Reminiscences from a child of Migrants

Reminiscences from a child of Migrants

Having lived abroad for 38 long years, it was time to return home to
spend our Silver Years. It was a no brainer that Chembur would be our
final destination, the place where I was born and the sanctuary where I
spent my childhood and better part of my youth. The pandemic and the
subsequent lockdown played spoilsport for more than two years and
we were hedged in the house for most part of this period.
Enough is enough I told myself one day and set out with the camera in
hand to explore the place of my birth and the neighbourhood during
my childhood. As I entered the road to the RCF Township just before
the Club House of BPGC (Bombay Presidency Golf Club) and took the
right turn I shouted to myself Eureka, I’ve found the barrack where I
was born! ( Picture 1) Yes it was still there, though it had changed to a
double storey structure and was now a commercial place. The iron
sheets though were still visible and prominent. My memories went
back to the stories that I had heard from my parents and uncles about
how they landed here in Chembur. The ship with a capacity of 300 but
carrying a load of 4000 displaced people set sail from Karachi on 18 th
September 1947 and anchored at Mumbai port three days later. Never
in their wildest dream had the Sindhis, Multanis, Derewals and people
from Jhung ( all these are places near Karachi) who were forced out of
their homes thought that they would not return to their homes in a
couple of months. In fact many of them had left the home keys with the
neighbours to mind their homes during the short stay in Bombay. Alas it
was not to be and they were in Bombay for good.
We are originally from a place called Multan, a border state between
Sindh and Punjab in West Pakistan and most of the men folks found

employment in Karachi which was then a flourishing and a vibrant
commercial city. My father was a matriculate and was working with
BOAC ( British Overseas Airways Corporation) now known as British
Airways as a steno. He told us how he had the temerity to ask his British
boss if he could get a transfer to the Mumbai office of the company. He
was told that the company had not asked the employees to leave and
since they were leaving on their own volition there cannot be a
transfer. My parents and my eldest sister who was about a few months
old joined the 4000 refugees, homeless and penniless to a whole new
world of uncertainty. They were met at the Bombay port by volunteers
of Multan Seva Samiti and taken to a dharamshala at Kalbadevi. They
were lodged there for a few weeks and were disbursed to the camps in
Chembur, Kurla, Borivli, Kalyan and a few other places.
Our family found refuge in military barracks located opposite the Golf
Course. Each barrack had six units and had shackles as toilet and
washroom. The walls in the barracks were half way from the ceiling and
one could see and hear what transpired in the neighbour’s home. The
first task of the new residents was to cover the empty space with jute
bags that were painted white so that there was a semblance of privacy.
The water came from a well nearby and the cooking was done in the
tandoors outside the barrack. There were of course the good
Samaritans, the Gurudwaras that provided food to the needy.
The area from Jhama to the golf course was called Chembur Camp and
shops were set up on both sides of the road by the migrants. The
Sindhis being the entrepreneurial breed began to find jobs even as far
as the Crawford Market and the Mulji Market to get a foothold. Those
who were not so literate found work in the three studios, RK, Asha and
Basant that were not far from the camp as extras. For some it was a

career and some rose to become character actors. I remember clearly
the two shootings that I was part of, one was Tare Zameen Ke that had
Honey Irani and Daisy Irani as the child artists and the other was Waqt
in the famous song sequence of Aye Meri Zohra Zameen.
To supplement the income of the parents some of the young boys
would do the job of an Aagewala( now called the ball spotter) or a Carry
( now known as the Caddy) and earn some pocket money. I still
remember fixing the tricolour paper flags on the pockets of the Angrez (
gora) on the 15 th August and 26 th January outside the golf course and
get some money. The educated ones like my father got jobs in private
offices, railways and government mostly as clerks, thanks largely to the
Government policies during the Nehru Era and emphasis on
industrialisation.
Most children were born in the barracks including me and one more
sister and the average birth rate was 4 to a family. Most children went
to Balkanji Bari, a school run by the Sindhis and located opposite
Jhama (picture 2) for the preschool. For the higher classes The Hindi
High School Ghatkoper was the popular choice as it offered fee
remission to the refugee children. The Municipal school to the left of
the Golf Course was another choice since it was free. A few children
went to the DAV school in Matunga, including a few from our family. As
people got settled and had some income, the younger children also got
admission to St. Anthony and OLPS. I joined OLPS in 1957 in the first
standard and this was the first batch of students in Class I. St Anthony
was a coed school and after 1957 the boys were transferred to OLPS
which is an all boys school. In fact we were four children and all four
went to four different schools, DAV Matunga, Hindi High School
Ghatkoper, OLPS and Swami Vivekanand, perhaps reflecting the

economic status and maybe I dare say in my case gender
discrimination.
After the settling in process from 1947 and 1951, the government
appointed a Claims Commissioner to look into the homes and
properties left behind by the migrants and decide on the claims in kind.
The area was divided into three wards A – Behind Jhama, B behind Wig
refreshment and C – direct opposite the Golf Club. A total of 34
buildings were constructed by the Government. Each building had three
floors and each floor had 12 units, i.e. 36 units and each unit was
approximately 18*15 feet. The unit had a room, a living cum bedroom
with the washing area and a kitchenette at the end. There were 6
common baths and 6 common toilets on each floor. I understand that
those who had a claim were given this unit free and others had to pay
Rs 4500. The buildings looked like the one in picture 3. Our building was
number 29 which is now under redevelopment. ( See picture 4) and is
bang opposite the Golf Course ( Picture 5). The buildings were
completed in 1956/57
“Woh Kagaz ki Kashti woh barish ka pani “ the famous Jagjit song sums
up the stay in this buildings with lots of bon homie and trivial but joyful
activities. The gilli danda, langri, kho kho, seven tiles, the rolling of the
tyres and not to forget the cricket and volleyball were all the games
that we all enjoyed. We grew up listening to the stories from my
grandfather during the summer nights under the starry nights that we
witnessed from the terrace which was our common bedroom during
the hot months of April and May. I was paid a coin to scratch my
grandpa’s back to make him comfortable from the sores caused by
prickly heat. I vividly remember the innumerable times we would have
to rush from the terrace to our homes with our beddings at the fall of

the first rains through the rickety stairs between the second floor and
the terrace.
This episode is from 1947 and 1957. The information is based on my
research and largely from the interview given by my Uncle to TISS
student and is now archived at the Godrej Library in Vikroli. The sequel
will follow in due course


%d bloggers like this: