Friday, July 28, 2006

The morgue.

Strange though it sounds in retrospect, I used to live on top of a morgue in Khetwadi. No, not directly on top of it. There were two floors between our third floor flat and the morgue on the ground floor or rather in the garage in the south-east corner of it. How it came to be there is an interesting tale. We moved to the first floor of 233 Khetwadi Main Road, the first of the three identical Arab Houses, after my birth in 1936. (Before that the Mankars used to reside on top of the Girgaum Police Court next to the Krishna Cinema, now Dreamland.) The second Arab House was and even now is occupied by Vanita Vishram Girl’s School. And, the third one was and even now is owned and partly occupied by Bhagini Samaj, a social group. I don’t exactly remember when we moved to the top floor flat but it must have been soon after 1936 because I don’t have any memories associated with the first floor. (By the way, somewhere around 1947 or thereabouts, the first floor was rented by the Communist Party of India and was called the Red Flag Hall. There was a commune of families leaving there for the next ten or twelve years. Among them were Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi and their daughter, Shabana, as well as Sardar Jafri.) Arab House was bought over, around 1949, by the Trust running the Sir Hurksondas Narottamdas Hospital which loomed just behind our house abutting the Vanita Vishram Garden. My father who had resumed his law practice after his stint as a Presidency Magistrate had been appointed around then as the Coroner of Bombay. In one of the matters that came before him, he had passed strictures against the Hospital, our exalted landlords, for failure to offer timely medical attention to an accident victim (if memory serves). The Trustees took this act as a matter of personal affront and decided to teach him a lesson. They were also keen to evict all the tenants so that they could raze the building down and use the space to extend the hospital premises. Just to harass the residents, the first step they took was to shift a part of their morgue and cold storage in the garage at the back of our building. The tenants were initially horrified, no doubt. But nobody slunk away post haste as a result of the macabre and temporary fellow residents. It was a continuing nuisance, though. Whenever there was a death in a Gujarati or Marwari family, there would be a troop of hired mourners and breast beaters lounging in the passage just outside the entrance to our compound. The show must go on, as the saying goes. (P.S.: Arab House at 233 Khetwadi Main Road was finally vacated and razed down in the mid.90s.)

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