Two hotels, two Pestonjees & a fire

2 December, 2016
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British-Hotel-Lane

Signage: British Hotel Lane

Fort.

Some establishments live on in locations long after they have closed down. Messrs. Pestonjee Sorabjee & Co. shut the British Hotel in late 1862, unceremoniously auctioning its dining and breakfast sets, linen and Thurston’s slate billiard tables.

Other hotels that subsequently appeared in the lane had to accommodate the older hoteliering presence. The address of the English Hotel run by Pestonjee Bapoojee curiously read- English Hotel, British Hotel Lane, Apollo Street.

A massive fire in the lane has brought its name back in the spotlight.

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Sir JJ’s gift rooster?

28 November, 2016
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Motifs: Sir J.J. College of Architecture

78/3 Hornby Road (presently D.N. Road).

Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy’s gifts included hospitals, schools, animal shelters and museums and donations to innumerable charitable causes across the globe. He was the first Indian to be conferred a knighthood and baronetcy, in 1843 and 1858 respectively. The baronetcy possibly dulled the prospects of large-scale philanthropic activity by subsequent generations of the family. Descendants were required to wait to inherit the title at the death of their father, rather than actively work towards acquiring it.

Jejeebhoy died in 1859, a few years before the Fort walls were demolished to create a new city centre. His gifts were built on plots of land in areas like Byculla and Bhuleshwar. Today they seem conspicuous by their absence in the Fort.

On the other hand sethia David Sassoon’s legacy is imprinted in the Fort, despite his death in 1864, the year the Fort walls were finally demolished. His ambitious son Albert ensured that the institute his father had recently funded, was built on a prominent plot in the new city centre.

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Elephants’ day out

24 November, 2016
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Motifs: Lakshmi Building (1938)
Pherozeshah Mehta Road, Fort.

Monkeys weren’t the only ones enjoying a spot in the sun in the 1930s, elephants too were making their mark in the emerging and exciting landscape of Art Deco in Bombay.

Formerly, in Bombay’s grand Neo-Gothic buildings animals featured amid a host of plants, as densely ornamented flora and fauna. One had to strain and train the eye to locate each individual specimen.

With the coming of Art Deco in the 1930s, animals were freed and enjoyed a life of their own. They appeared muscular yet playful, echoing the current aesthetic, yet on their own terms, trunks and tails.

Photo by Rahul Patel.

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Matunga or Matheran?

12 November, 2016
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Motifs: Ganesh Baug

Plan 214, Matunga.

The locality of Matunga and the hill station of Matheran seem to have more than a bunch of cheeky monkeys in common.

As historian Nikhil Rao has shown, the migrants from South India who quickly populated the newly developed suburb of Matunga in the 1930s imagined Matunga as something of an island through which they could manage the ‘terrifying heterogeneity’ of the wider city. They set up a variety of recreational establishments in the locality such as meeting halls, gymkhanas and messes. As the first batch of residents, they felt Matunga offered an ‘uncontaminated’ environment, in which they could maintain their caste while simultaneously exploring their new status as ‘middle class’.

By the 1860s Bombay’s native elites were busy building and buying bungalows and setting up hotels in Matheran; promoting the hill station as the closest retreat to beat the Bombay heat. Honeymooners were also being wooed into visiting the ‘romantic sanitarium’. In April 1862, Dr Bhawoo Dajee spent a few days in Matheran with his friend Mungoldas Nathobhoy, at the ‘beautiful bungalow’ Nathobhoy had recently bought from Commodore Wellesley.

The inhabitants of both Matunga and Matheran imagined their permanent and seasonal homes as sanctuaries from the bustle of Bombay city life.

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Prints for my prophet, pictures for my yogi

4 October, 2016
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BW (6 of 29)

Furnishings: Meher Cold Drink House (1939)
Mackawee Mansion, junction of Gunbow Street and Parsi Bazaar Street, Fort (presently Rustom Sidhwa Marg).

In the religious economy of Bombay, picture production got off to a shaky start in the 1850s with prophets appearing one-eyed and blurry in the papers.

Rudimentary lithographic printing equipment was no doubt to blame but other factors, like the strong hold missionaries had on the print economy, their distaste of local idol worship, and the valuing of the educative potential of the printed word, all played a part in devaluing the pictorial.

In the 1870s presses specialising in picture production had begun and did a brisk trade in selling mythological images, particularly of Hindu gods and goddesses. These images were inspired by various mythological dramas that played to packed audiences in Bombay. Dramas portrayed gods with a penchant for the miraculous- sparkling swords, disappearing acts, severed heads. Audiences stood up from their seats in reverence to these holy offerings.

Coloured lithographic prints of gods and goddesses were eagerly purchased by city goers. As for picture production’s shaky start, images outnumbered books by the thousands in volume and circulation.

Photo by Baba Badani of Byculla.

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