Rewind to 20th century Bombay

Nov 03, 2018, 08:49 IST | Dalreen Ramos

A book by long forgotten city historian JRB Jeejeebhoy beautifully chronicles the inner workings of Mumbai

Rewind to 20th century Bombay
Jeejeebhoy extensively explores the relationship of the Parsi community with this city. Until 1974, the community didn’t have a burial place. The Tower of Silence was proposed by Mody Hirji Wacha, and on October 3, 1973, Governor Gerald Aungier granted a petition for the Parsis to be given a piece of land on Malabar Hill. Pics/Asiatic Society of Mumbai

History, unfortunately, has been superseded in favour of flighty novels and trashy periodicals..." writes JRB Jeejeebhoy, the city historian who examined Bombay with a lens so wide, that reading his work nearly 60 years after his demise opens a new trunk of gems. JRB Jeejeebhoy hailed from a family of Parsi merchants or sethias and began working in the family's textile and engineering business, before gravitating towards print.

Bombay Vignettes (Asiatic Society of Mumbai) is a compilation of his writings on the city that will be launched this evening. City historian and researcher Murali Ranganathan, who edited the book, shares, "I first encountered Jeejeebhoy 10 years ago; for some reason he hadn't been given attention after his death [in 1960].

Jeejeebhoy Rustomjee Byramjee (JRB) Jeejeebhoy; (right) Murali Ranganathan
Jeejeebhoy Rustomjee Byramjee (JRB) Jeejeebhoy; (right) Murali Ranganathan

But he never put his writings together in a book. They remained as articles, or letters to the editor, which by nature are ephemeral," adding that his biggest challenge was to track information on the man himself. The book comes with a solid introduction yet Ranganathan says, "We still have no clue about how he spent his 75 years."

Drawing from The Bombay Administrative Report 1872-1873, the book states that on November 20, 1872 an exclusive durbar for the public reception of chiefs and sirdars of the Bombay Presidency was held. A gathering of this scale had never taken place in India. PICS/Asiatic Society of Mumbai
Drawing from The Bombay Administrative Report 1872-1873, the book states that on November 20, 1872 an exclusive durbar for the public reception of chiefs and sirdars of the Bombay Presidency was held. A gathering of this scale had never taken place in India.

In 1896, Bombay was struck down by plague, which Jeejeebhoy writes was a blessing in disguise with the municipality disbursing about half a crore. “Even Malabar Hill, where everyone who lived in pretty houses...was not exempt from these death-spreading rodents.” They fled the city in large numbers.
In 1896, Bombay was struck down by plague, which Jeejeebhoy writes was a blessing in disguise with the municipality disbursing about half a crore. "Even Malabar Hill, where everyone who lived in pretty houses...was not exempt from these death-spreading rodents." They fled the city in large numbers.

Jeejeebhoy published three books and nearly 50 articles in papers including The Times of India and Bombay Chronicle, as well as special issues for Sanj Vartaman and Kaiser-i-Hind. Ranganathan visited the Central Library in Baroda — the sole place that bears evidence of his writings in the Sanj Varthaman.
Jeejeebhoy published three books and nearly 50 articles in papers including The Times of India and Bombay Chronicle, as well as special issues for Sanj Vartaman and Kaiser-i-Hind. Ranganathan visited the Central Library in Baroda — the sole place that bears evidence of his writings in the Sanj Varthaman.

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