Sunday, December 3, 2017

Meet the builders of Mumbai

The title of Amol Aglave's documentary, The Tale of Natives, has a lot to do with the surnames of a particular community that has contributed significantly to the shaping of the city of Mumbai. Dadarkar, Vasaikar, Parelkar, Thanekar and more in that genre that draws from Mumbai's locales are predominantly, if not all entirely, part of the Pachkalshi community. "It's a unique facet of our community," says conservation architect Rahul Chemburkar, known for his association with Mumbai's historic pyaus or water fountains. "It shows a bond between the Pachkalshis and many parts of Mumbai. It is just in the manner of other communities, like the Parsis, who draw their surnames from their occupations," he continues.

Sainath Mhatre, a resident of Chembur village, in a still from the film
Sainath Mhatre, a resident of Chembur village, in a still from the film 

The Pachkalshis, also referred to as Pathare kshatriyas, are the focus of Aglave's 33-minute-long documentary in Marathi. The young 23-year-old filmmaker decided to make this documentary after film producer Santosh Pathare told him about the contribution of this community to the fabric of the city. The film is a quick tour around parts of Mumbai and the lives of the Pachkalshi people, such as Chemburkar, archaeologist and art historian Sandeep Dahisarkar, chief archivist at Godrej Archives Vrunda Pathare, and Santosh's family as well.

Rahul Chemburkar
Rahul Chemburkar 

Pride in Pachkalshi
The Pathare kshatriyas have a history that is common to the Pathare Prabhus. Both communities can trace their origins to a wave of migration from the northwestern regions of India nearly seven centuries ago. The two communities, which have sought to make their identities more distinct in recent years, share folklore and legends as much as the heroism of Bimb Raja, who made the island of Mahim his capital in the late 13th century. Dahisarkar, who was awarded the Gulestan Billimoria Fellowship by the Asiatic Society this year to study the cultural history of Pathare Kshatriyas of Bombay Presidency, says that the early settlements were in the southern islands of Bombay, with migrations happening northwards to the suburbs only after the plague hit the island of Salsette in the 19th century.

Localities and lanes in the city are named after members of both communities today, such as Pathare Prabhu Nagar in Khar or Rao Bahadur Yeshwantrao Desai Chowk, the lane beside Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba. Desai, who is from the Pachkalshi community, is best known as the superintendent manager of Gateway of India. "Desai's work in Mumbai, as the person who managed the construction of some major Mumbai structures, including the General Post Office, is a subject in itself," says Chemburkar. One of the Desai family's prized possessions is a large model of the Gateway, which today stands in their Gamdevi home.

Amol Aglave

Whose city?
Aglave's film is a snapshot view of the cultural facets of this community and their extensive history with the city. As an outsider to the community, Aglave says he discussed his material with the producer, and the subject of the documentary, which was selected for the Kolkata Film Festival this year.

In the film, which has English subtitles, the voiceover makes a pertinent remark. The question, "Where's your hometown?" may evoke varied answers in Mumbai, a city of migrants. But, for the Pachkalshi community, their home is Mumbai, something the rest of us might be envious of. "The city becomes the identity of the community, and the community with the city. The film doesn't make an obvious statement, but the whole subject is related to that," says Chemburkar, who will screen the film on December 17 as part of his annual memorial programme for his father, Vijay Chemburkar.

The "natives" of Mumbai is a contentious claim, and Chemburkar is aware of it. "Cities by nature are created by migrants, and Mumbai is no different. Apart from the original folk here, the Kolis, the rest of us can only lay claim as the earliest settlers. The Pachkalshi have a pride in the city, and a huge associational value. Their contribution is significant but no more than that of the Bhatias or the Parsis," he says.

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