Prints for my prophet, pictures for my yogi

4 October, 2016
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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 urban centres. 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 productions shaky start, images outnumbered books by the thousands in volume and circulation.

Photo by Baba Badani of Byculla.

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Esplanade Emergency

11 September, 2016
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Interiors: Lady Willingdon Building for the Parsi Ambulance Division (1932)

1 Esplanade Road, Fort (presently M. G. Road).

Though located at 1 Esplanade Road, the Lady Willingdon Building for the Parsi Ambulance Division was in fact the last of the great medical institutions to be built on the Esplanade.

Once the grassy expanse that surrounded the Fort, the Esplanade was developed as part of the new city centre after the Fort walls had been destroyed in the 1860s.

By the 1890s, the Esplanade was dotted with medical institutions catering to women- the Bomanjee Edaljee Allbless Obstetric Hospital (1890), the Parsee Lying-in Hospital (1895) and the Pestanjee Hormusjee Cama Hospital for Women and Children (1896).

Three decades later, in naming the facility of the Parsi Ambulance Division, Lady Willingdon Building, the prominence of women on the promenade continued.

Hashim Badani shoots effortlessly on an emergency visit.

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Suicides & the Sensational Rajabai Tower Case

1 September, 2016
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Clocks: Rajabai Clock Tower (1878)

Mayo Road (presently Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil Marg), Fort.

The sensational Rajabai Tower Case of 1891, in which two girls aged 16 and 20, were found dead at the foot of the Rajabai Clock Tower, firmly established that with advent of the high-rise, the nature of suicides had changed in Bombay.

Formerly Bombay’s distressed inhabitants ended their lives in other ways. Consuming arsenic or opium and drowning in wells were the most common means; knives were also used, to slit throats and wrists. Coroners’ inquests from the mid 19th century suggest that several of the deceased were terminally ill.

The 280-foot Rajabai Clock Tower changed the landscape, with more and more inhabitants choosing to end their lives from the Tower’s top gallery. The problem became so acute that the authorities had to eventually close the Tower to the public.

Photo by Rahul Patel, who stood safely on the ground.

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Welcome to R. K. Narayan’s House in Mysore

6 August, 2016
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IMG_8071-1 ‘I had designed a small study—a bay-room with eight windows affording me a view in every direction: the Chamundi Hill temple on the south, a variety of spires, turrets, and domes on the east, sheep and cows grazing in the meadows on all sides, railways trains cutting across the east-west slope.’
IMG_8081-1‘The other members of the family could not yet move in, for the younger generation’s school and colleges and my brothers’ offices were all around Laxmipuram.’IMG_8073-1‘So I kept my Yadavagiri house as a retreat for writing.’IMG_8075-1‘Nowadays, young people, hippies and non-hippies alike, have accustomed us to indifferent clothes and styles, but those were times when any doorman would turn you back if you were not properly dressed.’IMG_8080-1‘Graham Greene liked the story when I narrated it to him…While I was hesitating whether to leave my hero alive or dead at the end of the story, Graham was definite that he should die.’
IMG_8072-1 ‘Subsequently I found it helpful to curtain off a large window beside my desk so that my eyes might fall on nothing more attractive than a grey drape, and thus I managed to write a thousand words a day and complete two novels and a number of short stories during my years of isolation at Yadavagiri.’

Interiors: R. K. Narayan’s House (1952)

A post from the guest city of Mysore (and Malgudi). D 14, Vikekananda Road, Yadavagiri, Mysore.

R. K. Narayan’s autobiography My Days and recent articles in the press suggest that this house was as cumbersome to build as it was to restore.

After a spectacular foundation ceremony in 1946, Narayan’s house building activities plummeted due to a lack of funds, materials and a troublesome building contractor. Narayan had to borrow, litigate and exert over five years to see the project to fruition.

In 2011, ten years after Narayan’s death, his grandchildren sold the house to a developer who had begun to strip the structure down. The Mysore Urban Development Authority declared the property a heritage site and halted the demolition. Local writers protested, asking why the Karnataka state government was spending large sums on an author who did not write in the Kannada language. Finally, after a well executed restoration project, the house has been turned into a museum.

As the writing retreat that allowed India’s beloved author to write a thousand words a day, all the trouble over the house’s building and restoration was well worth it.

Photos courtesy Mysore’s most dashing author Mahesh Rao .

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The invitation to the opening of the Bombay Central

13 July, 2016
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Archives: The complete invitation to the opening of the Bombay Central (1930)

In the 1800s, women from Bombay’s native communities were seldom seen at civic ceremonies such as the laying of the foundation stone of an institution or the institution’s opening. Newspapers regularly listed the names of the native and European men, and the few European women, who attended these occasions.

When The Bombay Gazette reported on the attendance of a few local ladies at a humble prize distribution ceremony of the Persian class of the Bombay Young Ladies’ Institution in 1862, it quickly published a correction, clarifying that no native ladies were in fact present!

With this invitation to the opening of the Bombay Central Station, we are pleased to introduce our new Archives section.

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