SUNDAY TIMES OF INDIA, JULY 26, 1998
'THE BEVERLY HILLS
OF MUMBAI': The
genteel and green
Carmichael Rd., with
'The Cliff' to the right
Mansion to the left.
Mumbai's high-fliers call it
'the best mile in this hundred-mile city
MUMBAI: In a metropolis bursting with sterile
skyscrapers and shantytowns, there are stray pockets
that offer an exhilarating glimpse of old-world charm
and gracious living. Like the sylvan, snakes-and-
Iadders pocketborough of Carmichael Road,
arguably the best address in town.
Now officially called M.L. Dahanukar Marg after one
of its noted old Indian residents, it is still bejewelled
with colonial-style bungalows and apartment houses
and is home to some of Mumbai's rich and famous -
the Homi Mody family, the Commissariats, the
Dahanukars, the Lalbhais, the Walchands and the
Morarjees, to name a few. Then there are the
consuls, bureaucrats and businesspersons, film
stars, musicians and painters - all of whom seem to
cherish living there.
"After all, this is Bombay's Beverly Hills," chuckles the
high-flying Kali Homi Mody, brother to ex-Steelman
Russi and the late architect-parliamentarian Piloo.
"It's the best mile in this 100-mile city. I would not give
up my bit of it for anything."
Not even for the king's ransom that he is routinely
offered for his 9,000-sq-ft "bit" of an apartment in The
Cliff, a grand, three-storey, colonial house built by
Victor Rosenthal, an emigre Austrian-Jewish
jeweller. "Where else can one drink a sundowner
sitting in a 1,000-sq-ft terrace-garden that overlooks
houses designed by George Wittet and Claude
Batley?" ask the 75-year-old Bob Hope-Iookalike. His
American wife, Nina Schneider, offers her guest the
'house special' - a nimbu pani made with the juice of
California lemons grown in her roof-garden.
"This place spoils you for others," agrees their sister-
in-law Siloo, who came to Carmichael Road as Russi
Mody's bride in 1944. "At that time, we lived down the
lane in 'Spiro Spero', the house that my mother and
father-in-law Jerbai and Homi Mody built in '43 and
which now houses the Japanese consulate," says
"Our wedding reception was the first party that my in-
laws hosted in their new house on Cumballa Hill,
which was built in the style of a neo-classical
Spanish villa. I remember being overwhelmed by the
grandeur of it all - the ten-suite, ten-garage house
with its splendid stairway and atrium, the garden
setting, the view across the town to the sea," she
reminisces. The Mody family sold Spiro Spero and
moved to the Cliff (which they bought for "about Rs
10 lakhs", incidentally), some months after Sir Homi's
death in 1969.
Carmichael Road was an exclusive resort in the
good old days with a few stately homes dotting the
lush hillslopes. Many of these houses were built it,
the '30s and early '40s, "each for about Rs 1 lakh or
so", notes Bharat' Dahanukar whose grandfather,
M.L. Dahanukar, built their house here in 1938 for Rs
1.4 lakhs. The Boyce family spent Rs 1.5 lakhs on
their Villa Hormuzd. With its enclosed garden-
courtyard, verandahs adorned with precious Tiptoon
ceramic plaques and multi-windowed bedrooms
under a pergola, the villa is the loveliest this writer
has seen in all Mumbai.
Apart from the built space, artist Mehli Gobhai loves
the smells of the trees here. He has grown up in the
genteel Darbhanga Mansion, which boasts miles of
Minton-tiled floorspace and stunning stained-glass
windows. It is an abode fit for an artist - lovely light,
inspiring surroundings. "Often, when we went for
walks as kids, we'd have peacocks prancing along
with us. These creatures could be seen here right up
to the early 1960s," the painter rewinds as we amble
around the precinct looking and sniffing at some of
his favourite foliage. But soon after, the peacocks fled
and the slums c]imbed up the hill instead. And then
came the first skyscraper. Usha Kiran was born in
1965 and the city lost its flat belly forever.
"Be that as it may, Carmichael Road is still old-world
and very architectural," avers one-time resident
Sharad Kale, who recently retired as Mumbai Port
Trust chairman. This, despite an unfortunate new
tendency to gild the lily - like replacing the antique
wooden awnings of Darbhanga Mansion with fibre
glass shades on the ground floor, erecting a painted
railing around North End and installing a post-
modern wooden gate that takes away from Batley's
Labhai Bungalow, a striking stone house built with
basalt excavated from the very hillspot on which it
Mr Kale has been "a very happy Carmichael Road
resident", having lived in the 1920s municipal
commissioner's bungalow, and at North End, the
official residence of the Port Trust chairman, built in
1918. This is the Wittet house that Kali Mody can see
from his terrace. Wittet is the architect who designed
Ballard Estate, the Prince of Wales Museum and the
Gateway of India. "It was an exhilarating experience
living in these two heritage houses, in elegant, yet
sturdy and comfortable structures," he enthuses.
"Their walls oozed history and their artefacts
highlighted the splendid craftsmanship of yore."
Mr Kale (like Sadashiv Tinaikar before him) hosted
several concerts in the regal, wooden-floored durbar
hall in the commissioner's bungalow and tea parties
on the excellent lawns of North End. "Most of my
neighbours would come and when we weren't
listening to music, we'd discuss the. state of the city,"
he chuckles.While the state of the rest of the city is
nothing to write home about, Carmichael Road is in
pretty good shape. No hawkers, ho street-side stalls.
"We don't need them. We simply send the driver to
Breach Candy to pick up fruit or to Bhaji Galli at Grant
Road for veggies," quips Parveez Aggarwal who
lives in . the swanky Kamal Mahal. The pavements
are clear and clean - a double boon granted by the
Carmichael Road Residents' Association headed by
the ever-resourceful Dilip Patel who takes pains to
keep the neighbourhood spic 'n span.
Little wonder then that almost all the residents, young
and old, are great walkers. Come evening, and they
are out in full force - cute coeds walking in groups,
courting couples walking hand-in-hand, Gobhai.
walking with his dog, Jamini Ahluwalia speeding
along in time to the music on her Walkman,' Bilasha
Lalbhai strolling with her young children. Some time
ago, there was a Japanese consul called Suzuki who
walked diligently every day, and always with an
umbrella. "We called him the Chatriwala Consul,"
laughs Mr Dahanukar. "He was a great guy, far from
deadpan, very un-Japanese."
There may be no visible signs of community life on
Carmichael Road, unlike in Girgaum or Gamdevi, but
it has a strong sense of community, says Mr Kale.
The locals are not strangers to each other. Some
party together, others meet on walks, many interact at
the association's monthly meeting and almost all of
them play Holi together. Not a bad scene, really.