From Bombay To Mumbai: A Journey Through Postcards Part 1

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Rajabhai Tower, Bombay to Mumbai
Kartik and Rushikesh
Kartik and Rushikesh

Each time, I walk around the streets of our city, I try to rewind the clock and go back in time. In an era when the sea was nearer to Churchgate station and tongas were used more than taxis. That was a period when not only the city but the entire country was in transition and it would constantly evolve rapidly for many years to come. The First War of Independence – Uprising of 1857 changed the course of British Rule completely. The reigns of power were transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. The first cotton mill was opened and the Fort walls of the city were brought down. University of Mumbai was established and more train services were launched. Henry Bartle Frere, the newly appointed governor went about constructing buildings influenced heavily by the Gothic Architectural style. And today a walk around the alleys of fort or a visit to any major public buildings is enough to transpose you back into the era of the Raj or as I call it the era of Struggle.

Therefore, when we came across a batch of postcards and photos of major landmarks of the city, taken almost a 100 years ago, we decided to capture them as they stand today. I tagged along with Kartik Chandramouli, an explorer with a camera to whom we owe these brilliant photos and tried to evaluate the changes that have occurred over these years. We walked across the city in search of the structures and localities, some famous, some lesser known some built by the British, and some indigenously built and in the process undertook a virtual journey through the passage of history. We present to you the transformation of Bombay into Mumbai.

In this three part series we will try to showcase not just the structural use of a place but also the symbolic metamorphosis that it has undergone. We have tried to maintain the same angle of the new photograph to match its older counterpart but traffic, foliage, temporary structures did not always permit it. That, also is an indicator of the changing times. Each place can be explored independently or one can go on a self guided trail as the places have been mentioned in an order which will facilitate a photo walk for the adventurous.

Marine Drive
Marine Drive

Marine Drive
A more recently constructed public space, it was built as early as 1920. The sea extended all the way to Churchgate station, but owing to the increasing population land was reclaimed from the sea and more buildings were constructed on this newly acquired land. it connects the business district of Nariman Point with the elite residential areas of Malabar Hill and Walkeshwar. Most of the buildings along the bay feature the Art Deco style of Architecture as one might notice in the photo which captures the junction of Veer Nariman Marg and Netaji Subhash Chandra Marg.

Over the years, the popularity of this beautiful boulevard has increased and it has become a melting pot for people belonging to all classes and cultures. Apart from the usual tourists and couples in love, one can now see the health conscious running laps or walking briskly on this 3 km stretch, a positive indicator about the changing times. Although it is never deserted, and sometimes you would find a sea of humanity sitting with their legs dangling over the parapet, swinging them with the breeze, it never feels chaotic. In fact, it is one of the best places to seek solitude as you watch the tetrapods stand strong and bear the brunt of the lashing waves. No wonder, that senior bureaucrats, police officers and business magnates are routinely spotted walking along with ordinary citizens like you and I. Marine Drive is a leveler indeed.

Rajabhai Tower

Rajabai Clock Tower and University Library
Premchand Roychand was the renowned founder of the Bombay Stock Exchange. However, his other significant contribution to the city is the Rajabai Clock tower modelled on the Big Ben of London. Located in the University of Mumbai campus adjoining the University Library and convocation hall, it used to be the tallest structure in the city for a long time, it also features some great stained glass work. Lund and Blockley(Spot them at David Sassoon library) designed the carillons which enabled the tower to play 16 tunes! However, now it chimes every 15 minutes playing the same tune each time. It features prominently on the University of Mumbai’s logo and stands out prominently in the South Bombay skyline. Recently, Tata Consultancy Services and University of Mumbai have inked an MoU to restore the tower and library. The library adjoining the tower is an architectural marvel in itself too. Built in Kurla stone, with some Porbandar stone additions, it provides a large airy reading room for students of the university. Engraved in the capitals(top most portions) of columns on the way to the reading room you can spot faces of Homer and Shakespeare peering down upon you!

Convocation Hall of University of Mumbai
The Sir Cowasjee Jehangier Convocation Hall was opened in the year 1874. It can comfortably seat around 1000 people. Grey granite from Ratnagiri has been used to construct the staircase pillars. One can spot leaping gargoyles with faces of dogs, lions and other animals on the exterior walls of the hall. One of the most remarkable features of this hall is the circular window with twelve divisions and a diameter of 20 feet. The outer circles of the window feature the twelve zodiac signs while the 12 months of the year are featured in the inner circle. However, it can only be viewed from within the hall. The carvings are intricate and students of JJ School of Art under the leadership of John Lockwood Kipling have played a big role in creating them. Today the convocation hall apart from hosting various ceremonies is also given out for other public events. The recent one being the Wikiconference India 2011. A beautiful garden covers the entire surroundings of the University Campus and one may spot a variety of birds flitting through this little green zone.

Bombay High Court, Rajabhai Tower, City Civil and Sessions Court

Bombay High Court, Rajabai Tower, City Civil and Sessions Court and Oval Maidan
Starting from the left, you may spot the iconic Bombay High Court building which is celebrating 150 years of existence after it was created in 1862 along with High courts of presidency towns of Madras and Calcutta. The history of the court can be traced back to the Recorders Court (located in the Great Western Building on Apollo streets, as mentioned earlier) The judges corridor is on the western side and is reserved exclusively for their movement. Symbolic statues of Justice and Mercy are located on its two conical roofs facing the oval Maidan. This building has witnessed some of the best legal battles of the country, fought between legal stalwarts which have left an impression on the history of the city and our country. The tricolour flies high on the roof the High Court, one of the strongest pillars of our nation.

Old Secretariat – City Civil and Sessions Court
This was one of the first buildings along the Oval Maidan facing the west, to benefit from the sea breeze which lied closer than it’s current location. This two storey building housed the secretariat until 1950 after which a new building was constructed at Nariman Point. This building was taken over by the judiciary and now houses the City Civil and Sessions Court – Greater Bombay. Civilian as well as criminal matters are taken up in this court. The media makes a beeline on the eastern exit where criminals arrive to enter the courtroom areas. The post office located within the court has not been renamed till date and is known as the Secretariat post office.

Oval Maidan
One might notice that the buildings are shrouded from view owing to the green patches that have emerged, owing to the well maintained Oval Maidan. The maidan which takes it name from its shaped was not in a good condition until the maintenance was taken over by the Oval Cooperage Resident Association. After the monsoons, the ground comes alive as it plays host to many cricket tournaments and football matches that take place quite regularly. Owing to the ban of all political, religious activities, the ground transforms into one of a kind public parks of the city. However, it suffers from security lapses and one can easily spot prostitutes and other anti social elements frequenting the maidan after sunset. Nevertheless, it is a public space worthy of a visit!

Esplanade Mansion
Originally housing the Watson’s Hotel, this is a prominent structure at Kala Ghoda. Located next to the Bombay City and Civil court, this building in it’s prime has witnessed many important milestones of history. A whites only hotel it was the venue where Lumiere Brothers’ showcased their Cinematographe invention. The hotel had over 100 rooms with balconies overlooking the Kala Ghoda area, a ballroom and also English waitresses. Cast iron fabricated in London was shipped to Bombay and assembled here. However, following Watson’s death, the hotel lost its glory and soon succumbed to neglect. It closed down in 1960 and since then has been converted into an office building housing many offices of lawyers practicing in the nearby courts. A walk through the building’s numerous corridors and a climb up it’s wooden staircases are enough to imagine the hotel in all its splendour. However, leaking roofs, dilapidated corners and notices slapped by the municipal authorities declaring the building a dangerous structure remind you of the sad state in which Esplanade mansions stands without complaining.

Esplanade Bandstand

Esplanade Bandstand – Cooperage Bandstand
Earlier known as Esplanade Bandstand, this used to be a popular public place. Bands would play every week for patrons who gathered here, and all would be merry. This went on until as early as 1960s. Bands belonging to various ships docked at the Bombay harbour would play here. However, after lying in neglect, the industrious Oval Cooperage Resident Association along with the BMC renewed this erstwhile iconic structure complete with seating arrangement around the stand. Of recently, the Indian Naval Symphonic Band performed during the run up to the Navy Day celebrated every year on 4th of December. Nowadays, it is a perfect setting for anyone looking to grab a quick nap or to escape the heat of the city. The security personnel do not bother you much and leave you in peace to doze off with the dogs that also laze around in this gazebo. A lot more can be done with this space and authorities, resident associations and culture enthusiasts should work together to ensure that the glory of the bandstand is revived.

Standard Chartered Bank building

Standard Chartered Bank Building
The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China opened its first branches in Bombay and Calcutta in the year 1857 but the current building was only completed in 1902. This building was FW Stevens’ last project and the floor plan is known to be complex. He passed away in the year 1900 and was buried at the Sewri Christian Cemetery. His grave still lies there, covered in overgrwoth. A triangular pediment bears the coat of arms with symbols of Britian and the three countries in place. The bank capitalized on the growing trade of cotton in the state of Bombay and contributed greatly to the development of trade with the Orient. Years passed, India became free and in 1969, The Chartered Bank merged with the Standard Bank of Africa to become Standard Chartered Bank. The bank has become synonymous with the annual Mumbai Marathon that witnesses participation from across all continents. The street adjoining the bank also houses the iconic booksellers of Bombay which deal in a wide variety of books and are a real treat to booklovers.

Hutatma Chowk – Flora Fountain – Oriental Building

Flora Fountain and Oriental BuildingFlora Fountain was built in the honour of Sir Henry Bartle Frere, the aforementioned governor of the city but was named Flora, after the Roman Goddess of flowers and season. It lies at an important junction of D.N Road, Veer Nariman Road and M.G Road. The exact location of this fountain is of special significance. When the Fort walls were intact, there were three gates to gain entry into the fort. St. Thomas Cathedral stands almost perpendicular to Fountain and this is where one of the gates lied. It was named, you guessed it, Churchgate. The railway station and the surrounding area owe their names to this very gate and the church that stands silently at the end of Veer Nariman road. The structure requires regular maintenance. The electric box is an eye sore, while the statues need a thorough cleaning.

Hutatma Chowk
The area comprising the Fountain, a statue of Martyrs holing a flame, and a constantly burning flame – Amar Jyoti with landscaped lawn surrounding it is now known as Hutatma Chowk or Martyr’s Square. The statue was erected in the memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives during the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement led by the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti which demanded a separate state of Maharashtra to be carved out from the State of Bombay which comprised Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Oriental Building

Taking its name from one of the first Indian insurance company – Oriental Life Insurance Company, to offer life insurance to Europeans as well as Indians (at a higher premium!) This building, built in the Neo-Gothic style with its turrets stands as an entry point to the heritage street (DN Road) housing many old buildings built in a similar style.

St. Thomas Cathedral

St. Thomas Cathedral

St. Thomas, is one of the 12 disciples of Christ and apostle to India arrive in Malabar (Kerala) region in the First century AD. This church was named after him. St. Thomas Church however, became a Cathedral only in 1837 as it was declared to be the seat of the Bishop of Bombay. The tower and the clock were added to the structure next year. Also, this church lends its name to Churchgate as aforementioned above. Located close to Horniman Circle Garden, Bombay House and BSE, it is one of the most serene places in this bustling business district. Many eminent Englishmen were laid to rest here and marble tables with exquisite art work adorn the walls of the church. Right in the centre, you would find graves of the erstwhile governors, judges and important officials of the city. One of the highlights of this church is the array of stained glass, imported all the way from London. If you look around, you will also spot the Siege of Jhansi memorial glass window and stones erected in memory of the officers who died fighting in the First War of Independence of 1857. The older picture also depicts the attire of those times and a bullock cart which was a common mode of transport for goods as well as people. The boundary of the cathedral has been converted into a parking space as you will see from the number of vehicles lined across.

You can have a glimpse of Old Mumbai’s heritage in next part of our series.

Post By Rushikesh Kulkarni (22 Posts)

Runs Breakfree Journeys, a cult tourism outfit interested in outdoor travel and backpacking. On days that he is not wandering around the Western Ghats, he is spotted roaming in the bylanes of Bombay scouting for heritage history and good food.

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Rushikesh Kulkarni

Rushikesh Kulkarni
Runs Breakfree Journeys, a cult tourism outfit interested in outdoor travel and backpacking. On days that he is not wandering around the Western Ghats, he is spotted roaming in the bylanes of Bombay scouting for heritage history and good food.