Time travel to Bombay of yesteryear through an exhibition of memorabilia

Mar 06, 2018, 11:31 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Time travel to Mumbai of yesteryear through an exhibition of memorabilia from the treasure trove of an antiquities collector

Rajan Jayakar and his wife in traditional  Pathare Prabhu attire
Rajan Jayakar and his wife in traditional Pathare Prabhu attire

The Best tickets sporting rows of numbers in the Devanagari script, with the fare plus "15 paise adhibhar" printed in the centre, were scraps of paper for most Mumbaikars once they got off the bus. But then came the credit card-like machines that spat out soulless white receipts, and the colourful tickets - along with the aluminium box slung across the conductor's shoulder and the tinkling of his punching device - became a part of nostalgia. What sets apart collectors is that they recognise the value of such everyday markers of history before they cease to exist.

The exhibition is housed in a furniture and home decor store. pics/ashish raje
The exhibition is housed in a furniture and home decor store. Pics/Ashish Raje

Starting tomorrow, the city's history buffs can take a trip down memory lane, stepping as far back as the late 19th century, through an exhibition showcasing memorabilia from High Court solicitor and well-known antiquities collector Rajan Jayakar's vast personal collection. Titled His Bombay, the exhibition captures the identity of a young Bombay, its unique culture and modernity through themes including vintage technology, transportation, traditional wear of the Pathare Prabhu community, rare advertisements, letterheads, scrapbooks and postcards.

"If you look back on your childhood, it's quite possible that you were a collector too. But as you grow up, you either give it up on your own or are asked to. I was lucky that my parents never stopped from collecting artefacts," says Jayakar, 70, who made a start sometime in 1955 by collecting interesting cigarette packets and matchbox labels he would spot on the streets. Over the years, he augmented his collection by buying memorabilia at auctions, exchanging artefacts with other collectors and visiting Chor Bazaar every Sunday, a routine that continues till date.

While, at times, his profession has had to take a back seat for his passion, Jayakar, who is also convener of INTACH's Greater Mumbai chapter, has brought together his love for history and the legal corridors of Mumbai through initiatives such as the setting up of The Bombay High Court Museum as well as conducting heritage tours of the High Court premises.

Jayakar takes care that his treasure is stored in a dust-free environment, while he uses a dehumidifier to delay the degeneration of paper-based materials. Is housing such an enormous collection - he has three lakh matchbox labels, a record entered in the Limca Book - a challenge in a city starved of space? "Luckily, my residence is big enough to accommodate the collection, but not big enough for a museum," he quips. We take a walkthrough of the exhibition, organised at a home decor and furniture store in Worli, where the pieces on display create the perfect backdrop for the exhibits.

Wah Taj!

Wah Taj!
The history of Bombay is incomplete without a mention of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel that stands with pride in Colaba, facing the iconic Gateway of India. A most interesting cluster of artefacts from the hotel take the viewer back to the ways of the well-heeled in the early 1900s. On display are delicate cobalt blue crockery from the hotel's earliest collection, and a card dated December 31, 1925, which features a special New Year's Eve menu. If today's menu cards have you reach for Google translate, this one was all French with no subtitles!

Community speak

Community speak
Gorgeous traditional attires of the Pathare Prabhu community, one of the original settlers in Mumbai, form the highlight of the next section. A black saree hung over a four-poster bed, a silver-black blouse (bespoke enough to give the city's tailors a run for their money), the Pathare Prabhu headgear for men along with leather footwear are easily over a 100 years old. To complete the experience is a recipe book from the community, which was first published in 1910 and features recipes categorised according to the core ingredient used.

Vintage technology

Vintage technology
A kerosene fan that looks like an aesthetic hybrid of a table and pedestal fan is one of the first artefacts to greet you at the exhibition. In pre-electricity days, it provided much-needed respite from the city's sultry weather. Among other objects in this cluster is an apothecary table with bottles still half-filled with medicines; a weighing balance attached with a drawer to store cleavers; and measuring vessels in units such as tola, seer and pint.

Sepia-tinted cinema

Sepia-tinted cinema
A fan of Shammi Kapoor, Jayakar owns memorabilia from his films that he even gifted the actor. Songbooks featuring lyrics of songs from a movie were an important promotion material, and some of those feature in the section. Lobby cards of movies that would line the walls of a cinema hall are also displayed. A vintage radio and gramophone make this section a retro Bollywood lover's delight.

On: March 7 to 14, 11 am to 7 pm
At: Magnolia, 83/C, Hansraj Pragji Building, LN Papan Marg, off Dr E Moses Road, Worli.
Call: 24951020

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