Aarey Colony. Goregaon East. Jaiprakash Nagar-Where I grew up. From our chawl, we could see the hills and the lights. It was our ‘backyard’.
Aarey Colony was a go to place when we had visitors from our ‘native’ place. To show them the bottling plant of Aarey. It was open to the public and it would be a full day picnic. From Goregaon East, we took a BEST bus and it wound its way through the forests (starting from a ‘check naka’, which still exists I guess) and passing mango trees and other trees, a few stray people walking, past the ‘observation post’ called OP or “Chhota Kashmir” and on to the Dairy Farm. Join the queue there, go through the plant and then come out. There was a stall selling ‘flavoured’ milk (much later, it was branded as “Energee”) and each one would savour the taste for long. Rose, pista were the early flavours and other flavours were introduced much later.
After the swig of cold flavoured milk, we would take a bus back and get down en route at “OP”. Walk up the steep road to the garden, play there and finish the food that we had packed from home. There was no plastic to dispose. Everything was brought in steel or aluminum vessles and carefully put back in to the nylon wire-net bag that was woven by mother. There was a tap dispensing cold water and we had our fill. Chased each other round the garden and those who had money would buy some peanuts or bhel from the vendor. But the cold water was free.
After spending some time there, it was time to get back. Walk down, wait at the bus stop and take a bus back to Goregaon station.
There was also the “PICNIC SPOT” beyond OP and before Aarey Colony that has vast open grounds, had swings, merry go rounds and other playing things for the children.
Very often, schools in Goregaon would take children for a full day picnic to that place. It has some wonderful old trees, some banyan trees and a water body that was close by. The fun of the picnic was the open spaces to run about, the trees to climb and the food that was a treat. Teachers would mix “Bhel” and some rich kids would try to sneak to an ice cream shop that was housed in the “aarey market”. It would be bhel, ‘patti samosas’ and lemon juice. And we would go home with our clothes colored in the red clay of the parks.
There was a building at the highest point, that was called ‘New Zealand Hostel”. I recall that the Govt of New Zealand had been generous in putting together the dairy farming and there was a college up there.
At night, from our chawl near the station, we could see the clock face of the New Zealand Hostel, which was at least a distance of four to five kms as the crow flies. The air was pure and there was nothing. There were clusters of ‘tabelas’ which were labelled as ‘units’. Unit number five, unit number seven etc. And there was a quaint fire brigade station inside, with a water body close by. The entire place was an escape from the yet to be crowded city.
On the Western Express Highway after we crossed from the Seminary on Aarey road, there was the check naka. To the left of the check naka, there was the “CIBA Research Centre”.
There used to be one bus route that would go through Aarey Colony and beyond. It was route not 341 (I think it still runs) from Goregaon East to Sion bus depot and back. For the longest period, I recall that the ‘full’ ticket for a trip from Goregaon to Sion was 45 paise! And to Aarey Colony, it was 20 paise. Apart from that, there was 342 and 343, which would go up to Aarey/New Zealand Hostel only. Private vehicles were a rarity and cabs would not go through that property. Auto rickshaws were not yet born.
OP was a location liked by our Bollywood. Quite a few films had some songs picturised there. That gave birth to the name, “Chhota Kashmir”. Poor man’s Kashmir. With bright sunshine.
To get your supply of Aarey Milk, you had to have a permit (a metal card embossed with the name of the ‘head of the household’ and the quota were mentioned in it). You had a steel wire carrier, to which the card was tied by a locking wire. You got milk in glass bottles.
So you carried your empty bottles, paid money for the milk (recall price of 85 paise for the ‘blue cap” and 52 paise for the ‘white’ cap bottle of 500 ml). The blue was ‘whole’ milk and the white was ‘toned’ milk.
Come rain, come shine, you went to the milk booth every day (I recall timings of between 1230pm and 2pm) and got your quota of milk. This price was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Private dairy milk was around twice this price, but would be delivered before 6am at home. Goreagan still had a few ‘tabelas’ (stables), which were within the city and outside of Aarey Colony.
Sometimes, a few of us would hire bicycles and cycle up to OP, have a swig of water at the tap at the top and come back. Twenty to thirty minutes of furious pedaling. Around 5 kms each way. And on the climb from the base of OP to the tap, it was pushing the cycles. And coming down was one scream as we did our stunts of ‘hand free’ and what not. Those were joyous times.
During our later school and college years and also the early years of working, a few of us would walk after dinner in to Aarey colony. Cross the check naka, go in a few hundred meters, talk what young boys of that age would talk, sneak in a cigarette and walk back home. It used to get cool in the nights and Aarey was a part of our life. Green and refreshing.
On a few adventurous days, we would go in to the side roads (there were a few pathways from the Western Express Highway in to Aarey Colony) We were the locals and experts. We would go in, ‘steal’ some raw mangoes in season and generally spend time walking and talking. Aarey was very much part of our lives.
As we grew older, the politicians have grown bolder and the builders’ mafia has got in. Gokuldham did not exist as open space. It was forests. That was the first encroachment. And since then, it is only encroachment.
I weep for the children of tomorrow who will never know this green belt named Aarey. As politicians give away to builders what is our children’s, I know that the move is in place to make sure that no leaf of grass will remain over time.
We will have ugly buildings and unhealthy children coughing away in them. In a way, I am glad that I left Goregaon in the mid-eighties. Gokuldham was the first blot. And now the ball is in motion for more and more encroachment. Allowing private vehicles to pass through Aarey Colony was another sad development. It is sad what our politicians can do for a few rupees.