The palaces, the rich and those wishing to be near those in power thronged Malabar Hills in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but there were also those who thought of the housing needs of the middle-class. For them they built ‘little townships’ at the foothills.
An American who moved to England after the American Civil War showed the way. George Peabody was a social visionary, who set up a fund for public education and social housing, with multiple affordable homes in self-sufficient developments.
Khan Bahadur Mucherji Cowasji Murzban (1839 – 1917)
He was a very skilled Parsi engineer and architect who worked with the Bombay Public Works Department (PWD) from 1857 to 1893. His skills were greatly appreciated and he became the President of the PWD and the Executive Engineer of the Municipal Corporation of Bombay. He was responsible for supervising construction in association with the English architects who gave the city all the ornate Victorian heritage structures. He supervised construction of the General Post Office & the Elphinstone College.
He travelled through Europe and dreamt of giving good quality housing to members of his community. His was the dream to build like Peabody, and for this he approached Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney, who was not inclined to fund only for Parsees, but offered to construct if the Parsi Punchayat would grant suitable land. After much deliberation & legal negotiations this was made possible. Today the colony stands on lands donated by Khurshedji Cowasji Banaji to the Punchayat Dharamshallas and some from the Doongerwadi property.
Thus was born the first ‘Parsi Baug’ in 1912. It has today 37 buildings with 337 flats, its own Fire Temple for worship, and the Alpaiwalla Museum built in the 1950’s. The Museum showcases artifacts and material from archaeological digs in Iran. It has now been restored to the best modern standards of world museums.
Javaji Dadaji Road (next to Bhatia Hospital)
5th April 1941 saw the establishment of the first cooperative housing society development at the foot of Cumballa Hill, near Grant Road station on the road from Nana Chowk to Haji Ali. This was for one community, the Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins (CSB). A community traces its routes to the now extinct Saraswati River in Kashmir.
The Saraswats are mentioned in the Vedas as living along this valley and supposed to have migrated southwards in the 1800s. They settled along the Konkan coast in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka.
As Bombay, now Mumbai grew, they too followed in search of ‘better prospects’, but not being wealthy traders or merchants, they had to provide community affordable housing for their own. Thus was borne the idea of a ‘universe in itself’.
In 1906 Rao Bahudur Shripad Subarao Talmaki had set up the The Shamrao Vithal Co-operative Bank Ltd. He was an entrepreneur with the vision to assist with affordable housing for his own community. He financed the project and the colony is thus named in his memory – ‘Talmakiwadi’. Dubashwadi land measuring 7,175 sq. mts. and also the 150 years old adjacent chawl was purchased for a sum of Rs. 2,32,000/-. Construction of this planned township on free-hold land, to promote ‘a sense of community’ began.
The Society comprises of 15 buildings with 275 flats. It has a health centre, garden, school, temple, library, gymnasium and a community hall. Each flat has a balcony facing another and all flats have interconnecting doors to enable joint usage for family functions. A true sense of family – today totally missing in this metropolis! Fortunately, the community and the Society welcome members other than their own kind. Several tenements have changed hands. All belong to the community of ‘Talmakiwadi’ and participated with great gusto in 75 years celebrations in April this year.