Once a day picnic spot for residents of Mumbai, Chembur has seen its lush green fields, orchards and ponds transform into busy streets, markets and food joints. Until the seventies, it was connected only by the harbour line and just a handful of BEST bus services. The sleepy suburb is now centrally located between Navi Mumbai and Mumbai and well connected to all parts of the city by road, metro and mono-rail.
To someone who has grown up in Chembur, it is saddening to see the quaint cottages and houses, being replaced by the high rises. Development comes at a price.
I can still remember the time when we spent our holidays playing in the compounds or gardens of these houses. Never mind which friend or neighbour it was. Children were always welcome. We would create our usual ruckus mixed with a fair share of broken windows. But not once were we asked to stop playing. Some damages did bring us temporary grief and we were barred from a particular compound or garden for a day or two. But once the anger had melted or been driven away by the spouse of the angry one, it was business as usual.
One of the vivid memories that I retain are those days of December 1971 with the air raid sirens and blackouts. I can still recollect the times, usually late evenings, when we would rush to the ground floor of our building when the air raid warning sounded. Many a time, this was followed by the distant sound of ack-ack guns and their tracer shells flying overhead. It seemed that the gunners were madly firing away at approaching enemy planes. We would wait nervously for falling bombs and explosions, but not once did that happen. Then the all clear siren would bring much relief and we would return to our homes to finish that interrupted dinner or studying.
Those were the days of childhood in Chembur, when television was new and mobile phones were unknown, when our days were spent with friends in some rough and tumble games, exploring different corners of Chembur, enjoying the freedom of wide spaces and light traffic. We particularly enjoyed playing cricket on the roads when ‘Bombay Bandhs’ were declared, with not a singe vehicle to disturb our cricket ‘pitch’. Even the occasional passing police van or jeep would pause to watch the bowler complete his delivery or the batsmen to finish their running between the wickets.
The memories of the old Chembur are innumerable and as I write this I remember more and more. But I leave that for another time.