Time and time again I will be looked at in amusement or disgust (at being supposedly high brow) when I use the old -world pronunciation of Mazgaon, which is actually Maz-gone. I will halfheartedly chuckle and in response say, “It’s not a village”.
And yet, Mazgaon, a sleepy hamlet of sorts, is at one end of the city. There’s not much to do here. You can count the fine-dining restaurants on the fingers of one hand. Make a fist, that should give you an idea of how life is. But I will always love Mazgaon. It’s a place where every day is inevitably a pleasant, cloud-counting type of day. Living there is not unlike the television show Cheers, where “everybody knows your name.” My fondest memories are of summer evenings where, after hours of childhood fun in Rosary church or the Mazgon Docks’ colony, we’d all make our way to Mazgaon circle, the nucleus of my locality. Its fountain and bright lights unfortunately come on only for special occasions like public holidays. Here, we would head straight to the stretch of street food carts for some deliciously unhealthy paani puri and roadside masala sandwiches to which I credit my immunity of steel. In order to avoid skipping dinner, we’d aid the digestion of our wolfed -down snacks with a stroll through Mathar Pakhadi Village. Originally a settlement of East Indians, it’s predominantly occupied by Catholics of all sects now, although they’re packing up and moving elsewhere too. What used to be a tight community is slowly but steadily catching on to the indifferent state of mind the rest of Mumbai lives in. The evening prayers and gatherings held earlier are now a very rare occurrence. But our walks through the wonderfully quaint and cramped by-lanes have instilled in me a love for wooden balconies, Portuguese architecture and low-rise buildings. Additionally, every corner brought on aromas of Goan sausage, vindaloo or fish curry wafting through kitchens from houses with picket fences that are now on the wane. Once in a while, you’d even hear frustrated attempts at playing the piano, violin or other favourite Catholic instruments.
On particularly adventurous days, a trip was made to the recently revamped Joseph Baptista Gardens, better known as Mazgaon Hill. It’s one of the few open spaces in the city that’s well-maintained and thriving with greenery which, not surprisingly, is very conducive to courting. When it’s not favourable for afternoon delight sessions, it’s a wonderful place for the community to have club meetings, jog and walk. Mazgaon also stretches to include ferry wharf whose popularity is now on the decline. Once popular for its junk food vendors, the wharf is now nothing more than a barely functional port with ferry services to Uran, Alibaug, Rewas and Mandwa.
Then there are all those schools that cause some excruciating traffic jams in the evenings. Of course, the frontman of Queen – one of the greatest bands of all time – Freddie Mercury went to school at St Mary’s (after his stint at St Peter’s in Panchgani), giving it a celebrity status that we haven’t quite got over yet. Sometimes I wish there would be something more to do around here, more restaurants, anything at all to relieve the ennui that settles in. But then that would take the charm away from my lovely ’hood and I wouldn’t really want that.
Joseph Baptista Gardens
Named after the Indian freedom activist who was the former Bombay mayor in 1925, the gardens are locally known as the Mazgaon Hill. It’s a huge open space situated on top of a water reservoir. Some mornings, a vendor will sell joggers and walkers a murky liquid claiming it to be healthy vegetable juice. I personally, haven’t tried it yet. But to give the man some credit, there hasn’t been a casualty yet. In the same vein, there’s no dearth of junk food one can buy at the foot of the hill, outside the premises .
Gupta Kulfi Ice Cream Centre
The 50-year-old shop has been serving happiness to the neighbourhood one creamy bite at a time. With prices that ought to belong to an erstwhile era, the owners believe in customer satisfaction before profit margins. There’s no better place to get your sweet cravings satisfied in Mazgaon. A must-try are the seasonal fruit kulfi.
Mathar Pakadi Village
It’s like a mini Bandra here with charming cottages and tiny bylanes. Houses with verandahs, picket fences and large balconies beckon. But of course, that would be breaking and entering, so we admire from a distance. The village is in the process of a disappearing act, because what should be a heritage site is on the verge of being pushed for redevelopment. In fact, several properties are under dispute. But it’s still nice to walk by and smile at old uncles and aunties relaxing in their balconies. It’s particularly pretty during Christmas with bright lights and carols ringing out from open windows.
A food boulevard that can’t compete with any khau galli, but nevertheless it’s certainly food heaven for us Mazgone folks. Situated in Mazgaon TT, it houses veterans of the trade: vendors selling pav bhaji, paani puri, sandwhiches. But ever so often a few others will sprout, offering something more interesting. Barbecued rolls, Chinese bhel and whatnot have come and gone, but patrons remain loyal to those who’ve stood the test of time.
By Deborah Cornelious on September 28 2012