Only constant thing in life is change, and Mumbai is no exception

Cities change all the time and Mumbai even more so, quick and often the first to embrace change. Cyber cafes, PCO booths, Mafco and Aarey stalls that dotted the city are long gone

Only constant thing in life is change, and Mumbai is no exception
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Aparna Joshi

The sea, vada pav and cutting chai besides the ‘dabbawalas’ were what Mumbai was known for. They were constants, unchanging even as the ‘maximum city’ went about its business of discarding the old and embracing the new.

Cities change all the time and Mumbai even more so, quick and often the first to embrace change. The ration-era glass milk bottles with their distinctive tin foil seals, the cardboard local train tickets and the purple ‘King Long’ airconditioned buses, once inseparable part of Mumbai, have disappeared.

Cyber cafes had mushroomed during the dotcom boom and introduced millions to the World Wide Web. The first cyber café opened at Mumbai’s Leela Hotel in 1996, a year after VSNL brought the internet to India. By the early 2000s, hundreds of cyber cafes hummed in the bylanes, where youth flocked to check Hotmail, chat on Yahoo Messenger and networked on Orkut.

In 2007, there were 380 cafes still in business in Mumbai. But the pioneer at the Leela had downed its shutters. The first ‘licensed’ cyber cafe, Guru Cyber Cafe in Chembur, closed shop in 2011. Visitors and young customers still duck into some of the remaining ones for some quick surfing, e-mailing, printing and downloading documents and train tickets. That part of the business too has been usurped by stationery shops.

Like cyber cafes, Public Call Booths, from where one could call any landline for a rupee a minute, and make long distance calls at a fraction of the rate at night, too have disappeared. It is hard to believe that even in 2009, the number of PCOs in the country were 50 lakhs. But Mumbai discarded them as quickly as it had embraced them. Although some call booths outside railway stations still do some business, it is only travellers passing through the city who appear to patronise them.

Not many youngsters in the city would know what the coupon validating machines at suburban railway stations looked like. The CVMs, introduced on August 15 1994, allowed passengers to punch in pre-bought coupons for all three branches of the local railways.

The CVMs were intended to bring down the length of the serpentine queues at the booking counters and to reduce time taken to purchase tickets. These coupons and the ‘red box’ machines were an instant hit and survived till May 1, 2015, when the railways migrated to Automatic Ticket Vending Machines (ATVMs), smart cards and the mobile ticketing system.


Fire hydrants were once a ubiquitous fixture on the city’s pavements. Till a decade ago, around 1500 hydrants out of an estimated 10,000 and more, meant to help the fire brigade douse flames, were still operational. Now valves of these hydrants are buried deep inside the pavements or the hydrants are choked with garbage.

Gone are also the numerous Mafco and Aarey stalls that dotted the city from the 1970s, selling milk and dairy products, the most popular of which was Energee, the flavoured milk drink. Mafco, short for Maharashtra Agro and Fruit Processing Corporation, shut down in 2006, but its stalls continue to dot Mumbai’s footpaths, some in ruins, some illegally turned into commercial retail outlets.

Several hundred Aarey stalls too are still functional and Energee, a pale shadow of its glorious past, continues to be sold in its distinctive squat glass bottles. But how long is the question. Not for long is clearly the answer.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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