At one point Bombay was known as the “Manchester of the East”. In the first half of the nineteenth century, India exported cotton to Britain, and then reimported the textile. Indian businessmen saw a huge business opportunity and the first Indian cotton mill, “The Bombay Spinning Mill”, was opened in 1854 by Cowasji Nanabhai Davar, and by 1870, there were 13 mills in Bombay. This area, Girangaon, was known as Bombay’s “Village of Mills”.
Over the years with the development of newer industries in and around Bombay, these mills stopped being profitable, and fell into a state of disrepair. The worst to hit the mills was the textile strike in 1982 by the mill workers. Nearly 250,000 workers and more than 50 textile mills went on strike. After a long confrontation, the strike collapsed with no concessions given to the workers. Because of this strike most of the industry moved away from Bombay. The majority of the over 80 mills in central Bombay closed and the textile industry came to an end.
The redevelopment of Bombay’s cotton mills began in the 1990’s, when a number of builders began buying up large areas of this land. The majority of these mill lands have been redeveloped and turned into residential and commercial spaces for offices and shopping centres.
Conservationists have been trying to preserve these mills. The quality of construction of the buildings including the workers housing (Chawls) was very high. Some of the detailing is exquisite – the fret work on the balconies, around the windows and decorative plasterwork. The buildings were made of local grey basalt with Mangalore tile roofs. Not all the mills have been sold, but spaces in the grounds have been leased out to offices, studios and stores. Some of the most exciting stores have been opened in the old “Village of Mills”. The most popular mill redevelopements are the Phoneix and Raghuvanshi Mills on Tulsi Pipe Road.
I went down Shakti Mills Lane near Mahalaxmi Station. All that’s left of Shakti Mills are huge walls surrounding an enormous open space overgrown with plants. The grandeur of the walls and the space was like being in a ruined cathedral. Next to this beauty and desolation is the Laxmi Woollen Mills, which is buzzing with activity – lots of office, small factories and interesting stores – Red, Blue and Yellow, Central Electric and Radio Co or Cerco Lighting and Transforme were the ones I went into.
The mill workers were migrants from all over Maharashtra as well as the coastal belt of Goa and Karnataka. Small restaurants opened up around the mills serving food from their hometowns. You can still get the best regional food in these restaurants.
Bombay’s fast food options, which Bombay-ites survive on, are found at every street corner and everyone will have a favourite stall. These two quick and filling meals are the Vada Pao and the Bombay Sandwich.
Bombay Burger or Vada Pao-
The pao part of the vada pao came to Bombay from Portugal via Goa. Goan settlers in Bombay brought the tradition and it is now part of Bombay’s food heritage. The Pao is a bread roll and the vada is a fried spicy potato pakora. To make it even spicier dry garlic chilly chutney is smeared between the bread. I’ve never tried making these vadas but the Trala Dalal version is probably authentic so I’ve put the link here. I’ll try making it one day.
Bombay Sandwich -
I ate my first Bombay Sandwich in the Sophia College canteen. It was delicious and is really simple to make.
3 slices of bread
Cheese (I used Mozzarella – but they use a local cheddar)
Cucumber, Capsicum, Tomato and Potato
Boil a whole potato and then cut it into slices.
(I think one is supposed to put huge amounts of butter on the bread but I don’t think its necessary)
Put chutney on 2 pieces of bread and put slices of tomato, cucumber, capsicum and potato between it. Then put some cheese on top of the bread and place the 3rd slice of bread on the cheese to make a club sandwich.
Grill in a sandwich griller, chop in half and eat with more mint chutney.