Friday, May 2, 2008

Bombay for the Dummies

The City of Bombay originally comprised seven islands: Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Womans’ Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel and Matunga-Sion. This group of islands, formed part of the kingdom of King Ashoka, have since been joined together by a series of reclamations.

After Ashoka’s death, these islands passed into the hands of various Hindu rulers until 1343. In that year, the Mohammedans of Gujarat took possession and the kings of that province of India ruled these isles for the following two centuries. The only vestige of their dominion over these islands that remains today is the mosque at Mahim. Who tore everything down? The Portuguese-British perhaps. Post-partition anti-Muslim mobs perhaps.

In 1534 the Portuguese, who already possessed many important trading centres on the western coast such as Panjim (Goa), Daman and Diu, took Bombay by force of arms from the Mohammedans. This led to the establishment of numerous churches that were constructed in areas where the majority of people were Roman Catholics. There used to be two areas in Bombay called Portuguese Church. Nevertheless, only one church with Portuguese-style façade still remains: the St. Andrews’ Church at Bandra.

The Portuguese also fortified their possession by building forts at Sion, Mahim, Bandra and Bassien, which, although in disrepair, can still be seen. They named their new possession as ‘Bom Baia, which in Portuguese means ‘Good Bay’.

This name was later changed to ‘Bombay’ by the British and much later, challenged by the Shiv Sainiks, a renegade political party in the state, saying that the name of the city was ‘Mumbai’ from the Mumbadevi temple. Nobody really put up a fight. The fact of the matter is that the Kolis, who were and are the fishermen of that area, called a small section (Babulnath, to be precise) of the islands ‘Mumba’. This, in the mid-1990s, became a huge political issue with the Shiv Sena which was losing a grip over the city.

About 130 years later, the islands were given as dowry to the English King Charles II on his marriage to Portuguese Princess Catherine de Braganza in 1662. In 1668, the islands were acquired by the British East India Company on lease from the crown for 10 pounds in gold per year.

Perceptibly, the British did not value these islands at that time. The Company, which was operating from Surat in Gujarat, was in search for another deeper water port so that larger vessels could dock, and found the islands of Bombay suitable for development. The shifting of the East India Company’s headquarters to Bombay in 1687 led to the eclipse of Surat as a principal trading centre. The British corrupted the Portuguese name ‘Bom Baia’ to ‘Bombay’.

The first Parsi to arrive in Bombay was Dorabji Nanabhoy Patel in 1640. The Parsis, originally from Iran, migrated to India about 900 years ago. This they did to save their religion, Zoroastrianism, from invading Arabs who proselytised Islam. But, in 1689-90, when a severe plague had struck down most of the Europeans, the Siddi chief of Janjira made several attempts to repossess the islands by force, but the son of the former, a trader named Rustomji Dorabji Patel (1667-1763), successfully warded off the attacks on behalf of the British with the help of the Kolis, the original fisher-folk inhabitants of these islands. The remnants of the Koli settlements can still be seen at Backbay Reclamation, Mahim, Bandra, Khar, Bassien and Madh Island.

Bombay, then, had a succession of British governors who attracted Gujarati business people, traders, Parsi shipbuilders and Hindu and Muslim businessmen, and made the city more populous. A city court was started to uphold the law.

A fort was also built, none of which remains except a small portion of the wall. Governers like Oxenden, Aungier and Grant helped Bombay grow and set up hospitals, roads, etc.

The Zoroastrian Towers of Silence on Malabar Hill were built by Seth Modi Hirji Vachha in 1672. The first fire-temple was also built in the same year by Seth Vachha opposite his residence at Modikhana within the British fort. Both these structures can still be seen today, although they have been expanded and strengthened.

The inroads of the sea at Worli, Mahim and Mahalaxmi turned the ground between the islands into swamps making Bombay an extremely unhealthy place at that time. Reclamation work to stop the breeches at Mahalaxmi and Worli were undertaken. In 1803, Bombay was connected with Salsette by a causeway at Sion. The island of Colaba was joined to Bombay in 1838 by a causeway now called Colaba Causeway and the causeway connecting Mahim and Bandra was completed in 1845, which was done by Lady Avabai Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy.

In the mid-1800s, the cattle that people owned used to graze at the lush Camp Maidan (Azad Maidan). The British, always ready to levy taxes, started a grazing tax, which most people could not afford. Sir Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy spent Rs 20,000 to buy some grasslands near the seafront at Thakurdwar and saw that the starving cattle grazed without a fee in that area. In time the area became to be known as ‘Charni’ meaning grazing. When a railway station on the BB&CI Railway was constructed there it was called Charni Road.

On Saturday, 16 April 1853, a 21-mile long railway line, the first in India, between Bombay’s Victoria Terminus and Thane was opened. In 1860, the railroads connected Baroda and Central India. With the Suez Canal also opening in Africa, Bombay saw a great economic boom, cotton being the main export. Many families made their fortunes during that time. Even the Americans imported cotton during the Civil War that started in 1861. The population of the city went from about 13,000 in 1770 to about 644,000 in 1870.

In 1858, after the first war for Independence, in which people like the Rani of Jhansi played a big part, Bombay was taken back by the crown and the East India Company was in dire straits. Governor Frere had a fountain made in his honour at that time, which was later called Flora Fountain, but this is a fact that is quite unknown to the general public.

Then in 1863, the Governor got piped-water from the lakes (Tulsi, Vehar and Tansa). After which they banned all open water storage systems like water tanks and wells, which were breeding grounds for mosquitoes. This was met with a lot of opposition.

The later half of the 19th century was also to see a feverish construction of buildings in Bombay, many of which such as the Victoria Terminus, the General Post Office, the Municipal Corporation, the Prince of Wales Museum, Rajabai Tower and Bombay University, St. Xavier’s College, Elphinstone College and the Cawasji Jehangir Hall, the Crawford Market, the Old Secretariat (Old Customs House) and the Public Works Department (PWD) Building, still stand today as major landmarks.

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary for the Durbar at Delhi in 1911. The Princess Dock was built in the year 1885 and the Victoria Dock and the Meriweather Dry Docks in 1891. Alexandra Dock was completed in 1914.
Soon, Bombay saw the rise of the Parsi liquor mafia in the ‘Play House’ area, which was later changed to Pillhouse by the locals and became a red light district. At this time a terrible episode of bubonic plague wiped out a huge population of Bombay.

The Bombay Gymkhana was formed in 1875, exclusively for Europeans, who played the game of cricket there. Other communities followed this example, and various Parsi, Muslim and Hindu gymkhanas were started nearby with fierce sports competitions among them being organised on a communal basis. This was opposed by several secular-minded persons, such as the late AFSTalyarkhan and sports teams based on community, especially cricket teams, came to an end gradually after Independence from British rule in 1947.

Lord Sandhurst was the Governor after that from 1895-1900 and he was commemorated by naming a road and railway station after him. Around 1914, a train line was started from Ballard Pier to Wadala. Around the same time Tata Power Company set up overhead transmission lines. In 1927, electrical locomotives were imported from England (Vickers) and serviced the route between Pune and Igatpuri. These helped carry troops from Bombay to the rest of the country later during WW II.

In April 1944, a fire started in the holds of the ship, ‘Fort Stikine’ (7,420 tonnes), which was carrying dried fish, cotton bales, gunpowder, timber, ammunition and gold bars from London. There was about 2 million pounds sterling in gold to stabilise the Indian rupee. The explosion was so big and loud that it could be felt till Dadar, more than eight miles away.

The docks and the surrounding areas were completely destroyed. Over 120 brave men from the Bombay Fire Brigade in the second blast and hundreds of dock workers lost their lives (a monument was erected for them). The locals thought that the Japanese had attacked (like Pearl Harbour), which was not true, since they were currently fighting a losing battle. All the gold bars (which had landed all over the place) were subsequently returned over the next 30 years to the British government. All citizens who reported any damage to property or self were promptly paid compensation.

The historic session of the All India Congress Committee began on 7 August 1942. Its venue was the Gowalia Tank Maidan, where the Congress was born in 1885. It was at this session that the Quit India call was given by Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian National Congress leaders. The Indian leaders were arrested by the British soon afterwards but the momentum of the Quit India movement could not be stopped and led to the final withdrawal of the British on 15 August 1947.

The last British troops on Indian soil left for England through the archway of the Gateway of India on that day. They bade farewell from where they had entered 282 years before. The people of Bombay, in a gesture of generosity, wished them bon voyage, forgetting the bitter memories of the fight for Independence. Today, the maidan from where the call to Quit India was given is called the August Kranti Maidan.

After Independence, the Congress party led by Jawaharlal Nehru at the centre was swept to power in most Indian states, which were constituted on the basis of language spoken by the majority of its people.

The Bombay State included the city as its seat of government. In 1960 the state of Bombay was split into Maharashtra and Gujarat states, again on linguistic basis, the former retaining Bombay city as its capital. The Congress continued to administer Maharashtra until 1994 when it was replaced by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition.

The Stock Exchange at Bombay was established in 1875 as ‘The Native Share and Stockbrokers Association’ which has evolved over the decades in to its present status as the premier Stock Exchange in India. It is one of the oldest in Asia having preceded even the Tokyo Stock Exchange which was founded in 1878. In the early days the business was conducted under the shade of a banyan tree in front of the Town Hall. The tree can still be seen in the Horniman Circle Park.

With the success of the back-bay reclamation scheme in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Nariman Point became the hub of the business activity. Several offices shifted from the Ballard Estate to Nariman Point which ultimately became one of the most expensive real estates in the world as high demand pushed prices to astronomical limits. Nariman Point is named after K F Nariman, president of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee and former Mayor of Bombay.

‘Bollywood’ is a term used to describe the Indian film industry. It has been a long story of a century, starting in 1901, with the early shaky screen images turning into a multi-pronged and multi-winged empire of its own that has yielded about 30,000 feature films and thousands of documented short films. These are almost all musical family melodramas, which rule the roost. Cinema has raised India’s flag fly high in the world as the consistently largest film producer. But when it comes to quality the flag has to fly half-mast. The glamorous image of Bombay and the rumour that everyone is as beautiful as the movie stars attracted people from all over India to this city.

But eventually the city could not provide jobs to these teeming millions and these people had to beg for a living and slowly slums began to flourish all over the city, especially near the railway tracks. The city also has the dubious record of the second biggest slum in the world: Dharavi.

Crime is an inevitable part of Bombay: terrorists, contract killings, extortions, explosions, shootouts, naaka-bandi, encounter deaths... The slums and the poor strengthened Bombay’s immense mafia presence. There is huge evil nexus of the underworld, politicians and Bombay’s police force. Indian politics are filled with convicted felons and criminals, approximately around 700. Slumlords and smugglers like Dawood Ibrahim, Abu Salem and Iqbal Mirchi rose to fame. They became the feared names in India — the untouchables.

Today, Bombay is the financial and business capital of India. And the most vivacious city in the world.


Laju K. said...

What about "Bombay for the non-Dummies?" Or do you think we all are dummies? Regardless, a good post.

parotechnics said...

This was a pretty good post - something comprehensive is always good to read and always tells you a couple things you don't know. But, given its comprehensive desire, it might have been good to mention the textile mills and other industries, Bombay's huge labour population and left organising history (many landmark labour legislations grew from their activism and strikes) - to counter which the Sena was nurtured as per many interpretations. In many ways this space was quite a vital part of the economic and cultural history of the city -and its demise, a major shift in the shape and texture of Bombay.

S.S.Vasan said...

Really a nice write-up taking one to the past with unknown but authentic facts. It may not be much intersting to somebody who has not lived in Bombay or atleast in munbai. But to a person like me who had wandered so manyy places of mumbai several years wondering the reasons of peculiar names of so many places but can do nothing to know or clarify as there is nobody avilablle or intersted.

Anonymous said...

The funny part of this post is It has "no name author".Name of Bombay has been changed long time ago and it is authenticated by the indian constitution.This author seems to be still under "slave spell of his masters". He mentions Kolis and deliberately forgots to tell you, that they were Marathis. Well as my grand father use to call these "indian whites" the "white coolies". These coolies never built a single thing in Mumbai, Most of the buildings and development was done by Britishers, but now a days it is a fashion to take credit where credit is not due. When White Masters were leaving these "sleezeball chors,with their underhanded dealings grabbed the land,the building,in south Mumbai not a single building was built by a Parsi. All the architecture of south mumbui is British. But then Parsis have habit of taking credit for everything good in Mumbai. That's why they still call it Bombay you know to show to britishers that they still miss them. By the way Parsis,Madrasis and Gujjus were very good in lending their asses to Britishers. Britishers with the help of Marathi Administrators and Mangers were the true deveolpers of Mumbai. Rest were there to eat the crumbs of the pie.British use to live in South Mumbai so all their homes and buildings which they use to live were "grabbed" I mean grabbed by the "chor parsis".And then renamed them with their own names. If you have to go back in the history find the actual name of the deed on any land,building or business at that time, you will not find a single Parsi or a Gujju on the paper.That's a true fact. Taj Mahal Hotel wasnot built by Tata, it was a building owned by East India company, which later on was grabbed by a "chor parsi" again, if you have to go back to history there is no mention of parsis having any skills at all, these people were vagabonds, thrown out from their land, ran to save their weird religion and customs from extinction and where did they land? Land of Gaandus called Gujrat.All the mills,School Institutions,the shipyards, the trading companies were taken over or transferred by "the indian whites" illegally to their names. At the time of British rule, masters were well served by Tamilians,Parsis and Gujjus as their heirs for their illegal occupation of Mumbai and India. How come people who were driven out from Iran become so successful? Simple, find a another person who has same color and then play the subservient card for own benefit. The post itself is questionable and undocumented with any sorts of authentication. Hey author if you have guts give me the research,documents to support your claims. Your writing is as bougus as your name is. Please show some guts. I know you don't want to mention your name, because you will be found and then I don't know what will happen to you at the hands of SS men. Do you know the history SS? In Germany also they had SS. You know what I mean.