The travelling Mumbai microlith

Updated: Dec 03, 2019, 10:07 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Through his illustrated talk, architect Robert D Stephens hopes to unravel the mystery of a prehistoric tool that travelled across the island

Then: Prehistoric Bombay - Imagined based on 3D modelling using original island heights and sea water levels from archival records, Now: Modern image of the same space, 2013. Pics/ Robert D Stephens
Then: Prehistoric Bombay - Imagined based on 3D modelling using original island heights and sea water levels from archival records, Now: Modern image of the same space, 2013. Pics/ Robert D Stephens

How did you stumble on this ancient monolith?

In his book City Adrift (2013), Naresh Fernandes unearthed British archaeologist KRU Todd's tryst with microliths in Bombay. Intrigued, I dug further, a search that led me to three publications by Todd between 1932 and 1950 — all focused in his exploration of prehistoric man in Bombay. Three of his original publications will be on tactile display at the talk. As always, 'Please Touch' is my motto with archival material.

How did you envision this talk after that discovery?

Robert D StephensRobert D Stephens

The session will unfold like an illustrated walk with Todd and the microlith through Mumbai. For example, when Todd (incorrectly) postulates that the microlith originated at Worli, we journey with him there — to the neighbourhood which he describes as a "cotton milling district," but which today is described by builders as the "lifestyle district." Seeing human settlements on the same land, from prehistoric to modern times, sheds a revealing light on the values that have shaped each period.

Backbay is reclaimed land. How did this tool arrive here?

KRU Todd in KandivaliKRU Todd in Kandivali

Like the more than seven million who travel daily in Mumbai — on the local train! The Mumbai Microlith was possibly the city's oldest local train passenger. The talk will also dissect a rare speculative image of the microlith's train ticket from Kandivali to Churchgate (see below, left).

What can the audience take back from the talk?

Imagined local train ticket of a monolithImagined local train ticket of a monolith

I hope the talk spurs a burst of imagination — of prehistoric Bombay as it was, of 20th century Bombay as it could have been, and of 21st century Mumbai as it likely will become. If the 1964 Development Plan of Bombay is ever realised, and if the recent report by Climate Central does indeed come to fruition [submerging a majority of Mumbai under the Arabian Sea by 2050], there is a strong likelihood that swarms of Mumbai's humanity will return to the same ground occupied by prehistoric man thousands of years ago.

On Today, 6.30 pm onwards
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