fire alarm

How a bowling alley in a ‘workers club’ cleared the way for Parel to become Mumbai’s leisure hub

The transformation of the city’s textile mill lands into a vibrant entertainment district involved a little bending of the rules.

On Friday, three days before New Year, Mumbai woke up to the horrifying news that 14 people had died in a fire that broke out in a popular rooftop bar in Lower Parel. The blaze started in 1Above and spread to a restaurant named Mojo Bistro on the floor below in it in a four-storey building in the Kamala Mills complex.

Kamala Mills is a location with which many middle-class Mumbai residents have more than a passing familiarity. Since 2015, the 37-acre complex has become a vibrant entertainment hub, with more than 35 hospitality establishments on its premises.

“Some of Mumbai’s hottest restaurants, secret bars, popular pubs, dance spots are located here,” declares the What’s Happening at Kamala Mills website. “Apart from the numerous offices available here, this is a place for a food and games fanatic.”

The complex is the latest venue in the central Mumbai neighbourhood of Lower Parel to be enfolded into the entertainment boom that has spread across on plots that until the mid-2000s housed textile mills. Over the last 15 years, entertainment and food venues have mushroomed across Lower Parel, catering not just to the lakhs of office workers in skyscrapers in the area, but also to other Mumbai white-collar residents.

‘It’s unbelievable’

The transformation hasn’t come without a cost. As the What’s Happening at Kamala Mills admits, thevarious varieties in dining restaurants, cafes, pubs and gaming zones” make “the weekends chaotic [and] traffic jams are a given”. But as Friday’s blaze demonstrated, the dangers aren’t limited to just traffic jams.

“The very fact you can have restaurants there is unbelievable,” said Srila Chatterjee, film producer and co-owner of the Blue Frog music club, which opened in Todi Mills in Lower Parel in 2007 and shut down in 2016. “Todi Mills was a fire hazard before any restaurant came there. But the concept of fire safety did not exist.”

Though the Blue Frog owners had to apply for 72 licences, the municipal corporation did not actively ensure that they complied with fire safety regulations, Chatterjee said. However, she said that the owners ensured that standard protocols were in place to keep their venue safe.

The situation has changed a little since then, said a person who runs a café in Kamala Mills, who asked not to be identified. “You can’t open a restaurant without having these licences,” he said. “These incidents are without comprehension. All restaurants have to have a board which says this premises complies with fire safety norms.”

How did it start?

The transformation of Lower Parel into an entertainment district has been underway since 1999, when an establishment called The Bowling Company opened in Phoenix Mills. For several decades until the 1990s, this section of central Mumbai – over 600 acres in the heart of the island city – housed 54 textile mills. In 1991, when the owners of the mills claimed that their units were unviable, the Maharashtra government introduced the Development Control Rules that allowed them to sell the land on which the units stood if they used the proceeds to restart their operations.

Factories cashing in would have to surrender one-third of their plots for public housing and another third for open space and civic amenities. The noted architect Charles Correa was appointed to draw up an integrated plan for the neighbourhood, knitting together the individual plots of mill land, most of which were larger than ten acres, by creating new thoroughfares and widening existing roads.

A section of the Charles Correa plan for the development of Mumbai's mill land.
A section of the Charles Correa plan for the development of Mumbai's mill land.

But in 2001, without any public discussion, the rule relating to mill land sales was amended, clarifying that the two-thirds rule did not apply to the entire plot on which their factories stood, but only to the open spaces between structures, such as the courtyards and passageways. The original formulation had given the city 400 acres of land on which to re-imagine itself. The revised version would free up only about 50 acres – and shattered any prospect of implementing a holistic plan for the neighbourhood.

Though citizens’ groups challenged this amendment, it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006.

Workers’ amenities

But even before the court decision, the transformation had started with the authorities granting permission to Bowling Company, which, the owners of Phoenix Mills claimed, was part of a recreation facility for workers. The establishment opened in May, 1999.

In a report written in 2000, researcher Shekhar Krishnan quoted a letter the management of Phoenix Mills wrote to the municipal corporation in 1998 stating that the facility would also include other indoor sports facilities such as carrom, billiards, table tennis as well as a health club, spa and sauna.

Krishnan wrote:

“The letter further stated ‘our mill workers are continuously demanding for the aforesaid facilities and they went on agitation in the month of January 1998,’ and that if the permission is not granted ‘we may have to face critical situation in the mode of agitation or we shall be put in great loss of goodwill which cannot be compensated in terms of money.’”

As Krishnan pointed out, the bowling alley, which charged an entry fee of Rs 50 and Rs 125 per session when it opened, was hardly accessible to the mill’s workers.

Bending the rules for one bowling alley cleared the way for other restaurants and entertainment to come up in the area, from the popular Fire N Ice nightclub in the early 2000s to the towering Palladium complex that now houses the five-star St Regis hotel.

The past decade has seen an acceleration of this pattern of development, converting land meant to benefit mill workers and earmarked for public spaces into enclaves accessible only to the wealthy, which is reflected in the large number of restaurants and high-end retail establishments.

An area transformed

Restaurant owners were initially attracted to the area for both its accessibility and the relative ease of doing business there.

“One of the big issues for restaurants in India and Bombay is licencing,” said Antoine Lewis, a food writer based in Mumbai. “Places like [the mills in Lower Parel] usually have a cleaner system of licencing.” The managers of these complexes help new restaurants negotiate the licensing process, Lewis said.

Lower Parel has another advantage, Srila Chatterjee pointed out. It is equidistant for people on the north and south of Mumbai and, unlike Bandra-Kurla Complex, another popular restaurant area, is not difficult to access.

“If one person has guts to start something in a non-conventional area, if it’s a success everyone wants to piggyback on it,” Chatterjee said. “Kamala Mills is another place like this. For a long time, Kamala Mills only had offices. But now it has become a hub.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

Play

Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Livogen and not by the Scroll editorial team.