This week a political fight broke out over the naming of the perpetually upcoming Navi Mumbai airport. One of the key partners in Maharashtra’s ruling government, Shiv Sena, wants to name it after the party founder Bal Thackeray. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the other hand wants the airport to be named after D.B. Patil. He was a local politician who led farmers’ and landholders’ protests in the 1970’s and 1980’s to get fair compensation from the government when the state was trying to acquire their land.
It’s an apt reflection of the priorities that have engulfed Maharashtra in recent times. For a project that is decades behind schedule and even today has no definitive timeline for completion, the planning for its name has already begun. Yet it had me thinking of the streets in Mumbai that were named after interesting personalities. Sure, there is a street named after Mahatma Gandhi but there are many others that deserve a mention. In the first of a three-part series, I try to bring out the characters behind Mumbai’s streets.
BG Kher Road, Malabar Hill: Balasaheb Gangadher Kher was the Prime Minister (as it was called) of the Bombay Presidency in 1937. Two years later – that government would resign and the province would come under Governor’s rule. Due to the Second World War, it remained that way. In 1946 – the elections were won by Congress and Kher would once again be in charge. He would remain in office till 1952. Today the man is remembered by two landmarks – 1) One of the most expensive streets in Mumbai at the tony Malabar Hill is named after Kher. 2) Kherwadi – a neighbourhood in Bandra East with which Kher had a close connection. He provided land, schools, hospitals, water, etc., to residents of that location.
Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel: Pandurang Mahadev Bapat was a man involved in the Independence movement for India. However, his key claim to fame was his leadership in the protest against the construction of the Mulshi Dam (near Pune) by the Tata Group. From 1921, Bapat led the movement to represent farmers whose land was to be acquired by the Tata Group. Eventually the protest lost its way and the dam was built. Bapat meanwhile got the title of “Senapati” for his leadership in the protest. Today Senapati Bapat Marg is a key street at Lower Parel that has malls like Phoenix Mills and glitzy commercial buildings like One Indiabulls around it.
VN Purav Marg, Chembur: Vitthal Narayan Purav was a politician with the Congress. According to Rachel Lopez writing in the Hindustan Times, Purav signed a pact with Burma Shell (now BPCL) allowing the company to use the land that turned it from a marshy village into a town after Independence. The road adopted his name in 1968. Until a decade ago, the street was a key mode for Mumbai residents making an exit for the city. In recent years VN Purav Marg has become a critical point due to its easy connectivity to major hubs including the new Central Business District, Bandra Kurla Complex. The street is marked with locations like RK Studios (now Godrej RKS) and Diamond Garden around it.
Balasaheb Deoras Marg, Lokhandwala Complex: Balasaheb Deoras became the leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1973. Immediately after rising to the position, Deoras spoke against the practice of untouchability and urged volunteers to work towards its removal from Hindu society. Later, he had the RSS support the JP Movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan – against the then political supremo Indira Gandhi. He remained as the Sarsanghachalak till 1994. Today the street that bears his name has the Lokhandwala Complex around it where several Bollywood actors and directors reside.
Naushad Ali Road, Bandra: Naushad Ali was an accomplished music director behind blockbusters like Mughal-e-Azam and Mother India. Given his granular focus on music, he could do only 65 movies in a long career as he opted to do only one film at a time. Legend has it that he refused a big film as the producer wanted the songs in a month while Naushad needed at least a year. He passed away in 2006. Two years later, the sea-facing Carter Road was renamed Naushad Ali Road. The street has apartments wherein prices can go as high as Rs 1 lakh per square feet.Read more: Sir Homi Mody ... Dadabhai Naoroji: Five Parsis behind Mumbai’s street names—Part 2 and Sir George Arthur ... Charles Forjett: Five Britishers behind Mumbai’s street names - Part 3