Lower Parel, Mumbai: One Square Mile of India
- 18 November 2011
- From the section World News TV
Once home to cotton mills, Lower Parel has undergone a radical transformation.
The mills are long gone, and only the odd chimney remains, silhouetted against a skyline dotted with shiny new skyscrapers.
They have been replaced with premium housing, or luxury malls like Phoenix Mills. Now it's a fashionable neighbourhood, with new businesses and financial institutions, and artists and musicians setting up in trendy hang outs.
Many of the new construction stands right next to decrepit housing or slums. Everywhere there are working cranes and cement, as building work carries on relentlessly. Both in Mumbai and the rest of India, this is the sign of a nation reborn, emerging as an economic superpower.
Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the area was an upmarket one, home to British residents. After cholera struck in the late 19th Century, they moved out, and the mills moved in. With 300 lakes in the neighbourhood, the area was the ideal site for coal-powered mills, which needed an abundant supply of water. Following a long strike in the 1980s, the mills shut down, and with them went most of the jobs.
Mumbai has always been short of space, and with so much prime land up for grabs, the developers moved in. In the last 20 years, the area first crept - and then leaped - upmarket.
Now it is a hip-and-happening suburb of Mumbai. Many of the big financial institutions like HDFC bank, one of India's largest, have their headquarters here. But as Paresh Sukthankar, executive director of HDFC, and one of those responsible for its move to the area 10 years ago recalls, "it was far from a must-have business address in those days".
It doesn't end with finance. Lower Parel has also become a cultural beacon for the city. Trendy nightspots like the Blue Frog club have paved the way for galleries, design houses, restaurants and shops.
They have come and based themselves in the architecturally striking surroundings of the renovated mills. For Srila Chatterjee, one of the founders of Blue Frog, it was a moment to create something new here, with the design of the club, "where La Scala meets the mills".
Throughout the change, one institution has stood steady, bridging the gap between the old and the new residents of Lower Parel.
Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital was set up by philanthropist Sir Dorabji Tata in 1941. For Dr Badwe, director of the hospital, this is the only place which treats the "the rich, the poor and the middle class". With its new wing for private patients, and the heaving general wards with free treatment for poor patients, this hospital serves patients from around the country.
As Lower Parel is transformed into a socially and commercially desirable address, the changes here mirror the story of urban India.