. Freedom fighter Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay led them to make salt there as a symbolic support to Gandhiji’s protest at Gujarat coast.

Great rallies and meetings of political importance held at Chowpatty throughout the years even after India became independent.

Some Dissents Too “We have no issues if the memorial is renamed as Swarajya Bhoomi and dedicated to such a great freedom fighter. But, how can one change the name of a beach, especially one that is a landmark in the city,” said some regular members of the hallmark Girgaum Krida Manch.

There was no protest when in 1960, ‘Flora Fountain’ was renamed Hutatma Chowk.

Flora Fountain was built in by the British, in 1864, as a fusion of water, architecture and sculpture, depicted to the Roman Goddess Flora. It was built at a princely sum of 9,000 Pounds Sterling, 150 years back. The adjacent square where five streets meet (hence, also known among the Britishers, as the Piccadilly Circus of Mumbai!

It was the decision of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly that recommended to the Government to take necessary steps to erect as early as possible a memorial at Flora Fountain in Bombay in commemoration of the sacrifices of the persons who died on the police firing at Flora Fountain in Bombay in the month of November 1955.

Flora Fountain by SheScreamsInSilence7 Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

But in 1960, to commemorate the martyrdom of the people who laid their lives in the demand of a separate Maharashtra State at the square, it was christened as Hutatma Chowk with a statue of a pair of torch bearing patriots.

Similarly, the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, the Victoria Terminus Railway Station was renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), in March 1996.

Marine Drive, the 4 kilometre-long boulevard in tony South Mumbai area, popularly known as the ‘Queen’s Necklace,’is now officially known as is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road. But how many Mumbaikars use this name? No one has ever blamed them to be non-patriots!

On the other hand, ‘Kala Ghoda’, as the iconic Mumbai venue has retained its original name.

The name Kala Ghoda (Black Horse), is a reference to the presence of a black stone statue of King Edward VII (as the then Prince of Wales) mounted on a horse that was built by Jewish businessman and philanthropist Albert David Sassoon. This colonial statue is now gone, but the name remained unchanged. The statue was removed from the precinct in 1965 and placed somewhere inside the Byculla Zoo.

kala ghoda statue old pic Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

Now known for its iconic cultural festival, in the proximity of places like Jehangir Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art, this was the site where films, the silent films then, were introduced to India with a screening by the Lumiere Brothers, of their Cinematograph in 1896!

A local, who was born and grown up in JSS Road, an area near Chowpatty has said, “I never knew another name for this area. Before I was born it was called Chowpatty. I’ve grown up, calling this name. Even if the name is changed, I’ll call it Chowpatty always. It does not mean, I’m a lesser patriot than others.”

After all, the Lokmanya Tilak Udyan is already there, right on Chowpatty. A bronze statue of Tilak sculpted by R K Phadke is also there.

The Place Called Chowpatty

No one asks in Mumbai, where is the Chowpatty! It’s obvious, it’s the one and only Girgaum Chowpatty.

Girgaum Chowpatty is no parallel to Goan beaches. Neither it’s comparable with Alibaug. No Juhu Chowpatty, No Mahim or Dadar Chowpatty… for the Marathi Manoos, its near to his heart. For every Tapori worth his nativeness this is the Hameen Ast!

For the Bihari expatriates in Mumbai or every Bhaiya from ‘Poorvi Uttar Pradesh’ this is the place for experiencing the wideness of the sea, post-marital romance and occasional Dubki is in the grimy sea!

The three-kilometre stretch along the waterfront extends from Nariman Point to Chowpatty, waning into Walkeshwar and, beyond that, the posh Malabar Hill.

According to ‘Bombay City Gazetteer’, the name Chowpatty is derived from the word Chau-pati (four creeks) . The place is known as a place that contains four channels or divisions in water for approach. This name is analogous to that of Satpaty, a village in the Mahim Taluka of the Thane District, which is approached through a Channel or Creek, containing seven divisions of water. Adjoining the Marine drive it stretches to about more than a kilometre.

Chowpatty beach is not as big as Juhu beach, but it is more crowded, even more casual.

As a precious breathing space, the Chowpatty seaface is in the middle of a much polluted city, so don’t expect a tropical beach. Even the place is not clean always, a little dirty in that sense. Full of litters thrown away, by the careless visitors throughout the day and in the evening.

girgaum chowpatty skyline Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

The environment is very much Indian with a markedly different setting for a foreign visitor. You won’t find too many foreign visitors here, for obvious reason. Both the urban poor and middle class people find their way to this beach.

There are no sunbeds on the beach and the water is too polluted for a swim or bath. Like French Riviera popular with the offshoot of Indian businessmen and some young Politicians, people don’t find it fit for diving, yachting or even dare to venture out in swimming attires on the beach.

Chowpatty Jayenge…Bhelpuri Khayenge!

There is no place like Chowpatty for relishing Bhelpuri and Mumbai Chaat! Bhel here is unique and legendary.

The Bhel Stalls at Chowpatty were demolished by the BMC in November 2000.

A division bench of the Bombay High Court, comprising Justices A.P. Shah and S. Vajifdar, had in march 2001, upheld the BMC’s decision to relocate the stalls and set up a Committee headed by former High Court Judge S.C. Pratap to follow the progress of the construction and maintenance of the Plaza to house the Bhel Stalls. The Bhel Plaza, which was built in accordance to the Plan submitted by Architect Rahul Mehrotra on behalf of the NGO, Agni, and the BMC , 28 Bhelpuri stalls were relocated near the Birla Krida Kendra walls. It was opened on the eve of Dussera, many years back.

But Bhel and other street food are not limited to the stalls alone, they are everywhere. And it’s Chowpatty , where you get ever ready crunchy Bhel Puri Pani Puri, Sev Puri, Dahi Puri, Pav Bhaji,Ragda Pattices and what not!

What a scene row of Bhelpuri shops hawking Mumbai’s most popular snack: crisp puffed rice and semolina doused in pungent chutneys, all scooped up with a flat, fried Puri. The asli Mumbai taste, heavenly delicious.

kapoor kulfi girgaum beach Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

And if you are not fond of ‘Golas’ or ‘Chuskis’ …of course try Kulfi… Kapoor Kulfi, since1950 as they claim, is still popular in Mumbai and you still get it around Chowpatty.

Chowpatty Memories

Marine drive is upmarket. Too official and hugely commercial. But Chowpatty is Proletariat in nature. Open to every occasion and to all.

I always recollect Chowpatty, associating it with Ganapati Visarjan, the grand yearly occasion .The orderly but big processions with Ganapati idols, sloganeering, songs blaring out of microphones, sounds of drums and cymbals, the euphoric dancing to the tune all this and the melancholic feeling after the Bappa’s immersion, all part of childhood memories.

ganapati visarjan at girgaum chowpatty in mumbai Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

Ramlila with Ravan the demon King going into flames on Dussera day..,by the sea, were also the unique happenings at breezy Chowpatty.

Cars can be parked at a distance near Bhavan’s College or nearby lanes…but for us getting down at Charni Road station and then walking down to Chowpatty was the part of occasional outings.

Beach Football, if you call it so, was popular. There were roadside gymnasts, yoga on the beach, Tel Maalishwalahs ( Johnny Walker types), Bandarwalahs, and Dandagulli (not too many people play it now), flying kites on the Beach….which is a big festival now during Makar Sankranti…

Of course the halcyon days of childish expeditions are over but the Charm of Chowpatty and its adjacent areas still remains,

Specially, the episode is not complete…sans mentioning some legendry eating joints near Chowpatty, which I had discovered in the later years.

Crystal Restaurant near Wilson College, a non-descript, almost run down place which still serves lovely daal,paneer bhurji,rajma, crisp phulkas, and delicious Kheer, at very pocket friendly price. Songs from old Hindi Movies are still played in the background, giving a feeling of nostalgic Bombay.

Soam, is the neat and homely place for Traditional Gujarati and Rajasthani food, in the vicinity of famous Babulnath Temple. If you are fond of typical delicacies like Farsan, Dhokla, Ghungra, Ragda Pattice, Sabudana Khichdi, Moong Dal Khichdi. Dal Bati Churma, Methi Thepla, Masala Bhaat with Kadi and likes…this is the place.

Bachelor’s is not exactly meant for the bachelors alone, also it’s not a full-fledged joint. It’s a kiosk just on the way to Charni Road Station from Chowpatty, Strawberry Cream Icecream is their most popular item. Then there is Classic Chocolate Milkshake and a lot of other kinda right from Almond to Ginger shakes…you get hot and cold coffee of various concoction, and no problem, its open till late at night.

Sukh Sagar, a bit crowded but a real gem. Its Pav Bhaji is too exclusive and buttery. And for the kids you get Pasta to Pizzas, everything . Order their Masala Kulcha or Methi Paratha with wide choice of vegetable dishes, and the Paneer items…this is also a place for choicest sweets…opens till late night and offers takeaway.

sukh sagar girgaum chowpatty Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

sukh sagar snacks chowpatty Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

Sukh Sagar Snacks in 1981

Thackers is another landmark at Chowpatty on the first Floor of Birla Krida Kendra. Go and order their enormous vegetarian Thali, which they claim serving for last fifty years. There are Gujarati Thalis with typical assortment of Chutneys, Damani Dhokla,Surti Kadhi,Turia Patra and choices of Khichdi too.

What The Change Means!

Despite all sort of romanticism, for most of the Mumbaikars, specially for the Mumbai Middle Class, Chowpatty is just a metaphor, often a non-entity! Their life revolves around the suburban trains…on their way to railway stations or in the rail compartments. They have no time for Chowpatty or for the little gems around it.

For them, changing the name of Chowpatty is just another political chore, in which the Mumbai politicians are quite comfortable.

bombay talkies vijay meets vijay Renaming Girgaum Chowpatty

Patriotism is just a big word for the ordinary people… it makes no difference for them whether the train departs from a station named after Queen Victoria or Shivaji Maharaj!

For the majority Mumbaikars, here is the song from the 1956 film C.I.D.: “Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatke, zara bachke yeh hai Bombay meri jaan.” (Oh my heart, it’s too difficult to live here, be cautious and be warned, this is Bombay, my dear). The song consequently became the de facto theme song of the harsh metropolitan life.

So, despite political gesture, for many, the not so clean, crowded Chowpatty will still remain a distant escapade!

By: Deep Basu

Image Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 , 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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