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.
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.
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.
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.