January 24, 2005

Ambujwadi 8: Vignettes

Near one end of the great vacant space, a man is bathing in the open, shivering slightly in the morning breeze. Near him is a large tiled pyramid lying at a strange angle. Larger than him. It looks just like two similar pyramids I saw just weeks ago ... where? Oh yes, on the Devanapattinam beach (Silver Beach) near Cuddalore, where a great wave roared out of the Bay of Bengal and toppled a water fountain and a small seating platform. In both cases, the pyramid-shaped roofs lay at strange angles on the sand.

Here, the same. But here, it wasn't a wave, but the men and their machines of my city's Municipality. Not the same.

In mosaic on the faces is the Hindi letter "Om". Walking beside me, Pralhad Kale explains. That was the roof of a temple, he says.

Shivering slightly still, lathered in soap, the bather turns and grins as we pass.


Several temples, mosques and a couple of churches succumbed to the Municipality's bulldozers in Ambujwadi. Equal opportunity demolition, this. In turn, my companions take me to each such site in the area and paint pictures in the air of what each worshipful structure looked like, looking expectantly at me each time for some exclamation of religious horror. I can't oblige; homes that were destroyed, people sitting on rubble, upset me much more than these once-abodes of the gods, such as they were.

Still. The Hanuman temple is now a broken and badly burned pile of rubble. The idol, charred along one side, sits on a mound of bricks. Dilip Kale tells me that after the Municipal workers finished taking out this temple, they and the police who accompanied them came back to this pile and dug out the idol. They put him reverently on the mound and then bowed their heads. "Forgive us, Hanuman-ji," they prayed.

None of Hanuman's more-human fellow-denizens of Ambujwadi got such a prayer for forgiveness.

Some distance away is what used to be the Osmania Masjid. At least one or two thousand people could sit inside here to read namaz, I've been told more than once. As we walk past the disordered hillock of bricks, tiles and concrete lumps, I make for it from one side, planning to clamber over the debris and survey what remains of the mosque. "Not that way!" shouts Mohammed. "Come round here!" He leads me along what used to be the path beside the mosque, to what used to be the main entrance. "Here," he says quietly. "Please enter from here."

I clamber over the debris that used to be the main entrance, respectfully into what used to be this mosque.


Two or three women explain that various local social workers and even some Municipal Councillors were sending cooked food every day to Ambujwadi. Every day since the bulldozers first came, December 26. (And I can't help thinking, this is much like people sent cooked food for days to the places the tsunami struck, on that same day). This is how the people here have been keeping themselves fed.

But the daily food stopped on January 20th. Why? The municipality, Umabai Chavhan says, told the people sending the food not to do so any more. Because doing so was only encouraging Ambujwadi's Pardhis to remain here instead of getting up and leaving.


Three phrases I heard more than once each, sometimes just shouted out as I walked around, most times accompanied by laughs.

Hum kitna musibat main hain! ("What a mess we are in!")

Azad Nagar Barbad Nagar ban gaya hai! ("Azad Nagar has become Destruction Nagar!" One part of Ambujwadi was called Azad Nagar).

Ambujwadi Smashanwadi ban gaya hai! ("Ambujwadi has become Crematorium-wadi!").


Sunil said...

hi Dilip,
I'm still a little stunned and amazed that this is actually happening in Mumbai.A soulless mumbai (which is what it will be, after all this) is almost unimaginable. But I do hope that this will lead to greater realization and understanding from the rich/upper middle class. They will be affected severely, since their housemaids (bai's), drivers, watchmen, office boys, peons, the local constable, postmen.....all live in shanties. If they are evicted, the rich will feel the pinch, and greater sense might prevail....one hopes.

Dilip D'Souza said...


I hope you've read some of the comments on my Ambujwadi pieces to get an idea of just what impact this is all having on the middle and upper classes.