PG Digging-Bombay Ishtyle!by Aparajita Krishna January 31 2022, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 18 mins, 24 secs
Aparajita Krishna remembers being a Paying Guest once, she recalls the famous Ganga Vihar through talks with famous residents there and talks to friends who lived in PG-digs in the 1980s and 1990s in Bombay.
Those days of paying guesting in Bombay! Ahhh!
My first introduction to Paying Guest would have been via the film Paying Guest (1957) that was released before my birth, but one that I would have seen before coming to Bombay in 1984. That was another story. Thereafter of course in 1985 came the TV serial on good old DD featuring ahhmmm Madhuri Dixit and Benjamin Gilani. But before that I was in Bombay. Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon mode mein nahi, tauba, she was celestial! Meo came from Calcutta as an ordinary girl looking for a career in TV, films.
I don’t know if the tradition of PG digs, Paying Guest accommodations still exists in Mumbai. I am not talking of living as a tenant independently. The flashback is of living with the landlord/s within a family structure in the same house; like in a commune. Strangers get to live and become a family. I lived as one in Bombay from 1984/85 to quite a few years thereafter. I lived with Mrs Anuradha Kalro at Flat 7 Meera Bldg, L D Ruparel Marg, Malabar Hill, Nepean Sea Road and with Mr UV Gulati and Mrs Minu Gulati at Indu Park, N Dutta Marg, Four Bungalows, Andheri West.
Those were wonderful times. The memories are so precious that I want to cling on to them forever. So much so that whenever I happen to pass by Malabar Hill’s Meera Building or for that matter Indu Park compound, I have a deep urge to go and check if my erstwhile landlords are there still… and I don’t. I don’t know why my emotions start to frighten me. I had a wonderful time at both the places, but I think happiness resting in memory can also frighten one. Those abodes may not be there and neither the residents. In and around June 10-11, 2012 via Facebook communication I got informed about the passing away of Aunty Kalro in Hongkong.
Hello, Sangita, Bunty Kalro, Minu Gulati, UV Gulati, Sumi, Amy, Neha, I am trying to reach out to you’ll care-off this article.
Mrs Kalro was a Sindhi widow with a very young daughter Sangita and son Umesh/Bunty to fend for. She was tiny, always in white saree, but spunky and very pleasant in demeanor. She had a one bedroom-hall apartment and kept girls as PGs. Two of us stayed in the bedroom while mother and young children stayed in the drawing room. We all shared the bathroom. It was my first brush with the system.
During my stay in the room I recall as room-mates Anita and Sonal. Kalro Aunty would supplement her income by providing tiffin-dabbas. That was also my first introduction to the phenomenon of the Bombay/Mumbai dabbawala entrepreneurship. The place did not provide meals, but I had an extended family aunt, Sabo Bua, staying at a walking distance and most of my meals would be there or I would taxi down to eat at an Udipi or in Open House. It was during my stay there that daughter Sangita got married and I was witness to the help that Kalro Aunty’s community of Satsang friends provided to her.
South Bombay back then, and am sure even now, was truly cosmopolitan in demography and social life. Networking was not a word in popular lexicon. At least I did not know of it. The melting-pot that was Bombay saw a very modest PG girl getting invited to the best of South Bombay parties. One such was at dear Ranjit Chib’s place. He lived in Prabhu Kunj at Peddar Road. The building where Lata Mangeshkar and sisters also live. It was at one of Ranjit’s parties that I met the ex-Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh who was then governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Ranjit would have wonderful ‘dos’ that saw feted people mingle and discuss politics, art, culture.
At that time I was modeling and acting. Though I have been a hoarder of memories and photographs, unfortunately I could not trace any photos of mine with my erstwhile PG landlord/landladies. What I did find were my own modeling stills in black and white and color with c/o Mrs Anuradha Kalro and address written at the back. I am sharing the photos in her memory.
White House on Malabar Hill was another landmark for paying guests. It was a beautiful bunglow. Mrs Delf was the landlady and kept regular PGs. Students and many from the advertising world stayed there. I have also visited that place.
After my stay at Aunty Kalro’s I promoted myself to a single room occupancy and shifted to Indu Park, Four Bungalows, Andheri West, which was at the other end of Bombay. Friend Om Puri introduced me to the place where actor Deepa Sahi was staying earlier. She had now shifted out and so I moved in bag and baggage. It was a lovely bungalow in a compound of bungalows and the family of five were the most delightful members one could have. It became a kind of extended family living. Here I had not only the luxury of an independent room with an attached bathroom but also a sharing kitchen. My culinary education began there. UV Gulati would wear a wig and carry a lot of self-deprecating wit with him. So did Minu. The joke was of UV trying his hand at businesses that would invariably fail. Obviously an owner of a massive bungalow would be needing a running income for some reason and so they kept PGs. Minu came from a Gujarati family who were well to do. If I remember correctly her parents also owned a bungalow, which they would give for film shootings. The three little Gulati daughters studied at Jamnabai Narsee School. Our bonding was so wonderful that the Gulatis’ offered that I get my parents on a visit to Bombay. They did visit me for a short while and stayed with me.
No story on the PG digging phenomenon in Bombay can be complete without evoking the landmark Ganga Vihar on Marine Drive. Located in the middle of the bay the flats on each floor opened to the Arabian sea and to the skies that stretched seamlessly. It was Rani Burra’s fourth floor flat in Ganga Vihar that was an address I knew of even back in Calcutta from where I came to Bombay in 1984. The commune living therein is part of Bombay PG and cultural history.
Rani had graduated in the screenplay writing from the FTII, Pune in 1973. She married her batchmate who was in the direction course, Subhash Dey. She would go on to making animation films, documentaries, and edit various film publications and books. The flat had remained with Rani’s family since 1939 and saw five generations live and grow there. In her time it would become a commune of art-wave filmmakers and theater-walas.
Cinema folklore has it that Amitabh Bachchan was a paying guest (on the other side of the building) when he first came to Bombay. Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet (2015) a period film set in the 1960s, showcases a shot of Ganga Vihar taken from the sea front. The floating population living in and out of Rani Burra’s Ganga Vihar abode has in its roll-call names such as: B V Karanth, Girish Karnad, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Om Puri, Jahnu Barua, PK Nair and Nirad Mohapatra. The visiting populace included esteemed names such as Ismat Chugtai, Shashi Kapoor, Shyam Benegal, Neera Benegal, Satyadev Dubey, Mani Kaul, Anand Patwardhan and Pooh Sayani. It was also said that Ganga Vihar commingling had inspired many scenes in avant-garde Indian films.
I knew both Rani and Subhash and am sharing an excerpt of my talk with them. Om Puri had told me, in relation to an assignment I was doing, about his own PG dig stint in Mumbai.
Om Puri (Talk of 2005): In 1976 when I came to Bombay, I knew nobody in this city except Naseeruddin Shah who was one year senior and who had already done Nishant with Shyam Benegal. He and Jaspal were staying together in the same building as paying guests in Martin Villa, behind Sacred Heart Church in Santacruz. So I went and parked myself in his place. The landlady was told that I was a very dear friend. I was there for maybe 10 days and then one day the landlady said ‘Excuse me, time is up. How many days?’ It was a free ride. I remember I mentioned to you earlier that I kept meeting good people in my life. This is another thing. Landlady was gracious that she allowed me to stay there for 10 days. Naseer had a casual kind of a friend, Chawla, a Punjabi guy. This young man had a motorbike. Naseer requested him to look for a place for me. Chawla said ‘Come with me.’ I sat on his motorbike. He took me to some agent, a broker, who showed me a place in Bandra, off Hill Road, near St Andrew’s Church. It was a bungalow that belonged to a Catholic family, D’souza. They were renting out a furnished room on the ground floor. There was a bed, a gadda, a table, chair and a cup of tea in the morning and afternoon. And rent was Rs 175/- a month with a deposit of two months. I could not believe it. I said how much is the deposit? Had I heard it right? She said total Rs 350/-. I said ‘Ok’. So I told Chawla I want to hang on to the little money I have, so is it possible that I pay them later? The broker said, ‘You can give my brokerage after six months. There is no problem’. The landlady said ‘Okay, forget the deposit, you just pay me Rs 175/- per month’. And coincidentally the name of the place was ‘Shelter’ - and it is still there. It is now a three storied building and it is still called Shelter. I was there for almost a year and a half. They were very happy with me. I didn’t trouble them. Nobody was visiting me. I used to get up in the morning, have a cup of tea and go for a walk to Bandstand. That was my usual routine. And then her son was coming back from Dubai and she said she would need the room. So I had to vacate the room.
Then around 1978 from this house I changed 6 residences. I went to Borivali and shared a flat with a cameraman. I was there only for 6 months because it was too far. From there I went to Churchgate, C road, Ganga Vihar in late 1978 or the beginning of 1979 and that’s where I had signed the film Godhuli with Girish Karnad. First feature film. It was at Ganga Vihar at Rani Burra and Subhash Dey’s. And then my father came and joined me in Bombay and again I had to look for a place because he obviously could not stay in Ganga Vihar.
Rani Burra (On 22.2.2008): I had passed out of FTII film institute, Pune, in 1973. I did script writing. My parents were not here. My father had been transferred to Delhi. So the house at Ganga Vihar was empty. Except for me. So friends from the institute came here and we started a kind of extension of the film institute. There was Jahnu Barua staying here, then Sai Paranjpe stayed for a short while. It became kind of a filmy club. There was Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Venupogal Thakar was a cameraman. We had a floating population also. We used to get letters for Mithun (Chakraborty) here. People would just write. Address was Ganga Vihar. Om also gave the address of here. So he got piles of letters here. There was another guy called Kofi Middleton, from Ghana. Then there was Subhash Dey. We had Adoor Gopalakrishnan who was a friend of Vishwanathan. Vishwanathan was a friend from Madras days. So it became a kind of a rest house. Girish Karnad, B V Karanth would come and go. Every day would be like a party. There would be about eight people here. Most of them were to do with cinema or theater. We were all struggling and would share. I had done script writing. Then I worked on a children’s film with Pooh Sayani. I did an animation film of my own. Just struggling. But since I was a journalist I would do a lot of writing jobs. I wrote a lot of books. That time there was FFC. I worked on their journal. Then festival books.
When Om came I said ‘Look we have so many people staying here. And then they become friends and they never go. One thing is don’t become a friend.’ He said ‘I promise I won’t’. I said you can stay. We were fairly crowded. One needed company. We shared costs. Though we would sometimes fight over rum. Om always comes here to Ganga Vihar and points to that corner in the verandah and says ‘That’s where I signed my first film.’ I was more like a housekeeper. But there was one incident. Om’s father Baoji had come. I came and said that I think I had seen his father. Om looked startled as hell because his father was not meant to be here. He went charging down and found that it was his father. Father came and stayed with us for some time, a week or some days. He was thrilled. We made the bed in the corner room. He was not used to having white sheets. He said ‘My goodness this is exactly like a hospital!’. Quite a character.
It was quite common to have 30 people for a party. And B V Karanth would get drunk and sing at the top of his voice till 2 a.m. in the morning - ‘govind vithal, hari hari vithal’. And nobody complained. All our talk was in the evening over booze. We would manage from quarters. Certainly those years at Ganga Vihar were great fun. Everybody was rollicking, drinking, struggling. Lot of leisure time and hunting time. Two rooms were for men. The drawing room was for the floating population. Parties would happen and then in the morning you would get up and find bodies sleeping on the floor. You didn’t know who was there? So I would go close and look. (laughs). We had a cook. Everybody shared the cost. I did some Andhra cooking. They loved the dahi-bhaat. Then Subhash and I got married or were about to get married. Subhash said that it was time to wind up. So Jahnu Barua left me a lovely note. It said ‘If I had stayed here another three days it would have been seven years seven months seven weeks seven days.’ I was in tears. Later somebody said that Jahnu must have made it up. Good fun. I have partied away one quarter of my life.’
Subhash Dey (On 22.1.2008): Jahnu Barua was already here at Ganga Vihar and then Om came and joined. Before that there were other people like Kulbhushan Kharbanda. Sai Paranjpe was there for six months. Girish Karnad never stayed, but Karnad and B V Karanth were such a close unit that whenever in Bombay he would get Girish. Karanth used to come and stay. Infact when Om Puri came and stayed at Ganga Vihar that’s how he met Karanth and Girish and it resulted in ‘Godhuli’. Shyam Benagal would drop in.
We had a tendency at Ganga Vihar that whoever comes we introduce ourselves to others. People would hang around at Ganga Vihar. Punkaj Kapoor, Raja Bundela, MK Raina. Julie Christie came and stayed in our house for a month. For Heat and Dust. There was a big party. Shashi Kapoor and all. They said ‘Oh! We have to bring Ismat Chugtai! They went to get her. That day our lift was not working. Can you imagine Om and Shashi Kapoor lifting her up, both of them, to bring her up to the fourth floor.
I also talked to some other erstwhile Paying Guests of good old Bombay.
Usha Dixit (dialogue writer): In 1985 after one and a half years staying in Bombay with an uncle and then mother’s friend I thought of getting a place for myself. Rents were very high. Manju Singh (TV producer, director) was my first boss. She got a paying guest accommodation arranged for me. It was at Hyderabad Estate in Nepean Sea Road with the Jamwal family. They were husband, wife and three children aged between seventeen to twenty-two.
During my interview with them they openly told me that no late nights, no friends, no guests, no parties! I felt odd. But they were as nervous as I was. This was the first time they were keeping a paying guest. The deal was fixed at Rs 800/- monthly with breakfast and dinner. I moved in with my suitcase and a guitar. It took some time to adjust. Every day one was served rajma-chawal. But then I did not even realize when they became one’s own. So much so that there would be a lot of argument over uncle-aunty taking rent. Infact after two years I increased the rent by 200/- on my own. For five years I kept paying 1000/-. In 1999 after my father’s death my mother decided to live with me in Bombay. Then I had to shift to Dahisar in a rental flat. The Jamwal family were very sad at my moving out. For years we were in touch. Then gradually we all got absorbed and busy in our independent lives. You have made me recall all that. Thanks.
Rucha Pathak (Producer at Excel Entertainment): I stayed as a PG for a few years in Bombay when I worked at Plus Channel from 1993 to 1996. I lived in Juhu. I had a separate entrance at the PG and the kitchen and the bathroom had to be accessed through a connecting door to the apartment. I had a really good time at the PG. Infact, a lot of us girls from Sophia’s Social Communications Media have stayed at the PG and we all remember our PG days in Juhu with great fondness. The family was lovely and they still remain friends. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jayshri, our landlady, was married to a cinematographer Kishore Kapadia. He used to shoot a lot of Akshay Kumar films and later went on to shoot big TV serials.
And Jayshri’s father-in-law was the award winning cinematographer K H Kapadia who shot Woh Kaun Thi. The landlady was kind and understood that working in the media meant we worked crazy hours since her husband was also in the movies and kept pretty crazy hours himself. The Kapadia family was extremely kind and delightful to live with as a PG. They used to feed us whenever we were around. And once in a while I would help Jayshri’s son with his English. Usually two of us girls shared the PG. It was really nice to have a home away from home. Before moving to Juhu I used to live as a PG in Bandra - it was a little more expensive but in a beautiful bungalow called Natalwala Bungalow on Bandstand. It was really nice but it wasn’t part of anyone’s home. There was a pop singer who also lived there and a documentary filmmaker too. I lived as a PG in Khar too, which was also a nice place. My experience of living as a PG in Bombay was great because you met Bombayites or Mumbaikars. And it was living in a home away from home. I remember hanging out with my landladies, having meals with them, going out for chaat with them - or movies. And all of them were lovely and looked out for me. Apart from the rent I would help in any way possible - with homework of their children etc. It was like a home away from home and a family away from family.
Gopi Desai (actor, filmmaker, podcaster)
I traveled with a small puppy in a train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai in utmost excitement and thrill as this puppy was a gift for my youngest friend, 5 years old Ajit - where I stayed as PG in Bandra Mumbai. This PG accommodation was home and an extended family away from home in the late 1980s (1985-1990).
Ajit would travel with me and stay with my family in Ahmedabad. He loved our dog Blacky and was keen to have her puppy as a kid. After 30 or 32 odd years my ties with this family are as warm and strong. My daughter Tulsi has also spent vacations with me and still remembers visits to Church and midnight mass with Rohna Aunty and family. Their family friends and relatives were my friends and relatives. Ajit is with the Navy now, leading a sailor’s life. The bungalow still stands tall on Hill Road and is my favorite place in Bandra.
I Aparajita now live in my own flat in Mumbai, but if you ask me, my happiness quotient of the 1980s, 1990s was Cheers!