Walking on Bombay's Dadabhoy Naoroji Road, I find, is no more a pleasure. The roads are crowded, the pavements are mostly dug up and occupied by rough-looking hawkers selling tawdry goods, there is dust, stink, the other pedestrians are uncaring and inconsiderate and push and bump into one another, a number of shops are closed because their ownership is in dispute or their employees are on strike, the shop-windows are dull and unimaginatively decorated, if at all, the distance between Flora Fountain and VT seems to have increased because of the hassles of negotiating it.
For many years this has been my favourite road, from the time it was known as Hornby Road. I used to walk it several times in a day, in the morning when going to woek, in the evening when returning, during the lunch-hour. I used to walk it in the night, around 2 a.m., returning home after night duty, alone through the silent arcades. Bombay was quite safe then. It still is, that is one great thing about Bombay.
I knew everybody on the road, every sight. I can push a button in my mind and recall the whole scene.
The earliest memories are of Whiteway Laidlaw and Evans Fraser, two multi-storeyed English department stores selling linen tropical suits, silk dresses, ladies' hats. Eash withits own tea-rooms: lemon tea, neatly-cut cucumber sandwiches. With Indepedence, they gave way to Khadi Emporium and Handloom House. In the beginning, these were also very impressive, but now, alas, one of them is more or less permanently on strike, with employees sitting on the pavement and playing cards, and the other has been consumed in a fire and never restored.
But these were the big stores, there were other smaller establishments. My friend from Vithalwadi, outside the Bombay Gas Company, who had the largest selection of paperbacks. Now, with nobody reading books any more, he sells audio-cassettes. And my friend, Banatwalla, who used to sell solahats, mostly khaki, a few white. He, or his family, still sells headgear, but not sola-hats. And, Great Western Stores, best cold cuts in town, roasted and seasoned ox tongue, cheese from Ooty and Kodai.
And Rose & Co., pianos, violins: Singer Sewing Machines: Favre Lub, Flex Shoes, Narsingh Lunch Home, where you sat on the floor and had an unlimited thali for 50 paise, the weekly change of photographs in the Kodak windows (now, even if the photographs are changed weekly, you cannot see them, because the hawkers have covered the windows); Excelsior Stores and Restaurant (curry-rice on Monday, Khichri-saas on Wednesday, dhansak on Thursday).
But not eveybody has gone, a number of them have hung on though there estblishments have got smaller over the years and less properous. The Bohri brothers with their general stores under Capitol cinema, the dry-fruit shop outside Aram, favourite restaurant of the Maharastra Times editorial staff (where else would and poor fellows go!), dahi misal and aamras; the bookseller outside Capitol, Mario Miranda's friend and mine, and so erudite; and just across the road, on the fringes of the Azad Maidan, General Dandekar's Cannon Paubhaji Stall. But that is where the Dadabhoy Naoroji Road ends.