Bombaywalla.org, a new website, tells you old stories about this city that wants to be all things new. Its founder and PhD student at the University of Oxford, Simin Patel, tells Kareena N Gianani why she mourns loss of old tiles, balconies and the Bombay in Mumbai
Twenty-eight-year-old Simin Patel spent the best part of last year holed up at the Maharashtra State Department Archives at Elphinstone College, Kala Ghoda researching the city’s colonial past for her PhD she is undertaking at the University of Oxford.
Sailor’s home at the junction of Apollo Bunder Road and Apollo Street (presently Maharashtra Police Headquarters). The construction of the Sailors’ Home was a significant step towards containing and domesticating the population of seamen in the city, long considered drunk, disorderly and prone to recreate at taverns, boarding houses, grog shops and brothels. The structure has three nautical motifs
"I was reading about what Bombay was like, and around me, I’d see old balconies crumbling, intricate tiling disappearing to make way for large, ungainly slabs of granite. That’s when I decided to start the website Bombaywalla (.org), to help chronicle all that’s beautiful in the city’s architecture but we are losing, and fast,” says Patel, sipping on a tall glass of juice at Café Samovar at Jehangir Art Gallery.
Meher Cold Drink House was built in 1939 in Mackawee Mansion, corner of Gunbow Street and Parsi Bazaar Street, Fort (presently Rustom Sidhwa Marg). Until the early 1900s, Bombay’s native population largely consumed cold drinks in public since strict caste codes forbade inter-dining . Meher Cold Drink House, a sprightly 74 now, is a typical example of the early establishments that facilitated the experience of cosmopolitan drinking and, eventually, dining.
Patel launched the Bombaywalla on March 21 where she uploads photographs of old city structures, balconies, flooring, porticos, lifts and so on. The site is updated every Monday and Friday and each photograph is accompanied by a short description and the history behind the structure. Bombaywalla is about all things that are on their path to oblivion, but Patel is clear that hers is not only a story of loss.
The clock tower at the junction of Hornby Road and Carnac Road (presently Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai, M Khana Road). Arthur Traverse Crawford (1835-1911) had a sociable and controversial tenure as a civil servant in various parts of Western India, including as the first Municipal Commissioner of Bombay. See the monogram ‘ATC’ on the clock tower?
A gargoyle at the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, Fort. The temperament of the gargoyles in Bombay is determined by the style of the structures from which they protrude. This benign creature belongs to the solid, calm façade of the Town Hall, a landmark city structure, in neo-classical style. Bombaywalla’s coverage of gargoyles ranges from the benign to the spectacularly Grotesque
“I want Bombaywalla to be about things we aren’t seeing closely enough—how roads were named after communities, not after people and politicians as they are now, for instance. So many art deco buildings on the Marine Drive stretch don’t have the ornamentation and grilling anymore. They’ve all been plastered, but how many of us have bothered to look?”
The red building at Parsi Bazaar Street, Elphinstone Circle, Fort, is presently SA Belvi Marg, Horniman Circle. The building houses the offices of The Bombay Samachar (1822), Asia’s oldest newspaper. Formerly the premises were also used by the Bombay Chronicle (1913-1949); after whose editors, Benjamin Guy Horniman and Syed Abdullah Brelvi, the Circle and Street, have been renamed
Patel works with her college friends, DJ Murty (the photographer), Sitanshu Shukla (who handles design and branding) and Shaun Coutinho (design and programming), to run Bombaywalla. The website also has a ‘Watch’ section which tries to archive violations in heritage and conservation in the city.
Patel is also open to accepting contributions from people when it comes to trivia and photographs of structures in their own areas, in whichever part of the city that might be.
Esplanade Road, Fort, (presently Esplanade Mansion, Mahatma Gandhi Road). In the early hotel trade in Bombay, leading proprietors’ names were synonymous with their hotels. The Esplanade Hotel was popularly called Watson’s Hotel, after John Watson, the English proprietor and merchant. One can see the monogram ‘W’ on the balcony railing
Medows Street, presently Nagindas Master Road, holds the dubious distinction of the most corrupted street name in the city. Named after General Sir William Medows, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Bombay from 1788-90, the street was locally referred to as the Ingrez or Angrezi Bazaar since it housed a profusion of European shops. By the 1860’s ‘Medows’ had been distorted to ‘Medow’ and subsequently ‘Meadow’ and ‘Meadows’.