Mrs Marya Shabbir Jasdonwala in her room at the apartment complex in Anjeerwadi
Mrs Marya Shabbir Jasdonwala in her room at the apartment complex in Anjeerwadi

23 January, 2018 Straits Times (Singapore)

Mrs Marya Shabbir Jasdonwala stares out of the window of her house in southern Mumbai. “I had a dream that I would sit on my couch and look out of the window and see trees. I never thought it would come true,” said the 47-year-old, who runs a travel business.

In 2010, she and her family relocated to their current home, in an apartment complex built by the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust. The complex in Anjeerwadi is meant to be temporary accommodation for families displaced by the redevelopment of Bhendi Bazaar, which is known for its decrepit colonial-era low-rises. There are 750 families living in the apartment complex.

Mrs Jasdonwala said her family immediately took to the plan to redevelop Bhendi Bazaar as it came from the late spiritual leader of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. The Dawoodi Bohra Muslims can be found in Western India and are a tight-knit group and generally well off.

“We trust our Holiness. We left Bhendi Bazaar within a fortnight and were the first to come to the new construction,” said Mrs Jasdonwala, who lived in Bhendi Bazaar after she got married two decades ago.

At one point, she recalled, nine family members lived in a dormitory-style room of 32.5 sq m – or about half as big as the usual Housing Board three-room flat in Singapore. The bathroom was outside the house and the window opened out onto another building. Water often had to be stored in buckets and hauled up flights of stairs amid shortages or when dirty water flowed out of the taps.

Mrs Jasdonwala said: “We did not get sunlight or fresh air. But I got used to it. For a month after I got married, my mother-in-law would send my husband with me when I wanted to use the toilet.”

While waiting for Bhendi Bazaar to be redeveloped, Mrs Jasdonwala lives with her husband and mother-in-law in two 23.2 sq m rooms in Anjeerwadi. Clean water flows out of the taps, the complex is clean and the surroundings are green. Anjeerwadi in Mazgaon is one of three temporary resettlement homes built by the trust, which is not charging rent and is even paying for electricity and moving costs.

Lives have already improved for the families. Many have bought cars as there are parking facilities, while children can play inside the complex instead of on the streets. The sense of community has also remained intact – most doors are left open and residents pop in and out of one another’s homes. Mrs Jasdonwala is so comfortable in this temporary accommodation that she does not want to move out, although trust officials assure her that the new accommodation in Bhendi Bazaar will be even better. She said: “I don’t know what it is, but my whole life has been changed after coming here. I don’t want to leave.”