Noted author, columnist, translator, and theatre historian Shanta Gokhale, has released her new book Shivaji Park: Dadar 28: History, Places, People. Gokhale’s book, set in one of Mumbai’s most famous neighbourhoods, traces its history with detailed accounts of the events and personalities that shaped it. In an interview with MAIL TODAY, she details some of Shivaji Park’s most significant events.
WHAT LED YOU TO SET THE BOOK IN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD?
The idea came from Ravi Singh of Speaking Tiger. They planned a series of monographs on neighbourhoods. The minute he mentioned theidea, it became mine. I’ve lived in this neighbourhood and lived in the same rented flat practically my whole life.
I’ve seen the place grow and change. When people remark on its peace and beauty I glow with pride as though I were its creator. I’m happy when visitors to our flat comment on its unusual design and charm, all part of the old Art Deco style of curves and spacious balconies. To have a chance to write about Shivaji Park was an unlooked for gift.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME OF THE MOST DEFINING MOMENTS IN ITS HISTORY?
What defines Shivaji Park is the concept behind its creation itself, as a precinct for healthy living. It is the nursery of cricket and mallakhamb. It has been at the centre of politics from the Independence struggle to the present. The earliest political rallies in the park were held during the Quit India movement in the ’40s. Then came the mammoth meetings of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement in the late ’50s. Finally the foundation day meeting of the Shiv Sena in 1966 followed by its annual Dassera rallies. Since the mid-80s the park has been host to lakhs of Dalits from all over India the country who gather here every year on December 6, Dr B R Ambedkar’s death anniversary, to pay their respects at the Chaityabhoomi on Dadar Chowpatty.
IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR EVENT THAT STANDS OUT?
One, which I left out of the book due to the word limit, was Kasturba Gandhi addressing a meeting in Shivaji Park on August 9, 1942. Gandhi had given the Quit India call at Gowalia Tank (now August Kranti Maidan) the previous evening. He was to address a rally at Shivaji Park the next evening. But he was arrested that morning. A huge crowd had gathered at the park to hear him. Kasturba offered to speak in his place. She had never spoken in public before and the organisers were nervous about her ability to hold the crowd. But she had Sushila Nayyar beside her for moral support and she went ahead despite a policeman warning her that she would be arrested. Her speech had a special message for women. She asked them to join the Quit India movement because their contribution to the cause wouldbe as important as men’s. During her address, she and Sushila Nayyar were arrested and taken to Arthur Road jail.
WOULD YOU CALL THIS BOOK AS A BIOGRAPHY OR A LOCAL HISTORY?
Both sound formidably formal. I’d be happier calling it the Shivaji Park story.