According to popular legend, if you lose anything in Mumbai, you can repurchase it in its iconic “Chor Bazaar.”
But did you know that it was originally called Shor Bazaar, meaning “noisy market,” but “shor” became “chor” because the British mispronounced the word?
Funny, isn’t it?
This ever-buzzing 150-year-old market attracts throngs of people in search of everything—from century-old antiques, limited edition old Bollywood posters to spare automobile parts. The range of items available here will blow your mind whether you are a tourist or a local.
Shor Bazaar isn’t the only street or neighbourhood in Mumbai to be named after the activity or business that takes place within its boundaries; the city boasts of numerous such gallis or markets.
For example, it is dotted with khau gallis which sell mouth-watering street food, and even chappal gallis that are known for selling…. what else, chappals!
But why are we talking about streets and their names?
Because this story is about a street in Mumbai, which is like no other!
Once the sun sets and night nears, the halogen lights across this galli come to life and it starts filling up with students. Armed with books and stationery, away from the noise within their small homes packed with big families, they take their spot and thus begins the long night of undisturbed studying.
Surrounded by trees on either side, this tranquil ‘Abhyas Galli’ or ‘Padhai Galli’ (study street) behind Poddar Hospital off the busy Worli Naka has been a haven for students for more than two generations.
Equipped with bright lights and clean benches and revamped by Mumbai Misaal with eye-catching street art and motivational messages, the Abhyas Galli has changed hundreds of lives.
Even though its age is still shrouded in mystery, it is considered to be just as old as the BDD chawl which dates back to 1920.
What’s in a name?
The lane is originally a part of Sudam Kali Ahire Marg. It was officially renamed Abhyas Galli after locals approached the corporator with the demand. The halogen lights that illuminate the street were installed by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST).
The place is not just popular for self-study but for group study sessions too. The students claim that studying together, has improved their grades.
Several ‘alumni’ or ‘ex-users of the street,’ as they like to call themselves, come back and help the juniors during the exam period as well.
When asked why they prefer the road over their own homes, the students, a majority of whom are residents of the 120 sq ft BDD chawl kholis (rooms) add how the road is better to study through the night than libraries, which have limited space and also shut down early.
Rahul Adepu, an engineering student, who has been studying at Abhyas Galli for two years, shared his experience with the Indian Express.
“We can sit through the night for however long we like. Back at home, we have only one room, and it becomes difficult to study with the whole family around.”
The tiny homes at BDD have far more people that it can hold. And the quest for a quiet study space leads these young students to the galli.
Beginning at 7 pm, these students study until the wee hours of the morning. The peak time is between 7 pm and 10 pm.
Does the space ever get overcrowded, you may wonder. Yes, the lane is the busiest during the exam weeks in April and December, especially when the commerce and engineering exams clash.
When is the lane the least crowded?
At the start of the academic year, i.e., June, the big exams are over and the small group of 15-20 students that you find during this period is students preparing for engineering, company secretary, central and state civil services exams.
The galli also lies vacant during the Mumbai monsoons, and most of the students moving to the government-funded library and reading room in the area.
How do the students manage?
Some use old flex banners as a mat on the road; others get a cloth from home to camp on. A few others find parked bikes to sit and study on, while a few others traipse with books in their hands, reading on the go.
Most students know each other’s names, the course they are studying in or the colleges they go to. Some, who are the same year, are often seen sharing reference books or exchanging notes and clearing doubts. The age groups range from 12 to 28 years.
Nothing including mosquitoes, the shadows cast by the lights, friendly strays or vehicles rushing past them disturbs their concentration. While they study hard, they also balance it out with breaks where they chat, listen to music or go on walks.
Over the years, several students from the galli have become doctors, engineers, startup entrepreneurs and even police officials.
One such student is Raj Janagam. The 15-year-old SSC student was among a few others who moved to the galli, to study during the Cricket World Cup of 2003.
He would spend hours, and at times, even stayed overnight, so that he could study in peace. His hard work bore fruit when he scored 86 per cent in the final exams. Today he runs an incubator for startups in Hyderabad.
Similarly, Amitesh Mishra, who studied in the galli for eight years became a polytechnic engineer. He started Renu Systems and Solutions, his website development company, which caters to industry biggie’s like YES Bank, NSDL and Edelweiss.
Studying on the street though is not as easy as it seems. Toilets are at a distance, and refreshment shops don’t stay open through the night. Additionally, drug addicts, alcoholics and motorbike racers and stuntmen frequent the lanes late at night.
However, the Mumbai police now constantly patrols the area to tackle any illegal activities and ensure the street stays safe for the students.
In a cynical city which complains about space-crunch, streets like Abhyas Galli reinstate our faith that we will never run of space. Not for studying at least.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)