Text and Images: Sarita Manu
“The leasehold village of Vikhroli Turuf Marole in the Salsette Taluka … within the Bombay Suburban District” — these lines caught my attention immediately. I struggled to remember the last time any suburb of Mumbai (then, Bombay) had been referred to as a village. This was at the exhibition aptly titled, ‘Pirojshangar: Then and Now’, tracing the transformational journey of the village Vikhroli to the Godrej township that it is today.
At the exhibition, a public auction notice released in the year 1940 announced the auction of this leasehold village. The notice was displayed alongside photographs showing a young Pirojshah Godrej inspecting the land. The land was transferred to Godrej in the late 1940s, and on 4 July 1951, Pirojshah announced the beginning of operations at the first factory building at Vikhroli, comprising a roofed area of 2,33,000 sq ft.
Interestingly, the first production of this plant was making ‘Ballot Boxes’ for the young and newly independent India’s first general elections between end of 1951 and early 1952. The factory was churning out more than 15,000 ballot boxes in one day. A newspaper article put on show, quoted a Godrej spokesperson mention that if all the boxes (nine inches long) were put on top of each other, they would reach the height of several Mount Everests piled one on top of the other. If placed side by side, they would form a line 200 miles long. It was not hard to imagine that this would have truly been the case, given the number of ballot boxes India would have needed for a countrywide election. An old advertisement of Godrej was also displayed here, proudly featuring the ballot boxes produced at Vikhroli.
As the factory grew, the number of workers at Vikhroli also grew quickly. Always concerned about the welfare of his workers, Pirojshah built worker’s quarters, known as Baithi Chawls, in the complex. Pragati Kendra housed the exhibit today, but its historical role has been more extensive: it is a welfare centre especially for women and children, and Udayachal, a school for the worker’s children, were built soon thereafter. Mrs. Alooben Mowdawalla, the first Welfare Officer at Godrej Pragati Kendra, was instrumental in setting up the Pragati Kendra. Extracts of interviews with her and residents of the Baithi Chawls were present in the form of audio recordings at the exhibition.
The documents, photographs, structural drawings, press clippings, old advertisements and audio-visual material were only a part of the rich collection of the Godrej Archives, but they provided a great insight in to the story of Godrej, the development of the township and its green cover, and the lives of workers lives within the complex. In doing so, they showcased some of the ways in which India’s social changes have been closely tied to Indian industry.