Author Archives: admin

Back in baby’s arms

14 June, 2017
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Statues: Esplanade House (1887)
Waudby Road, Fort.

When Busy strayed on Sunday evening from the Breach and Sailor with the white star on his breast went missing at Khetwady, their owners turned to the Bombay press.

‘Dog Lost’, ‘Stolen or Gone Astray’, notices were published on the front page. A handsome reward was promised on the dogs return.

Yet very often no address was given to which the dog could be returned. Only the owner’s name was mentioned. Why so?

The world encompassed by daily press of the 1860s was so small, the citizens that featured so familiar, that the front page of the paper read like a Facebook feed. Secondly, newspaper offices themselves often served as the first port of call so that Busy was as likely to be escorted back to the Bombay Gazette office as she was to her owner Mr W. Trevor Roper’s arms.

This post is in memory of Oscar Parmar who strayed at midnight on 31st May from Babulnath Road.

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Have you seen my wife Mr. Jones?

19 May, 2017
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Furniture: Jones Lodging House

Rachel Lodge, Merewether Road, Colaba.

Lesser than a hotel and more than a boarding house, lodges were a popular form of accommodation in Bombay in the early 20th century.

They offered something of the privacy of a hotel, without the convenience of in-house catering, and were preferable to the intimacy of the boarding house, where Bombay’s landladies embarked on bouts of excessive drinking with their boarders and even died from an overdose of alcohol.

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Zara Zara missing our maritime history

9 May, 2017
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Motifs: Ismail Buildings (1906)

Hornby Road, Fort (presently Zara Department Store, Dadabhai Naoroji {D.N.} Road).

Nautical motifs were important symbols for the Yusufs, a prominent Memon family invested in the shipping trade. The signboard of their office at Abdul Rehman Street had a representation of a boat which was ‘a singular attraction for seafarers for a long time’ reported The Times of India in 1914. The name ‘Agboatwalla’ was often added to the family name.

In the 1890s, the Yusufs purchased all the rights and titles of the firm Messrs. Shepherd and Company, progressing from vendors to owners of the firm well known for its coasting ships. A few years later, Haji Ismail Hassam, one of the three partners, bought the other family members out.

**Seafarers will now have to spot the nautical stripes on Zara’s clothing and turn to the Flora Fountain for the singular attraction in the vicinity.

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Crossing to Colaba

4 May, 2017
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Boundaries: The Island of Bombay (1838)

Even 30 years after the Island of Bombay was connected to Colaba by a causeway, Colaba was far from a fashionable locality.

Sanatoria and asylums, warehouses and store rooms, printing presses and cotton presses commanded the precincts of Lower, Middle and Upper Colaba.

A strong military presence in the locality meant that the options for an evening’s entertainment were limited to viewing H. M.’s 103rd Royal Bombay Fusiliers perform “The Artful Dodge” at the Colaba Theatre or attending a temperance meeting where the evil effects of the Canteen system were set forth.

**Lower Colaba, also called Small Colaba, was the area that comprised the Old Woman’s Island.

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A Colaba Man In Hot Blood

29 April, 2017
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People: Commander Nanavati (27 April 1959)

An excerpt from Bachi Karkaria’s new book hot on the trail of India’s most dashing naval commander-

“Nanavati comes out of Setalvad Lane, but doesn’t know the location of the nearest police station. He’s always been a Colaba man on the southernmost flank of South Bombay. Instead of turning left to go the way he came, he turns right, and goes up Malabar Hill. Near the rather obviously named ‘Teen Batti’ traffic signal he sees the ornate gates of Raj Bhavan, the Governor’s mansion. He asks the sentry, and is told about Gamdevi Police Station. Deciding not to go round in circles trying to find it, he heads for familiar territory: the home of the navy’s ‘head cop’, the Provost Marshal.
Commander Michael Benjamin Samuel, like the socialites of Setalvad Lane, has just stirred out of his afternoon siesta, but he’s shaken wide awake by what he hears from one of the navy’s highest-rated officers: ‘I think I have shot a man.’
‘Why?’
‘Because he seduced my wife.’
Commander Samuel picks up the receiver of his phone, and says sombrely into it, ‘John? This is Provo Samuel. I’m sending Commander Nanavati to you. He has had a quarrel with a person, and he has shot at him.’

At Crime Branch, the Central Investigative Department’s two-storey building in the compound of the Bombay Police Commissionerate at Crawford Market, another phone on Deputy Commissioner John Lobo’s desk jangles. ‘Sir, this is DI Gautam from Gamdevi PS. There has been a shooting in our jurisdiction. A Mr P. Ahuja has been fatally injured. We are proceeding to the spot and will revert.’
The deputy inspector has followed procedure in such serious cases, alerting both the deputy commissioner of the division and the deputy commissioner, Crime Branch, CID. This ensures a pooling of resources to nab the culprit ASAP.
But the ‘culprit’ has already presented himself.
A strong voice outside demands, ‘Lobo sah’b ka kamra kahaan hai?’ (Where is Lobo sahib’s room?)
The orderly checks with the boss, and ushers in the impressive naval officer dressed in slacks and a shirt.
‘I am Commander Nanavati,’ he says in the same authoritative tone. He appears to be impatient to get a weight off his chest.
‘Yes,’ replies the deputy commissioner. ‘Your Provost Marshal called. What is the problem?’
‘I have shot a man.’
Lobo puts his sinewy arms on the table. Every inch of his small-built frame indicates a man who knows his job, and will do it. He looks the naval officer in the eye and says, ‘He is dead. I have just received a message from Gamdevi Police Station.’
A muscle tightens perceptibly on Commander Nanavati’s chiselled jawline.
The DC offers him a cup of tea, not a gesture normally shown, but this is not a run-of-the-mill accused.
When he declines the tea, and asks for ‘just a glass of water’, Lobo pours out one from his own flask. Several eyebrow-raising courtesies will be extended to this man over the next five years.
Having shown him this consideration, Deputy Commissioner Lobo gets down to business. He says, ‘Commander, I will have to do my unpleasant duty. You have killed a civilian in his flat and the law will have to take its course. I’m calling in my officers, Superintendent Korde and Inspector Mokashe, to question you.’
They stride in, their uniform as smart as their salute.
They go with Nanavati to retrieve the weapon and unspent bullets from the glove box of his car parked outside the commissionerate. Lobo tells Nanavati, ‘We will now begin our formal investigation. Let me assure you that it will be conducted with complete fairness and impartiality. To start with, we are placing you under arrest, and will keep you temporarily in our custody.’
Again, because he is no ordinary undertrial, Nanavati is not marched into a police lockup, but is kept in one of the office rooms of the Crime Branch. The lofty officer wryly consoles himself that dusty files are preferable to scruffy felons. But Navy Headquarters and his own Parsi connections will ensure that he is soon spared even this company.

And what of the two others of that love triangle? A stunned Sylvia has been picked up from Metro and bundled off to her in-laws’ house.
The lifeless Prem has been lifted off the floor and put on his bed by the servants, too shocked to remember not to disturb the scene of the crime. Mokashe’s team arrives. Their observations and investigations will be triumphantly presented by the prosecution and vehemently countered by the defence. But let’s not jump the gun here, or with the findings of the coroner’s court. Let’s wait to hear these hotly disputed details when we come to the trial which ignited a legal, political and social forest fire.”

Race to buy the unputdownable In Hot Blood (Juggernaut Books).

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