Shivaji Park: Dadar 28: History, Places, People by Shanta Gokhale
Published by: Speaking Tiger
Non Fiction, 169p
Rating: 4/5 stars
One of the earliest planned neighbourhoods of Bombay, Shivaji Park in Dadar was conceived in order to decongest the mega city’s residential and commercial centre after the plague epidemic of 1896. With its massive playground named after the Maratha warrior king, gorgeous Art Deco buildings and the great Arabian Sea beyond, Shivaji Park was a coveted residential area long before Bandra and Juhu.
In this little gem of a biography, Shanta Gokhale, author, cultural critic and longtime resident of the area, brings together key events and individuals to create a matchless portrait of the neighbourhood. Through her conversations with friends and neighbours, she relives the thrill and novelty of moving from congested chawls to flats that ensured privacy and the unheard-of luxury of piped gas back in the 1930s.
She recalls the politically charged decades of the 1950s and ’60s, when P.K. Atre’s voice reverberated through the grounds of Shivaji Park during the United Maharashtra Movement and Bal Thackeray launched the Shiv Sena. She also writes of the illustrious people who have contributed to the cultural fabric of Shivaji Park: the freedom fighter Senapati Bapat; town planner N.V. Modak; classical musician Sharadchandra Arolkar; veteran actress Sulabha Deshpande; and cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, among others.
The designated playground of the neighbourhood, she argues, is also one of the city’s most democratic spaces where hundreds walk every morning and evening in the shade of tall and gracious trees; where people young and old gather around the ‘katta’ to talk politics or share a moment of love. And even as she celebrates the grace and spirit of Shivaji Park, Gokhale also notes how, despite the best efforts of its residents, the area is threatened by rampant redevelopment, and how the sense of community that has always defined it is slowly eroding.
About the author:
Shanta Gokhale is a newspaper columnist, writer, translator, theatre critic, screenplay writer, and part actor. She has received two Indian National Film Awards for her documentary scripts, two Maharashtra state awards for literary creation for her novels, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2015 (for her overall contribution/scholarship for performing arts and the Ooty Literary Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.
*Thank you Speaking Tiger for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
Shivaji Park by Shanta Gokhale is a delight to read that takes readers to the many stories revolving around Mumbai’s best known landmark. The first chapter traces the origin of the neighbourhood around Shivaji Park after the plague epidemic in 1896- 97 that eerily mentions about people running away from quarantine and poor people moving away. What an uncanny co-incidence that I would pick this book at this time of Covid related anxieties!
Why would a neighbourhood park be deserving of a book, one may well ask. But then Shivaji Park is not a regular park but one that is attached to political journeys, a part of cricket history and many other well-known luminaries who lived/lives in its immediate neighbourhood. Shanta Gokhale’s writing is intimate, is full of insights and never loses its way in reminiscing about the past leaving the reader in you enthralled in the way she reveals one layer here, another there: from the architecture of heritage buildings, to the shift of life in Chawls giving way to apartments, the social practice of putting in a separate door for sweepers, the mix and match of cultures and people. It is a sort of dual testimony: a personal and political one for Shanta Gokhale explores the neighbourhood’s earliest residents and traces its ties to the political movements in 1950s and 1960s, including the United Maharashtra Movement and the launching of the Shiv Sena.
I found it a fascinating read and must say, it made me feel like I knew Shivaji Park just a bit better after reading this book. This is extremely readable and is the classic insider’s version of a public place, seeing as it is that the author has lived for decades in the neighbourhood around Shivaji Park.