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The three wishes of Macbeth Lane

Updated on: 28 January,2024 06:12 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Meher Marfatia |

Did the Shakespearean tragedy truly christen this pathway? Why was it called Batak Gully before being renamed for a patriot? Presenting the stories behind a little Byculla lane’s trio of monikers

The three wishes of Macbeth Lane

Brian Valdeiro points to the entrance of Macbeth Lane outside Masina Building and American Express Bakery. Pics/Sameer Markande

Meher MarfatiaEver since my amazing filmmaker friend, Byculla boy Rafeeq Ellias, mentioned a mid-town gully of his childhood, I haven’t quit thinking about intriguing Macbeth Lane. Not a trace of it on Google Maps, this is today Nasratullah Abbasi Marg, honouring the freedom fighter participating in the Civil Disobedience and Quit India struggles.

Would a classic tragic hero likely inspire a narrow path linking Clare Road (Mirza Ghalib Marg today) of Byculla to Ripon Road (Maulana Azad Road) of Madanpura?    
To action Mission Macbeth Lane has meant tramping through it clueless for quite a while. Till an eventual aha! moment hit, thanks to information shared by Emil Carvalho from the family owning American Express Bakery (AEB). It reveals nothing remotely Shakespearean about this little lane.

Abdul Hamid Ansari, patriot and founder-publisher of Inquilab, the daily produced at Inquilab Manzil on the lane corner; An early portrait of his son Khalid Ansari who established Sportsweek and mid-dayAbdul Hamid Ansari, patriot and founder-publisher of Inquilab, the daily produced at Inquilab Manzil on the lane corner; An early portrait of his son Khalid Ansari who established Sportsweek and mid-day

“AEB House was bought from Noman Bruce Macbeth of Petersfield, Hants, England, and John Noel Macbeth in 1939. The property was known as Macbeth House,” Carvalho explains. “There was no wall facade fronting the road; probably to enable hauling the heavy farming equipment they dealt in.”

Walked in from its east end on Clare Road (where old-timers confirm the Macbeth Lane sign hung), the grimy gully is flanked by AEB House and Masina Building. Its flour power producing popular breads, savouries and sweets for well over a century, AEB was started by Emil’s great grandfather Francisco Carvalho in 1908 from a Grant Road outlet. It was named on account of the reputation of speedily delivering items to wartime US ships docking in Bombay harbour. From the landmark pink heritage structure headquarters, oven-fresh aromas waft comfortingly round the block.

Masina Building came to be so known because it housed the precursor to Masina Hospital, now further north on Victoria Road, or Sant Savta Marg. Dr Hormasji Manekji Masina’s tiny facility in 1902 for four patients in this building soon grew to two adjacent buildings accommodating over 100 cases. Suffering an acute hernia attack which Dr Masina alone cured satisfactorily, the philanthropic merchant David Sassoon gave the good doctor his palatial property, Sans Souci, for Rs 25,000.

Javed Ahmed Ansari and Ubaidullah Ansari (holding up a copy of Inquilab) at The Bombay City Weavers Co-operative Society store at Inquilab Manzil Javed Ahmed Ansari and Ubaidullah Ansari (holding up a copy of Inquilab) at The Bombay City Weavers Co-operative Society store at Inquilab Manzil 

“I have heard that the nurses’ quarters were located in nearby Jubilee Mansion,” says Brian Valdeiro. His father Charles opened Model Laundry in Masina Building in the 1960s. Possibly the shop bordering Alishan, whose signboard reads: “Since 1952. All types of police and security items available”.

Valdeiro adds, “Large numbers of Catholics, Anglo Indians, Parsis, a few Muslim families and plenty of Jews till Israel began claiming them back made Byculla and Mazgaon pleasant, happening addresses, with posh hotels, the best parties and smart tailoring establishments catering to stylish clients.” The scene naturally dazzled brightest toward Christmas and New Year, with elegant dances formally staged in the gully under rows of twinkling Xmas stars.  

Macbeth Lane’s west tip tells a particularly poignant genesis tale at Inquilab Manzil, earlier Imperial Mansion. It witnessed the initial years of Inquilab, the mothership of the mid-day newspaper. Appearing in 1937-38 as the Urdu voice championing the poor and helpless, Inquilab was born as a result of the fervour and foresight of freedom patriot Abdul Hamid Ansari, the father of veteran publisher-writer Khalid Ansari who started the iconic Sportsweek and mid-day. Deeply involved with milestones leading to Independence, including the Salt Satyagraha, Abdul Hamid was jailed on several occasions between 1920 and 1947. The Khada Parsi statue junction, north-ending Clare Road, has been renamed Abdul Hamid Ansari Chowk.

Hilda and Richard Patrao, long-time residents of Noor Building, formerly Deccan House. Pic/Sameer MarkandeHilda and Richard Patrao, long-time residents of Noor Building, formerly Deccan House. Pic/Sameer Markande

Hailed as fakhr-e-sahafat (pride of journalism) and mujahid-e-azaadi (soldier of freedom) for the nationalist ideals his daily publication fearlessly expressed, Abdul Hamid attracted the attention of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Invited to continue bringing out Inquilab in Karachi of newly-created Pakistan, he shot back, “I’ll not migrate as long as even one Muslim is left on Indian soil.”

Wandering on, I ask wizened old men perched on parked scooters outside the mosque, “Iss raaste ko Batak Gully kyon kehtey hain?” Simple, one offers, stroking his beard sagely, “Angrez log aur Parsi log ke alaava koi Macbeth sahi nahin bol sakte. Toh baaki log Batak-Batak bolne lagey.”

Khalid Ansari’s memoir, It’s A Wonderful World, shines more authentic-sounding light on the issue: “Our play area next to the ramshackle building grandiosely named Imperial Mansion, where children played barefoot cricket, football, hockey, Seven Tiles and Robbers and Thieves, was congested. Uneven and narrow, Macbeth Lane was also Batak Gully because ducks belonging to the East Indian community waddled there without check, often felled by a truant cricket sixer, much to the owners’ chagrin.”

The description of the process of printing his father’s editions, hand-rendered by calligraphers called katibs, is excitingly detailed in the book: “All Inquilab pages were written by hand on a specially coated yellow paper, then transferred onto stone by a massive hand press before being moved to the antediluvian printing press. Literally the Stone Age, those days remain etched in my memory. The newspaper was built on hard-headed, no-nonsense honesty and sincerity of purpose.”

Recalling regulars on his way to St Mary’s School and back through the lane, Khalid says, “Handsome Jafferbhai Mansuri, my dear departed friend and mentor, was wooing Gauhar Taj, a beautiful Iranian lady. He walked down Ripon Road, through Batak Gully every single day at 4 pm (I could almost set my watch but didn’t have one) and on to Dongri where she resided. He went on to marry the lovely lady, who mothered Shahab Durazi and his siblings.”

Other well-remembered Inquilab Manzil neighbours include, “the dashing Douglas Rocha, who reminded me of Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and the Roy family at whose home I was a whole lot.” Wilfred Fernandes, head honcho of the engineering firm Richardson & Cruddas, and his wife Hettie, lived above the Roys. They walked to Clare Road holding hands affectionately, to twitters from passersby and shy amusement of conservative hand-weaver ladies working on the sidewalk.

 “I recollect the women who wove satranji rugs and chaddars on charkhas,” says Ubaidullah Ansari, thumping neat a pile of Solapur chaarsas and blankets in glass showcases of The Bombay City Weavers Co-operative Society shop at Inquilab Manzil, where he has served behind the counter for 44 years. His father, a mazdoor with Hindustan Mills at Jacob Circle, came from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh, the ancestral base of many Ansari families excelling at weaving.

Above the historic store, the apartment of 81-year-old Ira Roy is lined with Encyclopaedia Britannica volumes and other evidence of an intellectually stimulating life. A feminist and activist for the Narmada Bachao Andolan, she was a scientific librarian at Unilever’s Research Centre.

Her nephew, Anand Roy, a marketing strategy director in London, messages: “Before emigrating to Australia, my mother’s family lived on the lane, adjoining the mosque and American Express. My parents had among the first unusual mixed marriages here. My father Ashoke Roy was Hindu Bengali, my mother Louisa Soares, a Goan Catholic, was on the Indian hockey team. Spending five teen years at Inquilab Manzil, it breaks my heart to see the area run to the ground. You cannot believe how lovely it was.”

Ira’s brother, journalist Anoop Roy, connects on a phone call from Delhi. “Khalid Ansari’s family tenanted the top floor of three-storeyed Imperial Mansion before they bought the property from the Peerbhoys, changing its name to mirror his paper. The weaving activity on the lane was famous enough for the site to be colloquially called the ‘Khataara Khat’ spot—suggesting that typical repetitive sound of the hand-worked loom.”   

Minah Haim, a baker on Ripon Road, sold her confections to customers on Macbeth Lane. An Orthodox Jew, her faith did not permit turning on the electricity on Shabbat. As the sky darkened, Saturdays saw kids vie to run and switch on lights for Haim. Returning the favour, she kept delicious date sweets on a kitchen table within their reach.  

When His Majesty Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud came on a state visit in the winter of 1955, Abdul Hamid Ansari requested Anoop’s father, Abhay Charan Roy, to join the mosque’s official reception committee. “The Saudi king expressed surprise at Hindus like my dad and Christians welcoming him with his community members,” Anoop says.

But politically expedient religiosity has taken over. Orange flags replace the red that fluttered in the neighbourhood united for being strongly labour class. My eyes jump from one quaint shop sign to another: Astrologer Roshanlal Shastriji announcing his services on the Masina Building door, to pehelwans and bone setters opposite Inquilab Manzil.    

Watching me wince trying to imagine how different the grotty but gritty gully must have been in its secular heyday, Richard Patrao of Noor Building says, “Over a century old, our building used to be called Deccan House. My father decided to settle in the heart of the city, with anything and everything one wants within convenient access. Though this is true till date, at what cost. Overall deterioration has brought things close to ruin. Some building entrances are too filthy to go inside. Cleanliness, cosmopolitanism and character—once the pride of our lane—are three qualities we wish it never lost.”

Author-publisher Meher Marfatia writes fortnightly on everything that makes her love Mumbai and adore Bombay. You can reach her at

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