Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rites of passage.

233 Khetwadi Main Road used to be quite a menagerie of a residential building. Right from the early days when the Mankars moved there in the late 1930s, there used to be a ‘Passenger Agency’ on the ground floor called ‘Jeevabhai Patel, Passenger Agents’. What this outfit did was what a travel agency does for a contemporary traveller, i.e., booking the passage of the traveller and his baggage, obtaining the passport and the visa and so forth. The difference, however, was that the Patels also provided an additional service: temporary shelter for the passenger and his belongings till the day of departure. The 233 Khetwadi Main Road compound and the front porch where the Mankar family car, a maroon and black Wolseley Wasp, was parked often used to be strewn about with bodies and crates belonging to the passengers hailing mostly from rural Gujarat and Rajasthan. These worthies performed their early morning ablutions noisily and publicly in the compound and generally made a nuisance of themselves much to the chagrin of the permanent residents. They also had loud arguments among themselves and at times with the Patels and their mukadam (supervisor) presumably about unpaid dues or overcharged fees. After the proprietor’s death, the outfit continued to be run by his widow who had shrewd business acumen and a sharp tongue. It was only when transoceanic passenger shipping went into a decline that the firm ran aground and shut down some times in the late 1960s or early 70s. The Patel family continued to live there till late 1990s, though.

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