Amadavad – The mega chapter of the story of my 50 years

My tryst with Amadavad began in 1961, when we moved to the city on account of my father’s transfer from Rajkot.  Our mode of transport from the [old]  Kalupur Railway Station to our first home in Amadavad at Lal Mill Colony [officially –  Rajpur – Hirpur Government Colony] was a covered, horse-driven buggy. The state of health of the horses that drew the carriages indicated the phasing out of horse-carriages as a popular mode of city transport in the near future. The Lal Mill Colony was a red-brick housing colony consisting of one-room-kitchen houses situated in the backyard of Lal Mills in the humming Gomtipur – Rakhial industrial area in the eastern part of Amdavad.

Another popular mode of travel was the city bus service run by Amdavad Municipal Corporation – the AMTS. Many office-goers and students and almost all of the textile workers were seen to use the bicycle. Auto-rickshaws were a rarity at that point of time. One used to routinely walk distances of a kilometer or two, so that served as another mode of transportation.

The AMTS introduced its present-day route identification system sometime in 1962. The then method of route identification – 5A, 2D etc. – was to be replaced by two / three digit numbers. The first or first two digits would relate to the area being served and the last digit indicated the destination. A digit from 1 to 5 would indicate that a route terminated at Lal Darwaja; that from 6 to 9, that a route terminated at Kalupur and that of 0 would indicate that the route terminated at neither of the two destinations mentioned above. Thus, Route 42 was a route from Lal Darwaja to Polytechnic, while Route 20 represented the service from Maninagar to Civil Hospital.

Until we left Lal Mill Colony for our next area of stay – H / L Colony, near the then Sachivalaya – sometime in March 1963, there seemed to be no indication whatsoever that these textile mills of the “Manchester of India” were in their last phase of health – their life would last about a century. Another surprising aspect of this lifecycle is that the industry had to find ways to survive – as it so happened, in a different format – because its products continued to be basic necessities, but the then leaders of the industry could not foresee the looming clouds of huge change waiting to happen in less than 20 years.

Equally surprising was the fact that even with around 100 textile mills and a host of supporting small scale ancillary units operating at their full capacity for almost 75 years , air or water pollution had yet to enter the lexicon. May be the technology was far less pollutant (!), or the norms were too loose, or there was still not enough of awareness.

H / L Colony, or in fact the mother area of Ambawadi, was the area where mango trees still existed on huge tracts of open lands till almost the end of the 1960s. These grounds were used by boys of all ages to play cricket during vacations and on holidays. We would walk to G L S School via Gulbai Tekra through open grounds with hardly one pucca road. The present C G Road looked like a mini–Shahibaug – a decently silent road with beautiful bungalows on each side. Even our route to L D College of Engineering – in the period from 1965 to 1969/70 – was through the open grounds at the back of the LD hostels, stretching right up to the Sachivalaya [the present-day Polytechnic or Panjarapole Char Rastaa]. The area between Azad Society and ATIRA was also more of an open ground till the end of the decade. We had to bribe our friends to visit Sardar Patel Stadium to see cricket matches. The bribe was usually a plate of ice-cream at Ambalal’s at Stadium six-road junction. Rasranjan used to be housed at Navarangpura Market and it was a favorite joint for LD hostelites for a treat of Punjabi samosa at Rs.2 each, a princely sum in those days.

The first major building to come up near H / L Colony was that of the Sahajanand College, in 1967 or thereabouts. And the transformation of that area was complete in less than a decade thereafter. Similarly, the open grounds behind L D Hostel blocks and near Panjarapole circle saw hectic construction activity from 1970 onwards. By the end of that decade, all these open grounds were sporting swanky bungalows or decent tenement-type housing societies.

Ashram Road’s transformational journey took a big leap with the opening of the Nataraj Theater sometime in 1967/68. It was the first theater on the western side of the Sabarmati. Even with an exemplary track record right from inception, Nataraj turned out to have a life of only around 40 years. One of its other proud occupants – the G I I C – was to bow out earlier, falling prey to its own parochial methodology, its fall accelerated by the wave of Development Finance Institutions getting converted into commercial banks by the end of 20th Century.

The banks of the stream Chandrabhaga, near Ashram Road, under the Parixitllal  Majumdar [Dandi] Bridge – now a small and  hidden relic of its glorious history –  were our sites for chain-link and theodolite survey practicals. Our seniors and teachers would advise us to be vigilant for hidden earthen pots during such forays, because they were pots in which ‘laththa’, or country-made liquor, was left to mature.  The textile mills were still fascinating places for the students of L D College of Engineering. They would visit the mills for their projects related to humidification or industrial engineering. Even as late as end-1970 /71, if someone had predicted closure of these mills, he might have been sent to a mental asylum.

We left Amadavad between 1969 and 1973.

When we moved back to the city in 1973, we put up at Seema Society, near the present Vijay Char Rasta. In those days, we would get down at Dadasaheb’s Steps bus-stop prior to Gujarat University and then walk to Swati Society on the road along the University Hostels. Vijay Char Rasta acquired its present form only by end of the ‘70s. The Drive-in theater was the new star attraction at that time. So was our Seema Society because one could see the drive-in theater’s screen from the society. This view was blocked as early as 1974 by tall buildings in the vicinity of the theater, by which time we had moved on to Pragatinagar  in the Naranpura area.

Also by this time, Ashram Road had acquired a few more landmarks. One of them was La Gajjar Chambers, the then headquarters of RBI’s foray into Amdavad. Another was Sales India, the result of a determined effort by a Keralite entrepreneur, who was a working in a cooperative bank when he started this venture. Amdavad had its first experience of multi-brand retail through this store. The founder had to fight all the tough battles that a person who comes with a concept that is much ahead of its time has to fight. Not only has he fought these battles successfully, his next generation has expanded its footprint all over Amdavad, taking on the competition of large organized retail stores that sprung up in the first decade of the 21st century.

By 1974, we had shifted to Pragatinagar in Naranpura area – again a totally alien area for us – where G H B was in the process of setting up a series of middle-income and higher-middle-income apartments. We had to walk from Vijaynagar, Ranna Park [ Nava Vadaj] or Ankur Society- a good half a kilometer – for the next year and a half. By that time, G H B had constructed its headquarters in that area and Shastrinagar had also sprung up. The area was now considered ‘fast developing’ in the advertisements of other private societies that were coming up in the areas, some of them even a couple of kilometers further away in Ghatlodia.

This was also a time when I was to witness to the growth of the Vatva Industrial Area. In early 1975, the best route to reach Vatva was either from Chandola Lake via Vatva village or via Shah Alam – Isanpur – Vatva Village from the point of entry near Vatva Railway Station. In fact, the only ‘decent’ cup of tea or a plate of ‘aluwada’ would be available near that railway crossing, because of the presence of SLM Maneklal / T Maneklal  on one side and Ambica Tubes on the other side of the road. By the end of that decade, Phase I of the estate was humming with the activities of hundreds of small-scale engineering units and Phase II was witnessing the beginning of the meteoric boom of small units in the dyes and intermediates industry. By 1986/87, when the industrial estates at the periphery of Amdavad were covered under the A M C, industry had devoured the roads, storm-water drains and water mains system almost in entirety, and had led to loud echoes of pained protests from nearby downstream villages against the rampant pollution of their water bodies on account of the discharge of polluted untreated water effluents by these dyes and intermediates units. What a remarkable comparison arises between an era of 75 to 100 years of nearly a hundred ‘giant’ integrated textile mills and less than a decade of a few hundred  small dyes and intermediates units!

By the ‘80s, areas like ‘Jodhpur’, ‘Satellite’, ‘Vastrapur’, etc., also appeared on the map of developing Amadavad. So did the extended shopping ‘mall’ in the form of C G Road, probably as a direct consequence of a market research study which foresaw the middle and upper-middle class of India to drive demand for the branded FMCGs and the Consumer Durables sectors. This is when the new, ‘foreign’, high-end brands of ready-made apparel, which had made a strong entry pitch, discovered the value–minded price sensitivity of the Amdavadi culture. Customers would visit these swanky showrooms on C G Road and then get the designs they saw there copied on to similar-looking dress material purchased from Ratanpole  / Dhalgarwad, the traditional textile retail shopping area in the old city. Some smart marketers countered this by introducing a parallel brand that would offer the kind of value an Amadavadi customer would look for at the offered price. Well, it is not for nothing that Amadavad is considered one of the ideal test markets for consumer durables!

By the end of ‘80s, it seemed that  the boundaries of west Amdavad had touched a new limit – S G Road [Sarkhej – Gandhinagar by-pass].The S G Road became a destination for a new flavor on Amadavad’s social circuit, with  open-air garden restaurants and resorts, where a group could go out for a picnic-cum- lunch [on week-ends] or dinners [on week-days].Until the mid-‘90s, it had yet to become a highly frequented destination for the car-owning public in Amdavad. As a result, big trucks or trailers that overturned or bumped into smaller vehicles in the late hours of the evening and at night turned out to be a big killer. But, by the late-‘90s, the Amadavad–side of S G Road could see a packed skyline of commercial buildings. New areas such as Bodakdev, Premchandnagar, etc. were added to the map of Amdavad. The Nirma Education Campus and the model-replica of the Vaishnodevi temple were still considered quite far from the city!

We were again away from Amdavad for almost the entire first decade of the 21st century. But a WOW escaped our lips when we saw what growth Amdavad had seen since it was declared a megacity! An additional outer ring road sprung up on the western corridor – S P Road. If City Pulse was the first multiplex by the late-’90s, the S G Road was witness to a mushrooming growth of malls and multiplexes in the next decade. Amdavad now had half a dozen swanky corporate hospitals, a swankier airport which could carry a couple of million passengers a year and over 150 flights a day, a host of fly-overs or under-bridges, two brand new bridges over the Sabarmati, a fully operational BRTS that connects RTO Circle to Naroda and Maninagar, and of course, no parking space on any major road for large cars.

One of the things that has not changed over the years is that Amdavad still does not get regular theater drama in Gujarati [hence, I shudder to even aspire for Hindi or English drama]. The city’s stage theaters either go idle or play host to sundry programs. Saptak has continued to host its annual Indian classical music festival for over 30 years, and one does read about an odd exhibition in the Hutheesingh Art Gallery or the Gufa [at CEPT]. But these seem to be exceptions in the traditional image of Amdavad as a city that is insensitive to art!

[This article is inspired by the booklet અમદાવાદની અસ્મિતા – પરિચય પુસ્તિકા ૧૨૬૬, published by Parichay Trust, Mumbai.

Details are as follows:

Author: Dr. Manekbhai Patel, ‘Setu’ dental centre, 85, Shankar Society, Part – 2, Ankur Road, Ahmedabad 380013 Phone: +91 79 2747 46 27

Publisher: Parichay Trust, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Bldg., Netaji Subhash Road, Charni Road, Mumbai 40002 ]


P.S. I have re-posted this piece, thanks to the editorial improvements carried out by Tadatmya Vaishnav.