Signage: British Hotel Lane
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.
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.
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.
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.
Signage: Great Western Building (1764)
(formerly Admiralty House), Apollo Street, Fort.
We are happy to report that on Independence Day we have cleaned this important historical plaque. The plaque had recently been vandalised.
Many thanks to Miss Nyrika and Miss Vasudha for their assistance and enthusiasm.