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Narrative Change

A walk in the city

By , July 2, 2019February 20th, 2024No Comments

City Caravan 2019 youth participants explore Mumbai on foot

To whom does Bombay/Mumbai belong? Amidst a host of narratives and different contenders claiming their sole right over the city, the question of the city’s ‘ownership’ has been a long-drawn debate. On 25 May 2019, a group of 19 young participants of the City Caravan 4.0, a course by YUVA on co-creating inclusive cities with youth, walked through the history of the city, its origins, people and culture led by Mr. Mayuresh Bhadsavle. The first half of the walk was on the ‘Making of Modern Mumbai’ which explored the city’s early history. The second half of the walk was on understanding the transition from ‘Mills to Malls’, given the huge role that mills have played in the economy of the city which, however, no longer remain and have given way to malls standing in their ruins.

Here’s exploring the two walks as the participants did, to try and answer the question, ‘To whom does this city belong?’

Location: Horniman Circle Garden

Enthusiastically following the walk at Horniman City Garden

The city walk began here — a site where the process of urbanisation was initiated by the British who had divided the city into two parts — White Bombay (for themselves) and Black Bombay (for native Indians) as they considered natives to be unhygienic and carriers of disease. The partition line segregating the two parts of the city was at this very spot. The idea of Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was born here, under a banyan tree in Horniman Circle Garden, where merchants from Gujarat along with the British engaged in financial activities (like lending and borrowing). As they grew in number and the financial transactions increased in volume, there was a need for another more formal space and with that, eventually, today’s BSE was setup. The three gates of the fortified British settlement, i.e., Apollo Gate, Bazar Gate and Church Gate could be seen from this site.

Location: Outside Horniman Circle Garden

The facilitator handed out old maps of Mumbai to the youth and asked them to find something unfamiliar in it. After a brief look at the map, the youth discovered that formerly there were more stations beyond Churchgate — Ballard Pier and Colaba.

Peering at the map of Mumbai (left) and a close-up of the map (right)

Location: Zero Point

At Zero Point

During the British era, the distance to any place in Bombay was measured from this point, and thus it came to be known as Zero Point. It was also known as the nucleus of the city.

Location: St. Thomas Cathedral

Inside St Thomas Cathedral

This is the first church built by the British and it was consecrated in 1718. One of the gates in the fort which the British had built to protect their settlement was the entrance to St. Thomas Church. It was called Churchgate. That is why the whole area towards the west of the church is called Churchgate even today.

Location: Bread and Breakfast Street

On Bread and Breakfast Street

This is the only street in Mumbai which still has the same architecture that it did during British Raj times. During those times, this street had shops which catered to the basic consumption requirements of the British. Now there are all kinds of commercial and shopping outlets.

Location: Watson Street

Watson Hotel

The dilapidated building on the right is what was once the famous Watson Hotel, built by a British businessman, John Watson, in 1869. Back then, it was Asia’s first cast-iron building and the first residential hotel. Today, it is the only surviving cast iron building in India. John Watson opened the hotel as an exclusive Whites-only hotel, and it became a grand and thriving symbol of British colonial presence in the country. In 1871, Jamsetji Tata, a pioneering industrialist, was refused entry to Watson Hotel. Humiliated, he conceived the idea of building the Taj Mahal Hotel in Colaba. The Taj Mahal Hotel was completed in 1906, and soon put the Watson Hotel out of business.

During the colonial times, the building on the left, was an army navy store for the British. Now, the building has a CSD canteen for the Indian Armed forces.

Location: David Sassoon Library

David Sassoon Library

David Sassoon, a Jewish Businessman from Baghdad, migrated to Mumbai in the early 19th Century. Initially, he worked as a middleman between the British textile firms and the Gulf commodity merchants. Gradually, Sassoon started his own business of oil, cotton, fabrics, and various other industries on a large scale. Overall, he owned 17 mills, employing a total of 15,000 to 20,000 workers.

Sassoon was the man behind one of the largest and most beautiful synagogues of India, the Magen David synagogue in Byculla, Bombay. He also built the Ohel David synagogue in Pune. Various charitable trusts that continue to exist even today, were funded from his personal income and were also named after him and other members of his family. David Sassoon also funded the construction of monuments and educational institutions in Mumbai. Through his earnings, Sassoon Docks was built in Colaba, Mumbai.

Sassoon’s palatial home known as Byculla’s Bungalow, was later donated to the Parsi Trust and is today what is known as Masina Hospital. He also owned another property near Rani Bagh which was donated to the Mumbai Municipal Corporation for the construction of the Albert Museum.

Near the David Sassoon Library is the house of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy who was a Parsi merchant and a philanthropist. Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy has contributed in building roads, hospitals, old age homes, cattle grazing grounds and other facilities for the people of Bombay. He also funded multiple media houses back in the day of the freedom struggle.

Location: Kala Ghoda

Kala Ghoda Statue installed in 2017

In the 18th century, a statue of King Edward VII (as the then Prince of Wales) sitting on a horse was erected to felicitate his visit to India. The statue was made of black stone thus naming the place, Kala Ghoda.

In 1965, it was decided that the statues of British rulers from prominent places across the city would be removed, hence, the original Kala Ghoda statue was moved to Byculla zoo (Rani Bagh). However, in 2017, the famous Kala Ghoda area finally got the symbol that defined it. The 25 feet tall black horse statue was hosted in the parking lot of this area by the Kala Ghoda Association.

Kala Ghoda area was also known as the Book District of Bombay due to a wide spread of books which were accessible to everyone — working professionals, students, and many others. However, one particular incident where a wall on which books were stacked crumbled due to the weight, leading to the vendors being ousted under the pretext of damaging historical structures. This not only marked the loss of livelihood, but also completely killed the inclusive, lively spirit which the Book District created. Later, the Kala Ghoda festival was started, but even today it continues to attract art from a certain section of society only, showcasing very elite versions.

Location: Hutatma Chowk

Hutatma Chowk

Hutatma Chowk, earlier known as Flora Fountain, was built in 1864 in honour of Flora, the Roman goddess of abundance.

In November 1956, the Government of India passed the States Reorganisation Act and a new Bombay state was created which included the present-day Gujarat and Maharashtra based on linguistic differences.

People came out in massive numbers to protest against the reorganisation of the Flora Fountain and the protest turned into a bloody confrontation. The police opened fire on demonstrators of the movement at this very spot, leaving 15 dead. The brutality of the incident led to the removal of Morarji Desai, the then chief minister of Bombay State, who was replaced by Y. B. Chavan.

In 1960 when Maharashtra and Gujarat were divided, there was a dispute on which state should Bombay city belong to. It was soon decided that Bombay city will be the capital of the newly formed Maharashtra state. In 1961, the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti decided to raise a memorial dedicated to all who sacrificed their lives for the cause of a separate Maharashtra state. Subsequently, Flora Fountain was renamed Hutatma Chowk or Martyrs’ Square. The foundation stone was laid on the anniversary of the Flora Fountain massacre by one of the martyr’s mother, Shevantibai Kurgude.

Location: Nation First

Nation First

During the British colonial times, this was an import-export warehouse. Today, it is a working quarter for Indian Navy and the land is owned by the Bombay Port Trust.

Location: Ballard Bunder

Ballard Bunder

In 1920, the Ballard Bunder Gatehouse was built to commemorate Ballard Pier being developed into Ballard Estate. After independence from the British Raj, the gatehouse became part of the Naval Dockyard and fell into disuse. In 2005, the Indian Navy restored the building, opening it to the public as a maritime museum.

Location: Sewri Fort

Magnificient view from the Sewri Fort

Sewri Fort was built by the British in 1680 and the fort served as a watch tower, atop a quarried hill overlooking the Mumbai harbour. From this point, one can see the entire Bombay Port Trust Land and South Bombay and the under construction Sewri-Nhava Sheva Trans-Harbour Sea Link. The construction of this fort has caused tremendous noise pollution and has disrupted the fragile ecosystem of mangroves, due to which it is predicted that the influx of migratory birds will diminish and many species inhabiting the mangroves will be affected. Mangroves have been cut down for this construction resulting in many environmental issues.

Location: Sewri

Freight Train at Sewri

This is a rare sight. We were lucky to have witnessed the freight train departing from the port after loading of goods. It cuts across this road enroute to Vadala.

Location: Kavla Bunder

Kavla Bunder

This is a ship scrapping area and the last ship that was scrapped here was the INS Vikrant.

Location: National Textile Corporation Limited Mill (W.R.)

National Textile Corporation Limited Mill (W.R.)

This is one of the many non-operational textile mills in Mumbai. Some of the non-operational textile mills’ land has been sold to builders, and fancy shopping malls have cropped up in place of those deserted mills. A critical question was raised by a youth here — if there is so much idle land in Mumbai, why is it not being utilised to build affordable housing for the masses, instead of converting it into shopping complexes. This is something that must be pondered upon given the rising pressure on existing informal housing in Mumbai.

In conclusion, no single community has ever been able to rest its claim over Bombay or Mumbai as it is called now. This is because people from various communities have contributed in making the city what it is today. The city we see today is reflective of its history and owes its existence to Portuguese, Parsis, Jews, British, moneylenders from Gujarat, struggles of labourers and workers, and numerous others.

Thus, one must always keep in mind the evolution of this city to not get swayed away by people who try to polarise its residents in the name of language, regional devotion, religion etc. Mumbai’s history teaches us that Mumbai flourished because of contributions of many and the only way forward is to take everybody along towards progress and betterment. Activities like city walks celebrate the diverse history of the cities which give a gentle reminder to not fall for ethnocentrism.

Blog contributors: Gaurav, Manali, Rasika, Rizwan, Sana, Shruti, Sunil from the City Caravan, Kanak (intern), and Alicia and Sachin (YUVA)

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