Post Cards from Vile Parle: Snapshots of History, Buildings and Culture


Simple living, flawless character, value of cultural traditions, an educated middle class, hobbies like reading, gardening and attending dramas and music performances, a ‘Tilak school of thought’ is the best way to describe Vile Parle and its inhabitants, the Parlekars.

Vile Parle, a suburb of Mumbai, is proud of its history. The narrow by-lanes were lined by tall trees and cobbled roads. When south Mumbai got crowded, the middle class Marathi manoos began living in clustered residential housing estates, that stand test of time. Vile Parle also boasts of bungalows in old art deco style, each vying for a place in history with elaborate shuttered windows, coloured glass panes, oval balconies and green area.

This small township took its name from Idlai Padlai villages. These villages of the 1800’s were formed out of Idlai, Irle and Padlai, fishing and farming towns adjacant to Bandra and Santacruz. Later the railway line cut through the area demarcating east and west Vile Parle.

Vile Parle (east) holds a special place in our heart. My mother spent her childhood days in a large bungalow when space was not a constraint and attended the much renowned school. At age 85+ her eyes light up, and she radiates a big grin just hearing about Vile Parle! A trip down memory lane and a small purchase of a traditional item was the excuse of heading towards the market, furing this pandemic time.

Vile Parle has a much contemporary look, but still trying to retain its old bungalows and cultural identity. Real estate is soaring, and old meets new, its a melange of two distinct communities – the Maharashtrian and the Gujrati (with a few Catholics and fisher folk community).

A gentle walk along the by lanes seems the best way to walk past the school, old bungalows, neighbourhood tailor and grocery shops as well as look at the new apartment blocks with large window panes and grills to keep out birds.

Passerby’s notice my touristy nature snapping photos of details: street vendor selling fruits, flowers, or newspaper and masks too! In the yesteryears, the residents kept an eye out for each other, you would inevitablly bump into someone. People knew you by name, fame or profession. And the ineveitable happened, just when I was taking pictures! An elderly lady in saree, walked past and turned ‘Do you live in …that building? I’ve seen you, my sister lives there.’ A quick exchange of conversation and said ‘Take care, lockdown begins at 4:00 pm.’

Parlekars were mostly Maharashtrians with a distinct Puneri flavour and mindset. But as the old timers collaborated with arriving Gujrati communities to set up business ( check out Parle biscuit factory…yummm) change was ineveitable. Shops were flooded with textiles, fancy garments,fashion accesories, Gujrati food and festival needs. Tailors and parlours sprung up. The simple, Marathi manoos, began feeling the pinch in his pocket and dilution of cultural identity, as prices soared.

The market was renamed. The street market extended at both ends, almost touching the residential areas. Traditional food items like puran -poli, besan laddoo, rajgira pohe and jewellery and Marathi sarees were pushed into corner shops. The business minded Gujratis dominated, Their food items like khakra, gathia, sev puri took up shelf space.

Wait, look at the different flowers!

@Button Marigold -used for door decorations, wedding pandals.

@White jasmine and white mogra – used for hair garlands called gajra, especially during puja

@Red rose and red Hibiscus – favourite flowers for Ganesh puja

@ yellow Champa – for hair decor and puja

The intricately woven flower veni is different from the gajra. The veni is tightly hand woven using a highlighter thread, the gajra flowers are tied at spacings using white thread.

I noticed the freshly painted art deco building. The stand alone bungalow has been converted into ‘Music house.’ Parlekars pride themselves for their cultural roots and quality education. Many temples have been built providing a community space for spiritual development for both men and women, and children. My mother used to attend an evening bhajan class, a good way of social networking in a cultural space.

Graciously this Bai, woman smiled and chuckled to get included in the photo. ‘ Are you going to make me famous? will I get more customers? she laughed. Her husband was weaving garlands in the back corner.He picks up the flowers each morning at 3 am at Dadar Wholesale Flower market. Living on the outskirts of Mumbai, where housing is cheaper, they commute daily by the suburban train, one hour each way, every day!

The pandemic and lockdown had its effect on this hyper bustling market. It seemed eerily deserted. The vivid hues on the blouse pieces, sort of made up for the street colours. Standing as if in defiance to time, these colourful blouse pieces are bought mostly by a small segment of womenfolk, as the younger women don fashionable one off saree -blouse wear or alternate clothing. Today the mix and match colours and designs imitate Bollywood fashion. The neighbourhood tailor exists albeit, smarter, splashing a fashion book as he awaits the fancy details and splurge of money for designing and stitching a blouse. Move over simpleton Marathi manoos, other communities have a more lavish dress up style!

Finally, I head towards the shop of the family jeweller. No, no! Not the authentic gold jewellers that Parle is famous for (Musalankar, Pendharkar, Gadgil, Pethe – the Maharashtrian business men who carved a niche and name for themselves for over 100 years!)

Tight on budget and just want an occasional wear of the traditional Marathi Nath, nosering- so imitation jewellery is the need. The traditional Marathi Nath was popularized by the women of the Maratha rulers and Peshwas. It is set with pearls and dotted with green emerald or a red ruby at the centre, and usually curved like the shape of paisley or a mango. Taking on a contemporary look, they now come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The Nath is a MUST HAVE be it festive or for a stage event and for a bridal trousseau.

The Nath is always worn on the left nostril, representing Ardh Naari, and feminity. It has been the source of many a poem and dance, and has deep cultural and artistic roots. Each region of India has its own Nath, the shape and size is a tell tale sign of the region and rulers.

To portray the character of a Maratha woman for a story event, the Nath will mark the true style. And the walk down memory lane compliments the yester year time. After all, it was from ‘ Aamcha Parle’ our Parle, as my mother would proudly say, with a twinkle in her eye!

Do you have a special piece of jewellery that you purchase from a particular region or country? Do leave your comments and make this space richer.

About Veena S.

'Travel broadens the mind.' It's been a wonderful journey through the past few years, living and travelling to many countries. Certainly there were few eye openers, at other times just a comparison on cultures and food and cuisines. My blog is my learning journey to capture and re live these moments, share photographs and use technology. Come ...see the world with me.

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