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Half a century young

Few people even know that the J.B. in J.B. Nagar stands for Jamnalal Bajaj, noted freedom fighter and philanthropist. This piece, by a resident of the housing society, describes its early days.

During the Quit India movement of 1942, Shriniwas Bagarka, a freedom fighter and staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi, was imprisoned in Nasik jail. There he pondered over the Himalayan difficulties that the middle-class Bombayite had to endure to secure a roof of his own.

His colleagues in the jail -- Shantilal Shah, a solicitor and Gandhian; Vaikunthbhai Mehta, a leading light of the country's cooperative movement; and S.K. Patil, a senior Congressman -- suggested that a cooperative housing society be formed in which middle-class Bombayites could be allotted plots of land to build their own houses. Thus was sown the seed of the Shri Rajasthan Cooperative Housing Society Ltd. Not long after, on 19 May 1946, Bagarka and 14 close friends formed and registered the society.

Then began the search for land. Two places were shortlisted. One was at Goregaon and the other was the present one, then known as Bamanpuri in the revenue village of Kondivita. A leading figure of the Marwari community, Ghanshyamdas Sitaram Poddar, owned the land. He was one of the main patrons of the community, ever eager to assist in charitable projects, be it schools, dharmashalas, or aid to the needy. He sold 125,000 sq yards of his land at Rs 2-annas 8 per sq yard.

In the meanwhile the aviation ministry wanted to acquire a substantial portion of the land. This complication was eventually sorted out, and on 20 February 1949 the foundation stone was laid by Gulzarilal Nanda, who was then minister of labour and housing of Bombay State. (Nanda later officiated as prime minister first after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and then after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri; he was recently awarded the Bharat Ratna.) The ceremony was presided over by Vaikunthbhai Mehta, minister of commerce and cooperation of Bombay State. All the noted personalities of the Marwari community in Bombay were present. The solicitors of the society, Bhaishankar Kanga and Girdharilal, were represented by Shantilal Shah, a partner, who later himself became a minister of Bombay State.

A part of the land, about 25,000 sq yards, was sold to Dr Lele, the founder of Borosil Glass works. He was a gem of a man and an active well-wisher of the society. This land is now known as Lelewadi. At the foundation-laying ceremony, Shriniwas Bagarka proposed that the township be named after Jamnalal Bajaj, a leading freedom fighter of the country and philanthropist. This proposal was accepted unanimously and thus the name J.B. Nagar came into existence. Soon after plots were allotted and construction began. The then finance minister, Morarji Desai, and other colleagues in the government assisted the society in obtaining loans from the Bombay Provincial Land Mortgage Bank.

B. Mhatre, an architect, drew the plans for the society. Roads were built and by 1951 seven to eight bungalows were completed. The remaining land was covered by grass and teemed with snakes. It was not surprising to see tigers, leopards and jackals straying from the contiguous National Park jungles. Almost daily a snake was killed. But it may be Divine Grace that not a single human was harmed by wildlife.

On 1 October 1951 a post office was opened; it was designated as a district post office bearing the number Bombay 43. In 1953 the society started a Hindi pathshala (school) having four classes with Shri Narendrapal Singh as the headmaster. Four rooms of brick walls and tin roofs were erected where the college stands at present.

A BEST bus service from Marol to Andheri via J.B. Nagar was started on 1 January 1955. This was in addition to the existing private bus service run by AKV Transport owned by the Tandon brothers. In 1960, the Shri Rajasthani Seva Sangh was formed as a trust. Three plots were leased to it (free of cost) and the school handed over to it. The Rajasthani Seva Sangh, though a separate identity for legal purposes, was in reality a part and parcel of the society itself. It expanded the school and named it as Shri Ghanshyamdas Poddar Vidyalaya. In 1976, the Sangh started a girls' college which was inaugurated by the then minister of tourism and civil aviation, Rajbahadur, who was close to the founders and helped the society in various ways, whether in obtaining telephone lines or opening a post office. Rajbahadurji suggested that the college be named after the founder of Shri Rajasthani Cooperative Housing Society and Shri Rajasthan Seva Sangh. The suggestion was readily accepted and thus Shriniwas Bagarka College came into existence. To this was added a degree college. Later, an English medium school was started.

On 5 February 1961, the foundation of the Laxminarayana Temple was laid by Mahadevi Piramal Makharia. The temple is a sterling example of Rajasthani architecture in the city and cost Rs 250,000. Shriniwas Bagarka noted in his diary that he often wondered how such a grand project could be implemented without an anna in their pockets. He went on to answer his own question by saying that since it was God Laxminarayan's work, God himself would take care of things. And God did.

On 17 April 1964 the temple was inaugurated with the participation of priests from various parts of the country under the patronage of Mr and Mrs Mahavirprasad Dalmia.

By the late fifties, an independent house had gone beyond the reach of the middle class. Thus came a proposal to build multistoreyed buildings, with apartments owned by individual members. For this purpose the constitution of the society was amended on 4 October 1962. This was one of the earliest instances of what is now considered universal -- ownership flats.

With a tree plantation drive launched by the then chief minister of Rajasthan, Mohanlal Sukhadia, on 17 May 1964, the development of the Seth Piramal Udyan started.

The founder of the society, Shriniwas Bagarka, expired on 12 February 1965. The day is observed by the institutions set up by him as Founder's Day. The members of the society and staff of the educational institutions run by Shri Rajasthani Seva Sangh assemble in the Seth Piramal Udyan near his bust and pay a silent tribute to him.

On 25 February 1965 Indravadhan Ojha, a noted trade union leader and Congressman, laid the foundation stone of a wadi (community hall and dharamshala). However, the society could not construct it and handed over the project to the Marwadi Fatehpuria Panchayati Wadi Trust. The then food and agriculture minister of Maharashtra state, P.K. Sawant, laid foundation stones on 9 April 1965 for a wadi and a primary school. The school was merged with Shri Ghanyshyamdas Poddar Vidyalaya and the Satyanarayan Goenka Bhawan was built.

It will not be out of place to mention that J.B. Nagar is one of the first and biggest societies in the city. It has several facilities but the outgoings of members are minimal. The residents here are like a big family having a clear ethnic distinction. It is a matter of pride that the society has completed 50 years of existence.

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