Mumbai Lens: The changing skyline of Parel

A couple of months back, I had this twitter conversation with a friend, who had just returned to Mumbai after 3 years abroad.

@mumbailocal Gosh. All these skyscrapers! The Mumbai skyline will soon look like a mad New York.

@sudhagee Welcome back, @mumbailocal 😉

@mumbailocal A wee bit shocked by the randomness of it all. Huge, tall buildings sprouting from the usual landscape of shanties. That. @sudhagee

I wouldn’t have thought much about this exchange if I had not seen this view the previous day.

Highrises touching the sky. View (towards Dadar) from Lalbagh Flyover

That day, I was returning from South Bombay to Chembur by car. Normally, I prefer not to travel by road as the local train is faster and more convenient. But I had a friend with me on that day, and her husband had very kindly lent us his car and driver. So there we were on the Lalbagh Flyover in the Parel area, crawling in the evening traffic and taking in the sights. Looming ahead of us was a set of highrises which made for quite an impressive skyline. I am not fond of highrises, but to see them glowing in the setting sun was a quite a sight to behold.

I was so mesmerised by the skyline that it took me a while to realise what these highrises had replaced—the (in) famous textile mills of Parel in Mumbai. So instead of the mill chimneys which used to dominate the skyline till some time ago, there were these towering skyrises. These were skyrises which had displaced entire communities, lifestyles and a way of life, and were adding a chapter to the history of Mumbai.

And then as we were almost exiting the flyover, I saw this lone, almost forlorn-looking, chimney silhouetted against the sky, probably wondering how long it would be there.

A defunct mill chimney rises up like a lone sentinel. Wonder how long will it be before this too will be replaced by something else…

Change is inevitable. Change is a constant. And yet, sometimes, change happens by trampling on someone’s else’s dreams, livelihoods… Change is inevitable, but it can be cruel too.

Mumbai Lens is a photographic series which, as the name suggests, is Mumbai-centric and is an attempt to capture the various moods of the city through my camera lens. You can read more posts from this series here.

30 thoughts on “Mumbai Lens: The changing skyline of Parel

  1. chembur 🙂 i remember that, the first time my dad brought us to mumbai for a holiday 🙂 .. we stayed in chembur.. some factory nearby glass factory or something not sure , I am talking 1986..

    The last i was in mumbai was in 2008/9 i think and yeah from 1986 to 2009 it was a BIG change, Would love to come once again

    lovely pictures ..


    1. The glass factory area is called Amar Mahal and though the area is called Chembur, it is almost in Ghatkopar. It has changed so much that if you were to come now, you would not recognise the place again. Thanks for your comment.


  2. It’s not easy to come to terms with change, especially change that can spiral out of control. My biggest fear is one day, India will only be a land of high-rises (what with our ever increasing population), with our natural beauty all gone.


    1. It is also not easy to come to terms with change that you have not initiated or are part of. Mumbai is definitely a city highrises and with every Chief Minister appointed coming with visions of turning Mumbai into a Shanghai, the highrises are only going to get taller. As for the rest of country, highrises are inevitable as you say.


  3. I have read about a Mumbai documentary film called Vertical city on how shifting to a high rise building changes the social relationships. I like the view of highrise buildings even if I wouldn’t like to live in one except for a few days! 🙂


    1. The first change that happens on shifting to highrises is change in social relationships. One of the best examples I can give is that of people who have been moved out of slums and into buildings as part of the government’s slum rehabilitation programme. They have had problems adjusting to changed housing and interaction with neighbours, among other things. I remember reading a report on a study conducted on this topic, though I can’t remember the name or the finer details.

      And now, I must watch Vertical city 🙂


    1. Change is good, change is necessary and sometimes it is a necessary evil. But the thing with change is that if you are part of the change process, it is far more easier to welcome it and be part of that change. But if you are affected by change, good or bad, the it is not so easily accepted. In the case of the highrises in Parel, they have replaced existing mills where hundreds of people worked. The sale of mill land to builders ushered in a change that ousted the workers and their families with a pittance of a rehabilitation package. Those families first lost their livelihoods and then lost the only homes they knew. The only people who walked away happy were the owners of the mill land and the new owners of flats in the highrises. Change, in this case, was unbearably cruel for one set of people and good for another set.


  4. I see the same in the suburbs! One look at how Malad is shaping and how the old Cooperative housing societies are being torn down to make 10-15 floor buildings tells the tale. Thats the price we pay for such rapid urbanization and its a necessary evil.


    1. This is happening everywhere in the name of redevelopment, and in a way it has been a win win situation: the owners get to keep the house and newer residents also come in. But in the case of Parel, the residents have been evicted completely. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Vinni.


  5. What’s happening in Mumbai reflects what’s happening in most fast growing cities. I come to India every year and the change I see is flabbergasting. I now don’t recognize the areas I went to school/college in. Worse yet, the changing landscape around my parents’ and in-laws’ house every year leaves me reeling.


  6. Finally! helps to have a tech savvy son who humours his mother, doesn’t it?

    The highrises of Lower Parel shocked me the first time I saw them on my recent visit. I remember the mills and the crowds that rushed in the locals at LP station. And my reaction was the same as yours. Where did the original inhabitants go? Were they working as maids and chauffeurs at their new neighbours’ houses? It was a feeling of utter sadness.


    1. Yay ! You can comment. What a lovely Gudi Padva gift.

      The original inhabitants have moved far far away to distant suburbs of the evergrowing city. Loss of livelihood, coupled with lack of education, has meant that the wives of many mill workers have taken up working as domestic helps. They now have to travel for about 2 hours every day to reach the houses they work in (which is mostly in South Mumbai) and travel for another 2 hours home at the end of a full day’s work. Meanwhile, Parel is moving from a LIG to HIG area. And this is where I remember your post on the class divide ever so much.


  7. Indeed ! I noticed the change on my recent visit to Mumbai & we have to accept it.
    Thanks for the comment on my blog. I am glad, you & your Mom liked those old photos of Bombay.
    I too love to watch them 🙂


    1. Welcome here, VKhawani, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I agree that change has to be accepted, but it is easy for us to say that if we are not affected by that change. I wonder what the mill workers and their families must have felt when they were forced to accept the rehabilitation packages given and the place that had been their home for so many years and for reasons that was not their fault.


  8. From my school days in kalachowky spanning upto lalbaug in the 80’s, it has been a sea change for those who have witnessed it. I left mumbai for cochin and have made a half a dozen trips to the great city after that…jagjit singh’s song comes to mind.. SEENE MEIN JALAN AANKHON MEIN TOOFAN SA KYUN HAI – SURESH WADKAR


    1. Welcome here, Sunith and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. And how right you are, Seene Mein jalan aankhon mein toofan sa kyun hai. It captures the restlessnes and changes that the city has witnessed, nay is witnessing every minute.


  9. Makes me a little sad, Sudha. this post of yours. How easily we stand mesmerized at the glitz and glamour and do not pay heed to what is being trampled upon for the same… It is as hurtful as going back to the city you once lived in and not being able to recognize any of the streets. Such a pang!


    1. It is a sad post, Deboshree. Each time I pass by this particular area of Mumbai, I feel like I can hear the lament of those whose lives and livelihoods these buildings have risen. And I wonder how come nobody else hears them. 😦

      My mother grew up in Bombay and today she refuses to go to Matunga, the place of her childhood, because it has changes so much and she can’t bear not to recognise familiar landmarks.


I'd love to hear from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.