Chawls are a quintessentially Mumbai phenomenon, whose rise is inseparably linked to the rise of the textile mills. The textile mills were the next big industrial step that Mumbai took after the spurt in cotton trading and the shifting of the ports. The mills flourished in the mid-19th century and the people who worked there were labourers mainly from the Konkan coast and ghats. Often one of the workers is sent back to the villages to recruit more people. These workers are known as ‘jobbers’ and they usually get back people who are from the same family or same village or caste.
Once in Mumbai, they live together. Some chawls are built by the government called the Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) chawls and the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) chawls. The mill owners built other chawls to lure people to come and work for them, or by private landlords. Many private landlords who built chawls are Muslims, as according to their religion they couldn’t collect interest from money. So this is a way of investing the money. Originally, the migrants come alone to work and leave their families in the villages. So often the rooms are occupied by a different set of workers at different times of the day.
When one shift end, one set of people come to the rooms while the other set of people went to work. When the workers brought their families, the entire family and often more than one family stayed one room. Chawls had mushroomed in the 30s to the 70s all over Mumbai. Mumbai was once the textile capital of India even being named Manchester of the East. Cloth mills dominated the skyline of Mumbai till the 90s. It was during these times that people from rural Maharahstra migrated to Mumbai in search of a better jobs and prospect. Landlords cashed on this new influx and built low cost housing called chawls.
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The idea was to get as many people in one building so as to increase the amount of rent. It was quantity not quality that was important. Ambience The chawls have fair amount of wood in their structure, the dark stairs made the distinct wooden sound while walking. Common toilets dominated each floor. Leaking pipes and stagnant water gave the dingy chawl a distinct smell of its own. The dark corridors and the low sunlight was so typical of a chawl. The Chawl building have a total of 80 houses and two wings so it was 40 houses on each side.
Instead of calling each wing as ‘A’ and ‘B’, they call them Magchi (back side in Marathi) and Phudchi (front side in Marathi) side. The funny thing is that the people living in the other wing would call them magchi side and the people living in the other wing would call them “magchi” side. each house sharing a common long balcony. The common balcony would give the 4 houses a sense on one-ness. It was like a big joint family. Each house obviously has a door and this door is open in the morning and remains open till they all go to sleep. They play, they talk, they study, they fight, they do everything in that long balcony.
You don’t even have to go and knock on your neighbor door. He is there standing in that balcony. Balcony has a big importance in the life of chawl. It is what a village square was in the old days. This is what the katta is in modern Mumbai. Consider that almost 6-16 families live on a floor. Considering each family has an average of 4 members, the number of people residing on a floor is 24 to 64. The balcony serves as a meeting ground for all these people. The housewives gather in the balcony after their house chores discussing gossips about the girl next door to their children’s annual result to everything in general.
The men discuss the latest politics to the irresponsibility of the youths today to the latest in cricket. The children meanwhile played in the balcony. The balcony is a common meeting ground for all families on that floor. Its like a drawing room for members of a big joint family. When there is a long power cuts, they would sit outside waiting for electricity to come back and battling mosquitoes at the same time. Groups would be formed in different part of the balcony and people would just talk. As there is nothing to do, talking was the best option available unless its really late into the night.
Especially during full moon nights, the soft moon light would shine in the balcony throwing a dim light on the occupants. It is at this time, ghost stories are discussed with relish and age is not a factor. The children and the women would always discuss more ghost then the men. Imagine when everything is dark around you that you cannot even see the face of the person sitting next to you, its sheer fun to listen to the ‘true’ scary incident that happened to the friend’s friend’s uncle’s boss’s son’s friend.
When your hair stands up after listening to the story, nobody even notices it in the darkness. The balcony is also used for drying all kind of pulses, clothes, spices and every other thing that can be dried. During the afternoon, it becomes a task to dodge your way through drying clothes, spices and pulses. The size of an average balcony is 4 - 7 feet wide and very long in the range of 50-100 feet. On this long stretch of land they play everything from cricket to playing cards to even playing hockey with cricket bats. The balcony was multipurpose serving as a playground to meeting place to katta.
After finishing food, they would come out and look in all direction trying to find out friends who have finished their dinner and lunch. Then they would start talking and the topics could range from everything under the sun right from politics to cricket to non-existent girlfriend to sex. There are never any boundaries about the topic of discussion The balcony is a mini-katta in a chawl. It serves as a playing ground, a discussion room, a drying place, a community hall and sometimes even as a bedroom. The balcony is the first common ground for the big family they call a chawl. ------------------------------------------------ Not getting what to name this topic as. plz ben name it. | Mumbai’s chawls have not only portrayed the deluge of human emotions, but have also laid the foundation for Samaritans in this cross cultural city. These dense dwellings have seen bonhomie at its best like residents sharing meals and neighbours becoming extended families. This is the only place of abode, where they not only share spaces, but also hearts. From Worli to Girgaum, and from Nana Chowk to Cuffe Parade, these dwellings of human bonding and mayhem have dotted the city for years.
Chawls have indeed been an essential part of South Mumbai and have added character to its very being, and some of them have even been classified as heritage structures. A day in a chawl Enter any chawl and the scene would more or less be the same — a handful of children indulging in a game of hide-and-seek, running in and out of each other’s homes with gay abandon; groups of women clustering together exchanging juicy bits of gossip about the latest chawl scandal; a few people standing listlessly just watching the goings-on. All so typically chawlish. Perfection in imperfection, in a way.
In the city where the cases of anomie and depression are rising, chawl culture is a huge relief for senior citizens and children. For instance, 63-year-old Sucheta Kelekar, a resident of Dadar, has stayed in her current room all her life and cannot imagine herself living anywhere else. “Our family moved here in the 1950s, after partition. We’ve always lived in harmony with our neighbours, who are like a family to us. ” said she. The flipside With the increase of several high rises in the city, many of these chawls have been demolished and consequently all its residents have moved out into the suburbs to live in individual apartments.
Obviously this has led to the dying out of much of the culture and bonding that chawls usually facilitated. “Yes, living in an individual apartment becomes pretty lonely after you have lived in a chawl your whole life”, says Salil Shirodkar, who moved from a clustered chawl in Worli to a 1-BHK in Dadar. “Times have changed though. Earlier it was all about living in one big community where everyone knows what’s happening in their adjacent homes. We’d share everything, from recipes, to toys, to our problems. The present generation doesn’t care about old ties.
As soon as they can afford it, they prefer to move into our own flats where they can live in comfort,” Bachelors “spoil” the party Within the chawls, the genre of inflowing residents is changing from ‘family of four’ to ‘single bed space for bachelors’. “It is really quite annoying! ” exclaims Varsha Patel of Dadar. “Most residents have moved into the suburbs and rented out their rooms to bachelors who come at odd hours and drink and smoke. They have no interest in mingling with anyone and play loud music till late hours.
Chawls used to be all about family bonding but sadly that has now been taken over by individuals who treat their homes like guest houses. ” Further echoing this thought is Naveen Mehta of Dadar her neighbour, who summarises the situation aptly: “Chawls used to be a blend of many communities. Families of Marwaris, Maharashtrians, and Gujaratis would all co-exist in satisfaction. Everyone was “Santusht”. Now the focus is on the individual. . Chawl Vs. Flat Five-year-old Neeraj is bored. He pretends to watch TV, jumps on the bed and talks to his pillow.
His mother, Edna Nair, understands, but keeps the door closed on purpose. It is a rehearsal. She is preparing her son for their new neighbours. "What if they complain about him making a noise," she says. For the past one year, ever since the Nairs shifted from their 100-square-foot chawl room into a 225-square-foot flat, little Neeraj has learnt to entertain himself at home. His tutelage began from their days in the transit camp two years ago, when the Nairs watched their two-floor decrepit chawl in south Mumbai transform into a nine-storey giant.
It was a difficult transition, but it was also called 'the good life'. Their new apartment has assured them all the things they lacked attached bathroom, separate kitchen, privacy and respect. And a loft that is now filled with utensils instead of people. They have even bought a refrigerator. But Edna is already feeling suffocated. She misses evening chats with other women in the common balcony and worries about expenses. Before they moved in, her sister, who lives in a small flat in Andheri, had warned her about huge maintenance bills and other costs that come with the "flat system".
Edna knew that once the building was fully ready and they moved in, her 72-rupee monthly chawl rent would soon be history. "Why should we show that we are rich when we aren't? " asks Edna wondering if it was a good decision to move into a flat. But her mother, Teresa, is happy. For someone who spent 38 years in the chawls delivering milk packets, Teresa didn't want the same life for her grandson. "I want him to study English in a good school," she says and the apartment, she believes, takes him a step closer to the kind of life he should lead in the future.
It's the case with almost all the families who are giving up their old dwellings in chawls and slums to builders who assure them fantastic lifestyle leaps. While the change from their routine to something that they have only seen on TV seems daunting, there is a strong urge among these people to improve their lives. They yield to the builders and watch their old homes being demolished because they don't want their children to suffer. Housewife Suguna Shetty, who would earlier divert all guests to her brother-in-law's flat in Parel to save herself from the embarrassment of exposing her chawl, is now proud of her new residence.
The lift in her building doesn't work most of the time, but Shetty who stays on the ninth floor takes heart in the fact that her TV, which used to be on a trunk earlier, now rests in a showcase. Her daughter Deeksha too, likes it here. "I can ask friends to come over. " Deeksha knows of kids who, while returning from school would actually walk a few steps ahead of their chawls so that their friends would not know where they lived, wave goodbye and then return to the real homes. BMC employee Ravikant Baokar was one of them. "Nobody likes to say they live in a chawl.
If you say you stay in a building, you are automatically respected no matter how small your flat is," he says. This respect comes in handy while finding alliances. Recently, when an engineering student from Baokar's chawl told his prospect's family that he would soon be shifting into a flat, the girl, it seems, immediately agreed for marriage. For slum-dwellers, the shift inspires a desire to look after themselves. LIC agent Raju Gaddam, a resident of Indira Nagar slum, who shifted to a flat two years ago says his language and attire have undergone major changes. I even painted my scooter, when I came here. " His apartment, which he proudly describes as "east-west" facing, gave him the confidence to buy a refrigerator. "I wouldn't have bought it in my slum, because I didn't know when my house would be broken down. " Not everybody is happy though. Some find the flat culture very impersonal. They miss the joys of hanging out with their shirtless friends in the compound or borrowing chairs without permission from neighbours anymore. Pandal decorator Rakesh Gautam, whose assistants used to sleep in his house, now has to find a new room for them, due to society rules.
Earlier, during festivals or weddings, he would volunteer to decorate mandaps for free. Though he would like to continue the charity, Gautam says, "I won't be able to use the compound for my decorations anymore. " On his assignments, Gautam has come across other chawl members who shifted a few years earlier. "They would live in the building in pretty much the same way as in the chawl, until new tenants came in," he says, laughing. Some would put their cupboards in the stair landing. Kids would brush their teeth in the elevator.
The liftman wouldn't complain. "But when the society was formed, and new tenants came in, things changed," says Gautam. By now, builders know they are luring people who like to carry their world along, wherever they go. Sudhir Das, secretary of a building full of rehabilitated slum-dwellers, recalls his intensive cleanliness drive. "Initially, people would spit on the staircase or hang their clothes in the passage," he says. They would even keep their doors open. But that changed when there was a robbery. Now, almost all doors are shut.
The transition from chawls to flats, unexpectedly, has caused ailments too. Lakshmi Sonar says, "I have severe back pains and have even grown fat here, as I am confined to these walls. " Also, she doesn't know how to react to sweepers or postmen who ring her doorbell asking for Diwali bonus. "I hardly get any letters, why should I pay him. " Sunny Wadhawan, director of HDIL (Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd. ) which profits from slum rehabilitation, has built his glassy office building on what used to be the Indira Nagar slum in Bandra.
Every day, Sunny who has a guard following him everywhere, faces many complaints from irate slum-dwellers, who are like his "adopted children". They sometimes come with complaints of water supply and Sunny calmly passes the task to civic bodies. Yet, it's not surprising why poor people want to trust a builder and allow a lucky draw to decide their new notional homes. Though they loved the natural rustic warmth of their chawls and slums, they know that Mumbai and the times have changed. They know that the warmth of the chawls is the warmth of failure.
And they also feel, in the present day boom, their children have the opportunity to escape from the poverty that each of their forefathers suffered. If moving into a flat can make an LIC agent paint his scooter, it can also make children believe they have a brighter future. Raju Gaddam, who studied in night school, now sends his three kids to New English school in Bandra. The products of the school, he believes, are now earning Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh a month. He has just one complaint with the flat culture. "The passage is too narrow. But then as an afterthought, he adds, "It's definitely better than a gutter. " Festivals Festivals are the life of the people in chawls. They cannot imagine their life without celebrating anything in their special chawl ways. They regardless of caste, region, religions, sex, creed, age participate in some or the other way. Everyone works single mindedly for the celebrations from preparing the feast to decorations. Everyone contributes in every possible way. Festivals were the most enjoyable period. First festival of the year is Makarsankranti Makarsankranti i. e.
Kite flying on 14 Jan. They gather on terraces and it is fun filled day, they give “Tilgud” going to eachothers house wishing everyone “Tilgud Ghya God God Bola”( eat sweet and talk sweet). Holi Holi the favourite festival of many is celebrated with a great enthusiasm and zeel. Even after facing scarcity of water throughout the year but in Holi they use water without any hesitation for playing Holi. Even the Government supports them by supplying extra liters of water for them to take bath in the afternoon. Gopal Kala (Dahi Handi) Monsoon session would start with Govinda.
They have Handi which is broken with 3-4 Thars (human floors) This is usually local affair but Govindas from various Mandals also go places to parcipate in the competition for breaking the Handis at different places. Ganesh Utsav Ganpati festival the most lovable and appreciable festival of all is Pride of Place. It is not only a festival but also a source of fulfillment and worshipping where people of different religion come together. This festival is not only celebrated in the maharashtrian homes but by people of every religion with the same intensity and Faith in Lord Ganesha.
These Chawls have Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav Festival and most Marathi homes have Ganpati for 1-7 days and majority of them have Gauri as well. It is 10 days of fun, music, orchestra, competitions,3 act Drama etc culminating in the Grand Visarjan which starts with the grand visarjan pooja and end with immersion of the Ganesh Idols at Chawpathy or beaches till next day morning, the most difficult part to move and immerse the huge idol requires a great effort and to take it for immersion in deep sea, in darkness with full tide was scary as well.
This is difficult also because the emotional trauma they go through while returning home empty handed. In subsequent years focus has moved to huge idols of Ganesh and for them there is nothing to do as cultural programme degenerated to 16 mm movie shows and an evening of orchestra. Navratri Navratri is celebrated by Gujarati residents with Garba and Dandia which is also accompanied by the other members of their Chawl family. They have Dholi and Shehnai and Dandia Ras is more like "Dholi Tharo... n Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam than what we see these days at Falguni Pathak's show. Diwali Diwali was less noisy-most couldn't afford bursting crackers-and emphasis was on making Kandils usually similar Kandils for entire chawl which gave beautiful look to entire lane and one big Kandil at the enterance of the Chawl. Making sweets, diyas, beautiful Rangolis is a special feature of Diwali. In fact they have Rangoli competition. Entire night is spent in creating Rangoli, some with nationalist or Shivaji themes, others with intricate designs and few with nature as theme.
Christmas Christmas and New year were not celebrated as they didn't have Christian families living in the chawls but even then there is a changing trend now a days. YOUTH CULTURE: According to a youngster, who we spoke to, there are many get-togethers taking place in a chawl, as people tend to celebrate their festivals together and also are a part of each other’s sorrows. When we asked him about the places where they usually meet, he told us about what is called the Saarvajanik Vruttpatra Vachanalaya, which also could be called a Public Newspaper Centre.
It was rather surprising for us to hear that youngsters choose a place like a newspaper centre to hang out, but what he added on was that, as the place was at the centre o the colony, and also there was no cost factor involved, it was convenient for the youngsters to meet up in the evenings. We also visited the newspaper centre and sat there for sometime. We saw that there were many newspapers there, but they were either Marathi or Hindi newspapers. This clearly showed that the people staying in the chawls were educated, but in Hindi or Marathi medium schools.
And also, what we gathered out of all that is that the majority of the people staying in the chawls are Maharashtrians, and obviously there are people from other castes, but not in huge numbers. We also found out about the small-scale tuition classes, which mainly have students from kindergarten to SSC. These classes have a big market in these chawls, as the parents there are usually working, and they can’t manage the studies of their children. We also spoke to certain friends who stay in chawls. We asked them a few questions regarding the social evils like drugs, prostitution and also incidents where several crimes are committed on women.
They gave us a general idea on things, saying that drugs was not an issue in the chawl as the people there don’t have the kind of time, and more importantly the money to get addicted to drugs. But, it seems that heavy-weight laborers usually drink liquor after they come back from work, and it’s very normal for them to consume alcohol as it lightens their mood, and also relieves them from the stress. Tenement were small so there was no space for residents. You use home to bath,eat food and sleep. Rest of the time you have to be out of the house. So groups were formed according to age and each group had its meeting place.
During holidays and vacation half the day was spent in company of friends. With plenty of time on hands you indulge in games-cricket being favorite,but we played Kabbadi,lagori and Marbles. Carrom was very popular,and Table Tennis on small wooden bench. There was no TV, so Radio Ceylon with Binaca Geetmala was hot favorite. We had timeon hand, so could take part in Election campaigns. I remember election meetings of George Fernandes for Lok Sabha. He defeated S. K. Patil of Congress and virtually put an end to Patil's political career in Mumbai. For decades Fernandes was called 'George the Giant Killer'.
In seventy Marathi youth was attracted to Shiv Sena with its 'Son of soil' ideology. There was constant conflict between socialists and Shiv Sena. Most of us couldn't pursue studies after SSC due to financial constrains. Even passing SSC was tough as at home there was no space to study. We used to go to GMC Gymkhana bldg. on Marine Drive to study. Terrace was another good place. Most got job as clerk in BMC or in Govt. offices. Gujrati boys completed their college education and took jobs in Banks or offices. With hard work and diligence they progressed but couldn't reach very high posts.
Very few could break through the Middle class bracket. Caste Systems Residents of the chawls are predominantly Gujarati and Marwadi,rest are inhabited by Maharastrians. Few of the floor rooms are dorms for those who had come to Mumbai for work leaving their families in village. They work as Mathadi workers and others from Konkan area work as plumbers,painters,peons in small offices. Chawls have Chambhar(Mochi),Bhandari,Khatri,Kasar,Sonar,Brahmins, Desais and Low caste Patels from South Gujarat. There is no caste discrimination. Everyone takes part in Festivals. Even the person who has shoe shop, is in charge of Sarvajanic Ganesh festival .
Any Child is not being asked not to play or not to mix with low caste people. Chawl people are aware of the caste but it has no place in their day to day life. This has given Mumbai its unique character. Standard of living: People living in the chawls are mainly from the lower-middle class. They are the ones who actually live lives on meager standards. Normally we do find people living in the societies which consist of the upper middle class and high class having a high standard of living. They enjoy all the luxuries in life. But this is not the case of the people living in the chawls.
Most of the times, they are deprived of the luxuries and rather live life the common man’s way. They rarely go to restaurants to have their meals. According to the survey conducted by us we got to know that the residents of the chawls go to the restaurant just once in two months which is very obvious for them because they cannot afford such kind of expenses. According to the survey, what we found out was that they are people who lead a simple life without any fuss and make the most of whatever they have. Every expense they incur is well planned and thought about. They represent the working class of India.
The room is mainly a one room kitchen with a toilet attached as provided by MHADA. We spoke to a youngster who resided in the Nehru Nagar Chawl area which is located near Kurla station. Age Group Wise Activities: When we visited the chawls we decided to categorize the residents living there according to their age group and their activities. 1} Education Class: As the name suggests this class mainly consists of the ones who are still in academics. They are the ones who go to schools and colleges to complete their studies. We may be in an impression that people residing in chawls do not study. But it’s a misconception that we have got.
They do work hard and put their hearts out to become prosperous being in the future. But they do have setbacks. Once they sight failure they get distracted from their studies and think money as their only motive. Thus they take up small tasks which yield them money. Thus when studies take a set back they tend to do jobs and that then become a part of their life. 2} Working Class: This class mainly consists of the ones between the age group 30-40. They are the working members of the family. They are the ones who strive hard and earn a living. People living in the chawls do not consider any work small or big.
May it be any job; they take it up whole-heartedly and do their work with sincerity. It is their daily bread and butter and hence they do it with dedication. People in the chawls mainly work in small posts. Some of them are agents, private officers, clerks and some of them take up financing and also work in small marketing agencies. Many of them are local garage mechanics who toil the whole day for eating 3 times in a day. They also learn driving and take up driving as their job. The chawl areas do have a lot of drivers. Drivers earn around 4000-5000 every month and carry on their house hold expenses.
Many of them get government jobs through influence. For e. g. If a person is already working as a government official, he may use his influence and get a job for his friend. This itself proves the unity within the chawl community. They also do take up small jobs like A/c Mechanic, small electronic goods mechanic etc… 3} Retired and the elderly class: This class consists of the elderly people who have retired from their jobs and have taken a long leave from work. But it is not relief from work for these elderly people. They do get small responsibilities in the house.
They do go out to fetch their grand children from schools and kinder gardens. They take care of the small ones if their parents are busy out at work. They look after them the whole day and sometimes also get sleepless nights. But they do enjoy it sometimes but at the same time tends to get very tedious at this very old age. There are some people in this class who have sold their houses and gone to their respective villages to look after their farms. They look after their farms and also sometimes work on it. Thus the elderly and retired people do get to enjoy their long vacation from work but at the same time also work.
Thus even at this very old age they have the will power to work and earn a decent sum for the family. Even at this age they prove to be responsible and also help the family in any possible manner. Media and chawls… Still to b added…more Katha Centre for Film Studies is back at the Alliance Francaise, Churchgate with a week long program of Film Screenings from Friday, 12th of January to Thursday, 18th of January 2007. After a very successful Inaugural Festival in June 2006, they again bring an eclectic choice of films from the world of cinema specially curate by individuals for whom cinema is a way of life!
This festival is in collaboration with the National Film Archives of India, Pane and NFDC. On the 12th and 13th of January, 2007, the Festival began with two days of Indian films dedicated to the theme of Mumbai’s Chawls. Amrit Gangar(a film scholar, writer, curator) had specially put together a package of five feature films, a short film and a compilation on representation of Bombay in films tilted: "'CHALCHITRA: CHAWLCHITRA’-:Popular Hindi Cinema and Mumbai's Chawl. " He led an intensive session of discussions and debates on the polemics and politics of space in urban context.
They ended the Festival with film enthusiast and cinema buff, Kiran David’s exciting selection which is packed with films from Japanese cinema. Unity In Diversity A Nana Chowk-resident Ranjana Sherlekar said, “They are so used to being with each other all the time that it’s become a habit. Just the other day, he slipped on a wet floor while cleaning my kitchen and no one was at home. All he had to scream was ‘help’ and at least ten people came running to his rescue. They’re really like a one big extended family! ” she quips.
The atmosphere, though filled with camaraderie, may appear a tad stifling to one who has lived in an individual apartment, but it is part of life for chawl residents. For them, living together is their strength Conclusion Change is inevitable “Change is inevitable, and even the most stable structure cannot avoid that. Chawls have been a victim of changing times: though the occasional bond still remains, its bedrock — which comprised the people who lived there — have all left. They have been replaced by individuals, who have no interest in keeping the community alive,”
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