Looking for lost landmarks
As you navigate Mumbai's mostly chaotic, and always potholed roads, it's the landmarks � cited to cab drivers and even asked quizzically of shopkeepers � that play rescuer. But what of those landmarks � buildings, cinema halls, statues and tanks � that no longer exist but still help you find your way? Moeena Halim went looking for these lost icons, and came back with a handful of stories instead
Bandra talkies?” we ask the rickshaw driver. He nods, we get in. The ‘talkies’ that shut shop years ago has now been replaced by the Shoppers Stop building. But the place is still known by the old name. “All passengers ask me to take them to Bandra Talkies,” Babu Rao, our rickshawalla, tells us.
He has been driving the rickshaw since he arrived in the city 12 years ago. “By the time I came to Mumbai, the cinema hall had already shut shop,” he tells us. Sameer Ahmed Qureishi, who sits at Sameer Communications (a shop near Bandra Talkies), was better acquainted with the old cinema hall. “The last movie I saw there was Krantiveer, which released in ’94. I was about 20 years old then,” he reminisces.
“There was a demolition many years ago and the builders replaced the talkies with a mall. There is a cinema hall there still, but that is frequented by upper class people. Tickets are very expensive there. I prefer to go to Gaiety Galaxy now.” So do we, actually, and not just because of the mindblowing samosas on offer.
The fate of Lido Cinema on Juhu Tara Road is the same. “I remember watching the Rajesh Khanna movie Haathi Mere Saathi there,” Ankush Sonawane, a cobbler who handles his father’s shop Mahadeva Footwear, located opposite the erstwhile building, tells us. “It was an old-fashioned cinema hall complete with wooden seats,” the Khar Danda resident reminisces with a smile.
Beyond the ‘burbs
In Mumbai, there’s no place like the South for a trip down memory lane. And Dhobi Talao, we found, was the perfect example of a ‘non-existent landmark’. This area, northwest of the Esplanade, housed a tank that was used by washermen (supposedly to wash soldier’s clothes). The tank no longer exists, of course, but the name has stuck.
“Framjee Cowasjee constructed a building where the tank stood,” says Goolshan F Cooper, librarian at the People’s Free Reading Room & Library, which is housed in this building. “This library has been in existence since 1898. Cowasjee insisted on having a library in the building, and till today we are not paying even a rupee as rent,” she says. How many people can boast of that in these days, we wonder.
No gates, no ghoda
Just like the rest of the Bombay Fort, which was built in 1716 and broken down in the 1860s, the three fort gates no longer exist. Church Gate and Bazaar Gate, however, have helped christen a railway station and a street, respectively. “Church Gate was built near the site where Flora Fountain now stands. It was named after St Thomas Cathedral,” write Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra in their book Bombay:
The Cities Within. Bazaar Gate, they say, was almost opposite the site where the General Post Office was built in the early 20th century. “The Apollo Gate and Church Gate were closed at sunset, while the Bazaar Gate was closed half an hour later.” Dwivedi and Mehrotra also mourn the loss of the Kala Ghoda statue in the same book, that we pored over enthusiastically on an overcast Thursday morning at the aptly iconic Asiatic Library at Fort.
What is now a parking lot once housed Boehm’s equestrian statue of King Edward VII. “One night in August 1965, political activists mutilated several statues of 19th century British personalities. On the following day, these damaged statues, including the Kala Ghoda, were relocated to the gardens of Jijamata Udyan at Byculla.” Today, the Kala Ghoda remains entrenched in public memory by way of the annual festival on Rampart Row.
“People have lived and worked in these areas and their names have clearly been carried forward through the generations,” believes architect Kaiwan Mehta. “These names have a certain nostalgia attached to them. They have become a part of the imagination of the area; there is a personal association. It has nothing to do with a foreign language or community,” he concludes. For us, retaining the names of these landmarks is about holding on to a Bombay that hasn’t yet become Mumbai. We hope to never let go.