But that was the '80s, before economic reforms, before the brands Ulhasnagar Sindhis were supposed to be faking appeared legally on Indian shelves, before the craze for phoren things abated. When I visit Ulhasnagar in mid-December 2000, in the wake of a cholera epidemic, there's nothing remotely funny about the place. It's in fact another of those towns India forgot.
Post-Partition, about a lakh Sindhi refugees were settled in this former military camp. In 1949, the then governor general C. Rajagopalachari converted it into a township and named it Ulhasnagar after the adjoining river. Today it's India's largest enclave of this ethnic group. The cholera epidemic, however, laid bare the reality in this refugee settlement. While there's been one reported death, nearly 1,250 people tested positive for cholera. And it's clear why: exactly where the Ulhasnagar Municipal Commission lifts water for purification and chlorination is where the effluents from the thickly populated Dhobi Ghat and Khemani areas flow into the Ulhas river. The river is also host to chemical and other wastes of 100 power looms and steel cupboard units. Even if the water is chlorinated at source, it's no use as other pollutants get mixed with it at points where the pipes are broken, and most of them are—they date back to World War II.