Mumbai: Armed with her school books, a mosquito repellent, a shawl, a floor mat and some food, 18-year-old Rupali Salve heads to a narrow quaint lane in Worli. Every day she finds a spot on the pavement and studies. Slowly, many more students join her.
Most of these students live in the neighbouring chawls and belong to lower-income families. Their living spaces tend to be cramped, one R-K (room-kitchen) houses. Starved for space, for them, this lane behind R. A. Podar Ayurved Medical College — Abhyas Galli (study lane) — is a sanctuary. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) undertook a project to beautify the iconic lane last year.
Salve, who is currently in 12th standard, stays in a nearby slum. Her family of five and their pets live in a one R-K. I don’t get enough space to study properly there. My 12th boards are approaching and it’s only here that I get enough peace to be able to study uninterrupted,” said Salve, adding that the makeover had made it even better.
For decades, this 40-meter tree-lined stretch which sees very little vehicular movement has played host to eager students and group studies.
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Sprucing up the gully of dreams
The renovations have turned what was earlier a shady lane with plain walls and no proper seating arrangement into a well-lit street with motivational quotes and art painted on the walls and benches with canopies.
“This lane is quite iconic for students, especially for those from the neighbouring BDD chawl. But earlier there were only a few benches and scattered lights. So we decided to revamp it,” said Santosh Dhonde, assistant municipal commissioner, BMC.
Many of the students who studied here have careers in finance and medicine, others have cracked the UPSC and MPSC.
“Many students have benefitted from studying here. We realised that improving the infrastructure can help more students in future,” said Dhonde.
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A welcome makeover
Abhyas Galli’s makeover was sanctioned by Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and Worli MLA Aaditya Thackeray in 2021.
The project, completed in March 2022, was inaugurated in October. The BMC spent nearly Rs 70 lakh on it. Apart from the beautification, a toilet facility and drinking water stations were also added to the lane.
The street is now fitted with Halogen lamps and CCTV cameras, which has given students a sense of security. The footpath has been renovated and even the road has been newly tarred.
The plain walls are painted with bright murals and motivational quotes. The canopies over the new seating arrangements ensure that students can even study during monsoons, said a BMC official who worked on the project.
“The makeover has been done nicely. The quotes on the wall are inspiring and motivating. It is beautiful,” said Salve.
BMC has also painted QR codes on the walls, which when scanned give students access to e-books and online career guidance.
“After 10th grade, students are only aware of a few career options like medicine, engineering, or defence forces. We wanted to acquaint them with more options,” the official quoted above said.
18-year-old Rahul Gupta was introduced to the lane by his coaching class teacher. He, too, had frequented the lane growing up. “Our coaching sir came to visit us a couple of days ago and was really impressed looking at the improvement of this road,” said Gupta.
Abhyas Galli’s appeal
In a bustling city like Mumbai, where neighbourhoods are noisy, apartments are small and families big, Abhyas Galli is a sanctuary for these students. The lane has visitors throughout the day, but the numbers swell around sunset.
Post midnight, even when the city slows down, the students remain. The lane has been a mainstay for the past three to four generations of students, say the residents of the area.
“I can study properly here and can study for many hours at a stretch. There is peace here,” said Gupta, who stays in a chawl in Mahalaxmi.
Most of the students that come here are from the neighbouring BDD chawls. A house in the chawl is just about 180 sq ft, which led to students seeking out more space.
Many who studied in the lane have carved out successful careers for themselves.
23-year-old Sahil More, who works in the accounts department at a private firm, says he owes his success to Abhyasgalli. He and nine other students from his college studied here until 2019.
“I stay at BDD and my neighbourhood is very noisy. I got to know about Abhyas Galli from my seniors. It was a great place for group study as it was an open space and not like a library. We were comfortable there, we could share notes, talk, discuss openly,” he said.
He wished the renovation was done a little earlier, as the sanitation then was not up to the mark. The lack of a toilet was a common complaint.
“Since there was no toilet nearby, some people used to urinate on the walls late at night. It used to stink the next day but we had to manage,” said Sanket Shilvankar, who now works as a government employee.
Students say there is still more to be done.
According to Salve, loud couples or those who want to play mobile games frequent the lane and disturb those who are studying. “Mosquitoes are an irritating distraction but these humans roaming around are worse. It needs to be taken care of,” she said.
In terms of infrastructure, students feel that the number of benches and canopies needs to be increased.
The BMC said this was the first phase of the project and they will work on the suggestions and feedback in the second phase. A timeline has not been set for the next phase.
But through all the forms this lane has taken, it has shaped the careers and lives of thousands of marginalised students. It lives up to its unofficial tagline- Yethe swapna puri hotat, which translates to ‘here, dreams come true’.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)