Soon, we checked out and were in the rickshaw winding through the narrow and dusty streets of Navsari, on our way to Navsari Atash Behram. Navsari still looks the same as it did 20 years back. I feel it will look the same after 100 years too. I have spent many a childhood vacation here as my grandparents spent 25 years here, after they migrated to India from East Africa. May, Diwali and Christmas vacations during school days were spent in Navsari.
The city, though inhabited by Gujurati millionaires, paints a sorry picture. It looks like the development of the state of Gujarat decided to skip Navsari.
The place is still very dusty, narrow and dirty roads that are used by ever-increasing two-wheelers and cars, as also equally by cattle, goats and dogs. It must be a nigthmare driving through Navsari. Despite being a large city with a population of roughly 1,34,009, as far as I am concerned there is only one main road that runs through the city. All other roads would be lanes and bylanes. Except from new buildings that have come up across the city and beyond, there is no development that can be seen. Most of the buildings in the main city are built in very haphazard way and look ugly. Quite a lot of them do not even have proper paint on them; you can see only bricks.
Lines and lines of wires hang in mid-air, everywhere. Roads have uneven widths; sometimes broad, then suddenly becoming narrow. No traffic discipline; I did not spot a traffic signal, let alone a working one. Exactly as it was during my childhood days and exactly the way it will remain in my children's childhood also. Public transport is a mess with only rickshaws present. Infact with the number of cars and 2-wheelers gone up and with no road-widening happening or even possible or even flyovers, the government decided to withdraw the intra-city bus service (like Bombay's BEST and Delhi's Blueline buses). So, instead of taking step forward, the city I'm afraid, has taken two steps backwards.
What a pity. Because Navsari used to be my second home. I have so many fond memories that if I were a photographer, I'd have albums and albums chronicling the wonderful days of childhood spent here. Laskariwad, Tarota Bajar, Lunsikui, Rachna Apartments, Chaar pool, Dudhia Talao, Tower, E.F. kolah's gaajar-mewa pickle, Kolah's yummy ice-cream and lemom and soda, my granny Jalamai and grandpa Jalejar, Tehmi massi, Pila massi, Macca mami, Behram mama, Armaity, Nargis peck-peck, and much more.
The place was one of the early destinations of Parsi - Zoroastrian settlement in India and Gujarat. The 'Grand Old Man of India', Dadabhai Naoroji and Jamshetji Tata, founder of the Tata group of companies were born here. Hutoxi's husband Kerman told me that today there are around 2,000 Parsis left in Navsari, more than the number (around 1,500) in Surat. Still, Navsari has held, still holds and will always hold a very special place in my heart. I wish nothing but the best for the place.
So we land up at the Navsari Atash-Behram, an awesome building that captivates you as soon as you are in front of it. The beautiful garden in its compound, unfortunately, wasn't well-kept unlike olden days. But the temple was under renovation. I prayed there for around 45 minutes, then visited the small Agiary opposite. After that, I took a small sentimental stroll in the neighbourhood where my grand-parents' home was there. That house is still there though the walls seemed to have been done up. Saw Dina-Shirin's deserted mansion also, as also some other houses and the Mohalla, all of which bore an eery silence, quite unlike its heydays when the place was buzzing with hyper-activity, children playing cricket, the ice-cream-stall-on-wheels that used to pass by every evening and when I used to beg mom to buy me a chocolate ice-cream, thrice a week.
So after a hectic schedule, I was back at the Navsari station to catch the Gujarat Express. As my train left and picked up speed, I thought I had left behind a small piece of my heart. If only I could turn my clock behind - 20 years approximately - and play a game cricket with my friends of those days of that place, outside granny's house at Laskariwad....
(Seen in pictures: Navsari Atash Behram)