Thursday, May 10, 2012

Building Blocks

Kaumudi Marathe
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom." Independence Day dawned clear and bright this year but a late rainfall at night seemed to have washed the streets of Bombay clean. Apart from a few enthusiastic jubilants and bus drivers, who had no day off to celebrate, the roads were empty.

There had been an exodus from the city for the long weekend. We escaped too that morning, down past Chowpatty, spot of many a public meeting during the Freedom Movement, named for its four channels of water, formed by the "incoming tide, before reclamations were made." This frolickers' beach was once a cremation ground. Lokmanya Tilak, whose statue watches over the sands today, was the last person to be cremated there. Past Chowpatty, down Hughes Road, turning east into Gamdevi.

Here, just off Pandita Ramabai Ranade Road, is a colony built by the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT), just one of their many residential projects across the city. Strangely like the Hindu and Parsee Colonies at Dadar-Matunga in atmosphere, this area was built around 1911. Well-known for a multitude of reasons, the neighbourhood's three main streets were named after the trees the BIT planted along them - Laburnum Road, Alexandra Road for its Alexandra Laurels, and Cirrus Avenue.

Mani Bhavan
During the Freedom Movement in the beginning of this century, 19 Laburnum Road must have been one of the best-known addresses in town. For here, at Mani Bhavan lived the Mahatma, whenever in Bombay, for meetings, talks or collections of money for the cause. From here, Gandhi launched the Salyagraha in 1919, and 13 years later, the Civic Disobedience Movement. And here he collected money for the movement, through the Tilak Swaraj Fund (TSF), in 1931. Overwhelmed by the generosity of Bombay's citizens, who contributed about Rs 98 lakhs to the TSF, Gandhiji praised the city, calling it "Bombay the Beautiful".

Beautiful is certainly a description applicable to Laburnum Road. Maisie Wright, a missionary teacher living at the Gamdevi University Settlement from 1928 to 1953, wrote in Under Malabar Hill that "I walked down Laburnum Road, wide and straight, shaded with laburnum trees, similar houses, all exuding strong odours of Indian cooking, occupied by the extended families of Hindu doctors and lawyers." Sixty years later very little has changed.

The sky is all but hidden by a canopy of leaves; the wide pavements carpeted with yellow blossoms and bright red "gunja" berries. Apart from three new apartment buildings at the end of the street, which fortunately stick to the line of the older structures, the houses are pretty much as they used to be. How fortunate these residents are, to be living in the heart of the city, with all the comforts of a small town neighbourhood around them. Gardens, well-planned homes, and walkways; the things that make a city life so much more pleasant. No filth, noise or disorder here.

Indeed the peaceful nature of the area is reflected in the Spiritual Centre at No 2, Laburnum. At the door there is a sign which reads: "Ego Stand: Please leave your ego on this stand."

It gets cooler and more lovely the deeper one goes towards Goragandhi Chowk. Here are more stately homes - at the corner of Tejpal Street; which leads to the Sheth Goculdas Tejpal Charities, and Krishna Sanghi Path, is the two-storey Barry Villa. A delicate pink, with a semicircular veranda entrance, in keeping with the corner plot, the bungalow built in 1912 is clean and well maintained. Sadly, however most homeowners have enclosed the verandas and balconies - the lungs of the house - with sliding windows or even walls, thus preventing light and air from finding their way in. Dhun House on Tejpal Street is a fortunate exception. A long, horizontal structure rather like an army barracks, its beauty derives from its wooden railed balconies, freshly painted white. Couples lean against railings, sipping an enviable cup of tea, chatting, enjoying the freshness of the morning air. Plants hang delicately down from holders; cane easy chairs, bric-a-brac and an elegant iron and wood jhoola are almost storybook touches to a pleasant scene. In one room where a child can be seen reading, sunlight floods in gloriously.

Krishna Sanghi Path ends at one entrance to August Kranti Maidan. If one turns right onto Alexandra Road, renamed Kashibai Navrane Road, a singular phenomenon will be observed. This street is a veritable champion of women's education and welfare. It houses the Arya Mahila Samaj, the Dr Kashibai Navrange Memorial Hostel for Women Students, the Pandita Ramabai Hostel, the Shanta Ashram, and a girls' school. St Columba School for Girls was established in 1832 but the present school buildings were probably constructed early in the 1900s. Made of black basalt and brick, neatly worked. St Columba's is a dark, sombre building, relieved only by its green wrought iron fencing and shrubbery.

Navrange Road is also interesting to car enthusiasts for its roadside exhibition of vintage cars ranging from a black MG coupe convertible to a sleek silver Jaguar and also specimens like the larger version of the Hindustan and the old, rounded Italian Fiat 110D, all very much in keeping with the character of the locality.

Back down the street to the entrance to August Kranti Maidan. The grounds have been divided into a number of smaller parks, some with jungle gyms for children, others left bare for sports. The walkway, fragrant with trampled rain tree flowers, is closed to automobiles and thus a joy to walk down. Children, up early for Independence Day parades now play, despite drooping eyelids, hopscotch or cricket, while the older ones saunter in groups, twirling the tricolour. A corner of the maidan has been given over to a park where a memorial column has been erected in Gandhiji's honour. But how wonderful that the remaining space has been converted for the use of children, the inheritors of the "tryst with destiny" that led to India's independence.

By now the sun is high in the sky and city-sounds at full pitch. Somehow on this bright day, brilliant with flashes of orange and green, the air is festive, the feeling of a people awake and alive to the reality of freedom.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 18 August 1994.

Coming Full Circle

Kaumudi Marathe
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

There are days in everyone's life, which are perpetually bathed in a golden glow - of sunshine, cool breezes and a feeling of well-being. The King's Circle Sunday was one such day. The air was fresh and the neighbourhood looked washed clean as if by rain. The summer heat could hardly he felt under the shirish and gul-mohur trees.

With most shops around this Matunga circle closed for the weekly off, the booksellers had room to spread out on the pavement. Passers-by stopped to browse through old issues of Harper's Bazaar, Lancet or Pig and book enthusiasts journeyed here from across the city, searching for that special find. Perhaps the autographed copy of a novel, or tucked into the page of a textbook, an old tram ticket, itself an antique.

In the days when trams were still in use in this city, the Bombay Improvement Trust held a meeting to discuss the development of the Dadar-Matunga Scheme, "and the garden proposed to be laid out at the highest point of Vincent Road, due east of Matunga station". The King Emperor was to be asked permission for the naming of this circular garden (finally built in 1916) as "Kings Circle" and for the avenue from Crawford Market to Sion Causeway as King's Way.

The avenue got built only for a short length up to the old tram terminus at Elphinstone Road, and even without official sanction the name of the garden stuck. Today King's Circle lends its name to the locality branching out around it, towards Parsee Colony on the one hand and Shankarmatt on the other.

In the lanes leading off from the garden are three-storied houses with balconies overlooking the road. Homes with large yards, decorated by fragrant mogra and parijatak trees. The residences of middle-class South Indians; names like Keny and Kamat recur frequently on nameplates. Even without this clue however, the origin of residents is obvious from the pungent aroma of sambar bubbling on countless stoves. And, of course, there's the shop that sells tea, coffee and Coimbatore butter!

In the next lane is the famous Cafe Madras, in whose unpretentious interiors the smell of sambar and mulagapudi is even stronger, tickling the taste buds. But the names of dishes on the menu are incomprehensible - pessaratte, adai and tuppa - needing a translation from the waiter. All three items are variations of dosas, made with moong dal, or chana dal or arrowroot and udad dal, and garnished with chopped chillies and onion.

Invigorated by unusual flavours, we walked around the garden and turned onto Hormusji Adenwala Road leading to Parsee Colony, one of the better-planned and more self-sufficient residential areas of Bombay. The streets are, without exception, tree-lined and clean, flanked by pavements meant for walking on. The area has been systematically planned making it easy to locate addresses; there is none of the bustle, noise and confusion of the crooked lanes in the city's old "native quarter".

In Matunga, as in neighbouring Sion, there were only saltpans and forests till wealthy Parsees moved here, away from the growing crush of the city early in the 1920s. "Well within living memory," writes historian Gillian Tindall, "this area was still open land sprinkled with trees, a pleasant spot for a Sunday picnic".

There may be no woods here today but the spot is still more than pleasant and full of surprises. A whimsical decision to turn of the main road led to the discovery of a large fairytale-like structure, with a high, white dome, stone columns and delicately arched windows. This is the Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute, oddly reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello.

Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute
The foundation stone for this building was laid in 1917 by the Baron Willingdon of Ratton, Governor of Bombay from 1913 to 1918. But the Institute was established in 1887 and named to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. As part of the jubilee celebrations also, the station for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway was named the Victoria Terminus and the first sluice of the Victoria Dock was opened by Lady Reay. The Institute was first housed at Byculla in the old premises of the Elphinstone College but moved to its present location in 1923. Its grounds contain hostels for scholars, a cricket ground, gardens conducive to either work or leisure, and an English-style country house for the principal's quarters. The jewel of the whole complex however remains the splendid yellow and white main building.

Sitting across the road, one can look over the stone walls past the wrought iron gates. The silence is broken only by a few furiously chirping birds and "an unbelievable breeze blows here beneath the trees a dry leaf folk and rackets across the road like a tin can. Its as lonely in its path as l am without you."

Nearby, under an old street lamp, a lone man waits for his tardy beloved.

Then, around past Five Gardens, full of children playing ball, skipping, riding on mini merry-go-rounds and eating roasted peanuts. Here, an era ago, a band would play for Sunday walkers. Into Parsee Colony. Muncherji Joshi Road, the main street, is named after "the principal founder of the Parsee Colony and Parsee Housing Society". This Zoroastrian neighbourhood is a blend of well to-do homeowners and recipients of the famed Parsee philanthropy, which made leading families like the Wadias and Petits build not only housing blocks but also schools, parks, dispensaries, old folks' homes and reading rooms.

That day most pedestrian traffic flowed towards the Rustom Faram Agiary for prayer. Parsee dowagers, hair perfectly silvered, intricately embroidered heirloom saris held in place by jewelled brooches, marched purposefully through its portals. Young boys, locks well oiled and gleaming carried sticks of sandalwood for burning, and the stone horses holding up the temple's verandas gazed mysteriously skywards. The agiary doors were temptingly ajar - would that they let us in?

On porches, in rocking chairs, retired gentlemen indulged in lazy noontime chat; palatial mansions with Grecian columns, deep balconies, polished woodwork and sculpted gardens with fountains, bird baths and statuettes spoke of a world of soirees and tea parties; Parsee teenagers gathered in a hall for a "youth assembly". Jane Austen would have been at home here. And perhaps even in the Koolar and Company Restaurant with its straight-backed wooden chairs and marble topped tables, its gleaming jars of sweets and biscuits, and its ceaseless glow of contentment.

A lifetime of such Sundays could never be enough.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 14 July 1994.

Fortified but Free

Kaumudi Marathe
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

A new morning in the Mandovi. Outside Fort Bassein's citadel gates, the market place is aflutter. The weekly bazaar is beginning. Traders from the Malabar pile their mounds of fragrant spices and pungent pepper high: horse breeders from Basra and Oman lead fine steeds off their ships and to the Fort for sale. Another ship unloads Negroes to be sold as slaves to the Portuguese.

On the merchants' streets sit the rice and salt sellers: the shops where oil made from local coconuts is sold, and where toddy and arrack flasks are ranged beckon to the Portuguese noblemen or fidalgos. Their wives arrive in slave-carried palanquins to buy fresh produce for their homes - fish caught that very morning by the Kolis: meal; milk products, green, leafy vegetables, and sugarcane. There are mounds of the sticky-sweet Vasai dates, clusters of the equally famous velchi bananas, and heap upon heap of multi-hued local flowers used for offering at church or for ornamentation.

On another street sit the artisans - jewellers, cloth bleachers and painters, ink and paint-makers. From their stalls porters carry bags of indigo out to the ships. The highly prized Indian teak used for shipbuilding in Portugal is loaded on board vessels: along with sugar and rice, ivory and precious stones, bound for different parts of the world.

Vendors peddle their wares in loud tones, portly gentlemen haggle over the price of shrimp, students from the Jesuit college stroll past in pairs. Just inside the citadel, beyond the portcullis a group of spectators interestedly watch the inmates of the jail.

The Mandovi is a riotous exhibition of life - colours, sounds, and smells mingle and rise up into the air. This is market day in 17th century Bassein, the prosperous and thriving Portuguese "Court of the North."

Today, however the marketplace is silent, except for the occasional call from one Koli woman to another as they dry and mend their fish nets in the sun where stalls of spice once stood. The women rise and fall in the action of straightening meshes, coating them with the juice made from tree bark, and moving on to the next tear. Children play nearby with coconut palm leaves, ignorant of the history of the very ground they stand on.

By the 17th century "the city of Bassein was the largest, and comprehended more territory than all the others of Portuguese India." Mahim, Mazagao, and Mombayim (Bombay) were merely its toll posts, and "the concentration of the nobility in the city increased by leaps and bounds" so it came to be called "Dom (a title given to noblemen) Baçaim." So proud were inhabitants of their home that when they signed letters they added the title "Fidalgo de Baçaim" to their names.

Franciscan Church
However the glory of Portuguese Bassein was not to last much longer. Soon the town was being thrown back and forth between the Marathas and the British in a colonial game of catch. The Marthas led by Gangaji Naik and ChimajiAppa captured Bassein in 1739, but ceded it in 1775 to enlist the help of the English in obtaining the Peshwa crown for Raghunathrao. Five years later the English captured Bassein but in 1782 the Marathas won it back in the "First Anglo-Maratha War. And ultimately the English re-acquired the territory in 1802 from Peshwa Bajirao II, the last ruler of that dynasty.

Chimaji Appa, who played a large role in first winning back Vasai for the Marathas, had a temple constructed there to celebrate his victory. Opposite the old town hall of the Portuguese - the "camara" where the town burghers stood and took decisions regarding Baçaim's affairs (there were no seats provided!), is the Hanuman Temple of the Maratha invader, intact but with its intricate stonework and carvings hidden behind a coat of garish pink and yellow paint The temple is deserted, a pack of fiercely barking stray dogs its sole guards. Behind is a large water tank built by the Portuguese to provide water to the Dominican church there.

The church of the Dominicans has above its entrance the symbol of a hound. The priests of the order made a pun out of the Latin word Dominicanus to apply it to themselves - "hounds of the Lord." This church too lies in ruins, its cloisters empty.

Jesuit Church
Indeed the only live church in Fort Bassein is the Jesuit Church, situated close to the Koliwada. This place of worship, with its high, vaulted ceiling and smooth cow dung-plastered floor is a church of the people of Vasai. A preacher comes here but occasionally. Yet every Sunday the fisher folk gather for prayer after their day's work is done. Over two hundred years ago this church was also a boarding university whose scholars were esteemed even in Europe. They were taught in the large peaceful courtyard adjoining the church and lived in serai-like enclosures where they could read, sleep or meditate in an environment evocative of the monks' cells at Ajanta.

One wall of the church holds a scoreboard of slate used by young enthusiasts who play cricket on the open field across the road. A natural viewing gallery has been created to the side of the green by a semi-circular arrangement of trees. Today however the field is empty for children are at home being scrubbed and combed in readiness for Mass.

The morning has melted into afternoon and now it's nearly five. Outside the St Gonsalo Garcia Orphanage and School, started in 1926 and run by one family with meagre funds, a nimbu paniwala rests in the shade. It is time to irrigate oneself while wailing for the bus back to Vasai town.

The man crushes ice adeptly into glasses: over this the juice of half a lemon is briskly squeezed. Then a dash of pineapple juice, a swish of water and a quick shake of the wrist. This concoction calls for seconds. As it slides easily down the parched throat, we watch the demure Koli fisherwomen freshly washed and glowing in Sunday sarees, heavy gold or brass nose rings moving with their every step, walking sedately to the St Gonsalo Garcia Church. They lead children, who have donned shirts for the occasion, by one hand and under the other arm they carry prayer mats.

The men are equally well turned out in silk or nylon lungis tied triangularly about their waists. By twos and threes they come, talking in muted tones, conscious of the holy day. Pretty soon the church will be full up. There they will sit, each on a prayer mat, engaging in individual communion with God. Scores of people and yet there is an unbelievable silence in the church.

These are the inheritors of Vasai, who may he ignorant of its history, but in whose faces and hearts the heritage of the Portuguese and the Maratha lives on.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 30 June 1994.

Dwelling on Vasai

Kaumudi Marathe 
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

"Vimos buscar Christãos e especiaria", said the Portuguese imperialists. (We come to seek Christians and spices.) Many believed that "God's purpose in the prosperous sea trade... was to increase the harvest of souls."

"They believed that this little kingdom (Portugal), precariously perched on the Western rim of Europe, was about to become the fifth world empire, as prophesied in the Book of Daniel and the Revelation of Saint John the Divine." So, for salvation as well as gold, the Portuguese sailed to India.

On the western coast of the country, 32 kilometres north of Bombay, was a thickly wooded island "bordered on the North by the River Vaitarni, on the South", by a strait, "on the east by a narrow channel separating it from the mainland and on the west by the Arabian Sea." This was the "dwelling place" or Vasai of the Vadvals (timber traders), the Kunbis (farmers), the Kolis (fisherfolk) and the Bhandaris (toddy tappers). A land of fertile soil where "almost anything would grow" and where indeed the inhabitants reaped rich crops of "sugarcane, coconut, various palms,, vegetables and the betel leaf."

In 1534 the island, then called Basai, belonged to the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah. It was "a seaport town of great trade, where ships used to resort and convey timber to Mekka for the building of the Turkish fleet in the Red Sea," and handed over by the Sultan to the Portuguese in December of the same year. He bought peace and Basai became Baçaim, the "capital of the North," a roaring trading post, port and the ship-building centre of the Portuguese Empire in India, which, according to historian M D David, "during the 16th century... reached the zenith of its prosperity."

The last vestiges of civilisation drift past as the local train pulls out of Bhayender on a sunny May morning, and the compartment is packed to capacity with Sunday travellers journeying to Bassein to visit loved ones.

Outside, the world is a moving watercolour. A splash of lime green in scrub and bush, then a contrast in ochre, blue and while - earth, sky and mounds of the famous Vasai salt, and then an expanse of aquamarine as the train snake-winds its way across the Vasai Creek Bridge.

From this vantage point, the now non-island of Vasai is clearly seen. On its southwestern tip "at the point facing the inlet of Bassein Creek", Nuno da Cunha, who took over the land from Portugal, built a citadel. He was known as O Fundador de Baçaim - the founder of (Fort) Bassein. Soon the view is hidden behind still dense woodland. The train pulls to a stop and one is hurtled out by the combined force of the more experienced day-trippers.

Outside Vasai Road station, a maelstrom of the wheels and the rush of human existence - pushcarts, rickshaws, scooters, buses, cycles, a zigzag of concrete buildings, hawkers' wares spilling onto the road, open gutters, piles of gravel and cement, fumes assorted and aplenty, dogs, cats, chickens, men. If one manages to get from the station to the main road in one piece, applause is called for.

About six kilometres away is the Fort of Bassein, in stark contrast to the village, in ruins but surrounded by life and the living. A beautiful souvenir with its monuments of local stone - so sturdy they were shipped to Goa for Portuguese construction there. Within the fort are four or five parallel arterial roads, set at a distance from the fortifications. To the west are open lands, which scholars surmise were fields during Portuguese and Maratha rule but today are lying fallow.

The fort of Bassein, in keeping with the rulers' tradition of Goa and commerce, welcomed the trader and the clergy. The latter came in at various points over the 200 years of Portuguese rule, seeking to proselytise but also "performing such duties as giving food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, giving shelter to the weary, ransoming captives... and maintaining a hospital."

Here were the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, Augustinians, the Hospitallers of St John and secular clergy. The church of the Franciscans is closest to the fort's Porta de Terra. The Santo Antonio - St Anthony's Friary - is roofless as are most of Bassein's monuments, therefore appearing more ancient than structures of the same era in other parts of India.

Within the confines of the structure trees grow, plants creep up walls, roots spread their arms over stone. St Francis Xavier came to Bassein in 1544, the first of his three visits to the port town. Four years later, his order settled in Bassein and "the institution started by the Franciscans was entrusted to them."

The deep porch of St Anthony's invites people to its portals. The mixed use of reddish and grey-brown stone blends into textured jigsaw patches of light and shadow. The floor is tiled with memorial stones, inscribed in Latin and Portuguese. A crumbling staircase, which once led to a second level in the church, ends in a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea and a thick row of palm trees along the bastions.

All across the fort amidst the greenery are blotches of deep yellow, not of the Indian laburnum but of the date palm. The yet unripe dates are a brilliant sun colour. The small grape-lime fruit occasionally drops to the ground, splitting and releasing a sharp, sweet perfume. From the Friary is a palm-lined arena leading to the citadel. Halfway down this road, a look back at Santo Antonio, desolate and haunted under the palm fronds.

Roofless structures inside the Bassein fortifications
A young family of date pickers is gathering the fruit. Two children, both under the age of five, dart from tree to tree collecting the branches of date cut down by the father, using a sickle tied to a long bamboo pole. Their mother, barely twenty-five or so; smooth brown skin stretched tight over cheekbones which glistens moistly with sweat, sorts the raw dates. "We ripen them ourselves," she says, looking up momentarily from her task.

"Are they sweet?" "Taste one," she offers. Biting into the yellow skin, a pungent dry flavour etched with sweet neem emerges. These dates must be sun-ripened and dried till they evolve into the brown, "shrivelled old woman" form that we find at the market.

On, past remnants of mansions cornered by foliage, till in front appears the church, the Nossa Senhora da Vida, Our Lady of Life, built around 1536. Its altar is bare; a huge arched window is a stone bracket for a shirish tree with its delicate feathery pink and white blossoms. These are almost the only ornamentation for Nossa Senhora da Vida, for it has none of its religious accoutrements left - no pews, no statues, no candlestick holders, and no cross. Just a feeling of desolation, and an occasional stone carving or design in plaster.

The church shares a wall with the citadel and residents can enter for prayer through a small door. There is also a minor entrance to the centre next to the church. Moreover, the main gate faces the Porta da Mer or Sea Gate. It's a long hot walk in the sun past the fields to the arched entranceway, once decorated with slim columns, and the emblems of the Portuguese symbolising king, conquest and God.

And suddenly one is in the heart of Fort Bassein.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 9 June 1994.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In Bumbalo Country

Kaumudi Marathe 
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

Bombay lore abounds with fishy stories. Since what we today call Bombay was originally a group of seven islands, surrounded by salty water and marine creatures, that's hardly surprising. Neither is it surprising that one of those islands should be named simply "fish village" or Macha Grama - Mazagaon.

According to J F Bulsara, in his book Bombay in the Making, Mazagaon was a "great fishing town peculiarly notable for a fish called bumbalo, the sustenance of the poorer classes. The Franciscans possessed a church and monastery there, the Portuguese owned houses and the Bhandaris and Kolis living in the locality manured palms, distilled liquor, fished, and on holidays attended the temple of Khadakdev." But the "village" which is one of Bombay's two central islands (the other being Bombay Island where the Fort is situated) has much more than the bumbalo to its credit.

This eastern locality has been the site of battles, the subject of romantic writing, and has provided the soil for mangoes so famous for their flavour they graced the court of Shah Jahan. When the British took over the city, Mazagaon was also "the most important of Bombay's dependencies." In the days of the Raj the area housed dockyards and saw mills, was home to English merchants after the fire of 1825, and had "the greatest concentration of English and Parsi occupation by the early 19 th century." It was a stronghold of Roman Catholicism and to this day has a large percentage of Indian Christian residents, in its quaint colonies.

The smoky smell of wood fires burning mingles with the cool morning air and the light is golden as the people of "a village within a village" begin their day. Matharpakadi is a Christian settlement, stretching out over innumerable lanes on both sides of Matharpakadi Main Road. Although the colony is today part of an urban area, it has grown organically, more an evolution through time than an effort by urban planners. The result is a small but beautiful, closely worked bit of embroidery on an otherwise formal, straight-woven fabric. Its cottages and two storey houses are inward-looking, blocking out the world - a haven for the inhabitants.

The houses of Matharpakadi are built in stone and plaster; with wooden roofs and trim; cool, inviting stone floors; deep verandas or balconies; intricate jaffri work and ornamentation. At the end of one lane is a heavily decorated shrine - a young mother and child, hands clasped, place a bunch of flowers before the statue of the Virgin Mary.

Down another cross lane are larger mansions, belonging to once-wealthy clans. There is peace here still - huge trees block off much of the noise. The sunlight creates gossamer patterns through lattices, and dapples the ground in a most entrancing manner. Plump cats saunter by, a quartet of ducks frolic in a little brown pond; an old bent woman sits in a balcony, dressed in the printed frock typical of her community, praying on her rosary. Somewhere in the depths of an old house, behind the lace curtains, through the dark corridors, lunch is being prepared.

Matharpakadi continues all the way to the Harbour Line tracks. On the main road again, we work back southwards to the St Peter's Chapel and school. On the way is another of those familiar corner restaurants Bombay so delights in, reminding us that dinner was a long time ago and breakfast would be a welcome thing. Little boys who go to St Peter's, or to the better-known St. Mary's of Mazagaon, swear by the locality's kheema or omelette pao. Indeed it is delicious - spicy mince gravy flavoured with lemon - or slightly greasy masala omelettes to be mopped up with the "pao" of the Goan community. The morning air has whipped up an appetite. Many pao-maska later comes a spot of chai. Regulars order it in a quaint way - "Chai" they say, "paani kum, double." Ensuring a cup full of milky, sweet tea instead of a watery brew.

St Peter's Chapel

St. Peter's Chapel is one of the most enchanting of Bombay's churches. The original structure was built from funds donated by "one Mr Shephard, resident ofMazagaon" in 1858. The caretaker Malcolm says that the present location was given to the parish because the earlier one was acquired for the construction of a new railway line to Sion by the Port Trust. D A Pinder in Bombay Past and Present mentions that too but no other record validates the theory that the structure was moved to a new site stone by stone. What is certain is that the building was enlarged somewhere between 1870 and 1875, to make it the dignified monument it is today.

A three-storied construction with arched windows and an unusual Moorish dome, St Peter's is spacious and airy. Though only used once a week by the schoolchildren - at one time it was a diocese - it is well maintained. Somewhere along the line its fluked dome with four smaller domes on the corner of its square base was altered. The five-sided apse - the semi-circular area behind the altar - has finely carved stone grills, which soften the light that falls upon the place of worship. Covering the nave or central aisle is a semi-circular vault over which sits a pitched roof. The ground floor has been hidden below a porch - it is now a basement canteen for students.

Locked up in a small room near the altar is all the Church ornamentation. A winding staircase, decorated with pigeon feathers and cobwebs, leads to an elevated balcony over the entrance where the organ was once placed. And thence up to the twin belfries. Clutching onto the oxidising, timeworn bell and looking out across Mazagaon, one sees building upon building in the haze. Suddenly behind the church and school a refreshing expanse of green, the Joseph Baptista Gardens.

This twin of the Hanging Gardens at Malabar Hill was named after Joseph Baptista, mayor of Bombay from 1925 to '26 and Father of the Home Rule Movement in India, and built over the Bhandarwada water reservoir, which serves Central Bombay. From here is visible much of Bombay Island with its familiar landmarks - Victoria Terminus, Rajabai Tower, the domes of the Prince of Wales Museum, and the branching off of the central and Harbour railway lines. To the east are the dockyards.

The Bombay Port Trust which was constituted in 1875, embarked in 1908, "on the great Mazagaon-Sewree Reclamation Scheme which was completed in 1912 and added 583 acres to the area of Bombay." Even today Mazagaon retains its dockyard orientation, with its bunders and wharves, and its auxiliary services along P D'Mello Road.

Cranes and cargo trucks are visible from the gardens. But as one climbs upwards, all the wheels and smoke of industrialisation are left behind. One visitor says, "It's like being outside a city, yet within it. From here one can observe its busy-ness while at the same time remain detached."

It is pleasantly cool on this hilltop and though families are out in hordes, there is space for everyone. Here one can see the sun rise and set - a rare treat. The crowds increase as the day wears on and the ber, tamarind and boiled peanut vendors make a tidy sum of this, "day of rest."

Reluctantly back down the steep steps again. But on to a most interesting site where "all Bombay and its people in their hundreds and thousands turned out from all parts of the compass to view this new fairy-like thing..." - the first hot-air balloon ascent, "around 1852 when a certain Mr Kyte took off amid the haystacks..." This place was to become famous for more reasons than that spectacular one though. By and by we shall come to them.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 12 May 1994.

The Railway Company Dropped the "O"

Kaumudi Marathe
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

Crooked, narrow lanes, cottages with red tiled roofs, white-washed crosses marking every corner, fishing nets hung up to mend, a view of palm trees, azure skies, and boats bobbing up and down gently on a glittering green ocean. A gentle breeze, an aroma of prawn balchao, ah the feeling of lazy summer. Ah Goa!

Oh, but no! This is not Goa. This is "a little town on the Thana coast... the most obscure place in the south west corner of Salsette... that bears a name famous in the annals of Catholic religion in the North Konkan - Bandra." The place about which traveller-writer-painter James Douglas wrote in 1892, "Bandara, Mahim, Thana are fishy, fishier, fishiest, a region of blue bottle flies where the land is manured, and the trees also with fish."

Today the smell of fish is hardly discernible, but pockets of this Bombay suburb still retain vestiges of its Portuguese, British and Koli ancestry. An area of gracious villas, Goan style villages, and churches, Bandra has come a long way since the Portuguese first arrived there in 1507.

One legend has it that the area got its name - it has been called Vandra, Bandor, Bandera, Bandura and Bandora over the ages - "when the Areans first arrived.... they observed the dark shapes of fishermen that they thought were monkeys." Hence Vandra and its distortions various.

Whatever the origin, the locality was commonly called Bandora till 1894 when, according to writer Braz Fernandes "the Railway Company dropped the 'o' and changed the station boards to Bandra."

A suburb, with much greenery, and pleasant residential neighbourhoods, Bandra was once sandy beaches, rolling hills and little villages "separated by rice fields and vegetable gardens. In 1695, it was divided into 25 such settlements. Believe it or not, many of them are still alive and thriving - Salgado is the modern-day Khar, Xelalim and Rajana have become the Sherly-Rajan village tourists flock to see; Cantawari is the Kantwadi area; Colario Grande is Koliwada, and Colario de lgreja is the modern Chimbai.

St Andrew's Church
This fishing village is just off busy Hill Road, on the seashore. At its entrance is St Andrew's Church, the oldest standing structure in Bandra. It was built in 1575 when the Portuguese missionary Father Manuel Gomes converted 2,000 fishermen to Christianity. St Andrew's, stucco-plastered and lightly embellished in the style of most Portuguese-Goan churches, is set in the middle of large burial grounds. Till 1853 it was the only place where Bandra residents could bury their dead. Old pictures of it show a large sloping roofed porch, added on in 1890. But now it's gone, and more and more graves have filled up the yard. "In May 1618... a general and diabolical storm occurred in the neighbourhood of Bombaim." Twenty-five churches were damaged; St Andrew's roof flew off. Other than that, it has remained in good shape, as can be seen 376 years later.

In the yard is a large cross moved there by one Father Francis d'Mello and set on a pedestal in 1870. It's the only tangible reminder of one of Bombay's oldest colleges and Jesuit missions - St Anne's, which was situated in extensive grounds stretching from "a point near Mahim causeway where now stands a mosque... to the slaughterhouse compounds." It was destroyed by the British when they look over the colony of Bandora from the Portuguese.

All around are graves - some are of families-Pimentas, Correas, Fernandes, Rodrigues - buried close together. One grave bears no name. It simply states that the person died in 1992 aged 97. What changes in Bandra those eyes must have seen, from the times when relatives came from Bombay to Bandra for the summer holidays to enjoy the breezes and the beaches, when travelling meant a day's expedition with a picnic lunch and a good supply of water, to a time when commuters could go the distance twice in a day and think nothing of it.

Opposite the church is an interesting building - Serpes Villa, a three-storey Mediterranean structure, set against clear skies, with views of lanes winding off from sight towards the sea. It resembles somehow a fragment of a bombed building. Inside a cool, dark room, surrounded by old photographs and picture of Mother Mary, a man sits reading his paper in the peace of the afternoon.

The site of the ancient village of Partharwar, now extinct, is occupied by St Joseph's Convent. On Hill Road, opposite St Peter's Church and St Stanislaus School, it is just one more calm and beautiful part of Bombay's architectural heritage. The day school, boarding and orphanage are run by the Order of the Daughters of the Cross, founded in 1855 in Liege, Belgium.

St Joseph's Convent
The carefully tended gardens and pathways of St Joseph's, ornamented with button roses and multicoloured bougainvillea, are a delightful walk. So is the chapel suffused by a green glow. From the stained glass? The glow is indeed from the glass but it's not stained. Opaque green glass with red trim is set into the windows. On the outside metal sheet there are cutouts in the shape of horses, cherubs and other motifs. Seen from within they give an effect almost as beautiful than their certainly more expensive and intricate cousin.

St Peter's Church is a relatively new structure, built in 1939. A large impressive building, it has come a long way from "a temporary chapel of bamboo, thatched with coconut leaves" of 1879. Its school, St Stanislaus was opened by the Jesuits in 1861, the first English boys' school in Bandra.

The church is in regular use - as parishioners indulge in a chat after Mass, obstreperous schoolboys bat vigorously away at a rubber ball, unconcerned about hitting sixers into the graveyard nearby. Most graves are marked by plaster crosses or statues of angels, decorated with doves, ivy leaves, and curlicues. One stone reads "In memory of Euphrosyne, relict of Joseph Coelho." Another, bordered by whitewashed bricks and covered with bright pink flowers is an everlasting tribute lo a loved one.

Further down Hill Road, which was built in 1854, the Mediterranean images continue, with occasional intrusions creeping in. The lovely Pearl Villa glows white. Another once-gracious mansion nearby is crumbling. Its ground floor has been given over lo a music store and a restaurant whose laminated interiors jar. A delightful cold drink place is discovered a few steps down. Dark and dingy, it nevertheless contains remnants of beautiful wooden furniture - an old cupboard and a column encased in wood and panelled with mirrors. A gilt sign on the glass reads, "Please do not sit longer."

Thus admonished, it's necessary to walk again. Around the corner is Waroda Road. Waroda was traditionally a settlement of well-to-do Christian cultivators. Its winding path leads to Rauna village and then to Vir Savarkar Marg. At Rauna is the municipal market, built with Rs 4,450 from the Local Fund in 1874, two years before Bandra became a municipality. The market buildings, still in use, form the hub of Rauna village life. Here, and all over Bandra, roamed the Bandra pigs. "Every day and all day they are patrolling the streets and highways...."

Veronica Road which demarcates the boundaries of Waroda and Rauna runs, twistingly, to Bandra Reclamation, lined by residences "straight" from Mapusa or Candolim. Hymns can be heard on a tape recorder, young men in shorts discuss football scores, and children run around half-naked in the heat. One never knows where the road will lead - more and more lovely villas appear and disappear with each turn.

Before all this building took place, when paddy fields stood where houses now do, the sea was visible from here. Just such a view must have inspired James Douglas to write in 1886:
To watch the morning ray
Purpling the Orient till it breaks away,
And burns and blazes into glorious day,
Thy towers, Bombay, Gleam bright, they say
Across the dark blue sea.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 28 April 1994.

Where Bombay Began

Kaumudi Marathe
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

Everywhere is a swarm of humanity. Like bees from a hive people emerge, flying out of Victoria Terminus, Churchgate Station and flowing out onto the streets in the direction of their offices at the Fort, today one of Bombay's biggest business areas.

Map of Bombay
This busy-ness of office days- people rushing, peddlers hawking, car horns screeching, policemen whistling - this hum of life makes it impossible to stop and observe, to stroll and linger over the infinite beauty and grandeur of the buildings, fountains, public wells and avenues of the "historic core" of Bombay. One is just pushed past by the flow.

So God made Sundays. All the bees were back in their hives. Without them the view is clear on Vir Nariman Road, straight through from Marine Drive, past Flora Fountain and Horniman Circle to the majestic Town Hall. This rare view across the island is magnificent.

Pavements can be seen to step upon, clear roads tantalise, the cloudy monsoon sky is a parasol for walkers. We go past the statues of city luminaries-Sir Dinshaw Wacha standing sentinel at the modern Churchgate junction, flanked by Mahadev Govind Ranade, Sir Hormusjee Cowasjee Dinshaw, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeeboy on either side of the road. At the 125-year-old Flora Fountain, a few tourists desultorily take pictures, somewhat disconcerted at seeing the area so empty.

Close to the fountain site there was in colonial times a gate leading into the "fortified town". This was the original Church Gate, named because of its proximity to St Thomas' Cathedral, Bombay's first Anglican church, at Horniman Circle. This gate, along with the Apollo and Bazaar gates, and the Fort walls, was demolished in 1864 for the purpose of expansion and hygiene.

First fortified by the Portuguese in the 1500s and then by the British from 1665 on, for whom it was a "trading settlement adjacent to the harbour", the Fort was on Bombay's most central island. As Gillian Tindall writes inThe City of Gold, it had a "tongue of land to the north, on the eastern (harbour) side, then called Dongri, Dongaree, or Dungharry (hilly area in Marathi) and a far more important promontory on the western side forming the curve of Backbay and consisting of Malabar Hill and its smaller neighbour Kamballa Hill."

The seed around which the colonial town grew in semi-circular fashion was the castle built by the Portuguese Garcia da Orta and later used by the East India Company. The white residential area was to the soul of what was then called Bombay Green. The native area was to the north.

Teresa Albuquerque in Urbs Prima in Indis mentions that the Green was in the early 1800s used by Parsi children as a playground. They called it a "chakri" because of its circular shape. Today it is a garden in the middle of Elphinstone Circle which was laid out in 1865, and renamed Horniman Circle in 1947 after the "pro-freedom" British editor of the Bombay Samachar press.

The garden is enclosed by exquisitely worked wrought-iron fencing and gates. Originally British green in colour, they are now gaudily painted gold and silver but their beauty is unmaskable. On weekdays the park is a haven from the city's noise and fumes - bookworms are often to be found there at lunchtime, munching apples and pouring over some tome from the Asiatic Library across the road. Today its lush lawns are in use for snoozers.

This part of the Fort, still distinctly British with its Raj architecture is well-known to many Bombay wallahs for they see it everyday and it is captured on innumerable touristy postcards. Beyond Horniman Circle, Town Hall, Pherozeshah Mehla Road however, moving north towards VT, is a place that fewer people might know. The only residential area left in the Fort, this is the native quarter or

"Black Town" where the Parsi, Bohra and Bhatia merchants lived and run their shops. In narrow lanes grandiosely called Parsee Bazaar and Bohra Bazaar Streets families resided in closely built four to five storey tenements made of wood and stone, their balconies forming a canopy over the road.

Perin Nariman Street - old Parsee Bazaar or Bazaar Gate Street - appears very much as it was when first constructed. Even though a lot of buildings in this area burnt down in the great fire of 1803 it is said that many of the ones that replaced them are still standing.

Though the architecture is now a melange of original pillars and wood frame structures with concrete, the feel of the lane is retained in the old house number plates and heavy wooden doors with iron knocks and bolts. Although most Parsi clans moved to the "suburbs" of Malabar Hill and Byculla in the 1860s, the vestiges of their inhabitation remain-the water fountain and clock at the foot of the road erected in memory of Bomanjee Hormasjee Wadia, the agiary secluded in its cleanliness from the rest of the street, a building called "Jerus" and a 100-year-old shop belonging to one Nowroji Nusserwanji Shroff.

The character of the neighbourhood changes as one nears VT. Here the wealthy Bhatia community lived and owned property. From paper shops, suddenly to Mathura Dairy Farm, and opposite, a restaurant called "Pancham Puri Walla". The names of the cross lanes too reflect the origin of the inhabitants - Manohardas Road and Maruti lane. And in true Uttar Pradeshi style there is a Bholanath Banarasi Pan wallah at the corner.

A thin glimpse of VT is available from here, rising up behind another of Bombay's little circular gardens, the Bhatia Baug, at the site of the Bazaar Gate, the northern most entrance to the town.

Goculdas Tejpal, a wealthy cotton merchant who lived here, had his name noted for posterity in the annals of Bombay history by donating money to poor students, founding Anglo-Vernacular schools and building GT Hospital, a teaching medical centre affiliated to Grant Medical college, inaugurated in 1874.

As their names implied, Parsee and Bohra Bazaar Streets were major market areas of the colonial city with everything available here from delicacies for the homesick Englishman - raspberry jam, Cheshire cheeses and sardines - to lace, wine, baubles, pins and cigars. Of the ten public markets that the city boasted in the mid-19th century, four were in the Fort. Beef, mutton, vegetables and even bread were available there.

However life can't have been easy, there was no adequate drainage till the 1870s, no public lighting system till 1843, and only well water for Fort dwellers till 1860. One contemporary journal wrote, "If anyone will walk through the filthy lanes of the native town his wonder will be not so much that pestilence should at times assail us as that we should ever enjoy 'an immunity to its ravages." Although historically this area is one of great value, that journal's description is still applicable, despite, the amenities available to modern residents.

Also true is the description of their equanimity - despite all the problems inherent in living in such a crumbling and crowded locality, it is wondrous that people should continue lo survive happily. But they do. Like bees they will re-emerge fresh on Monday morning and fill the streets of the Fort once more.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent

Yesterday's Streets

Kaumudi Marathe
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... it was the season of Lights it was the season of Darkness... we had everything before us, we had nothing before us." It was the tale of two cities.

In the outer world rushed Bombay traffic; along Marine Drive, along Marine Lines, to the north, to the south, to work, to home, to a cinema, to the shops. In the inner world a different life hummed, sealed as in a cocoon, shrouded in its culture and tradition, with occasional signs of modernisation slowly filtering in.

"The Muslim heartland... where two-thirds of the street signs are in the cursive Urdu lettering, delicate as insect tracks," where the visitor is instantly labelled as one who does not belong, where men throng the streets and mosques are on every corner, where the calls of the muezzins echo between buildings and fascinating smells of attar and spices decorate the air. Bicycles lurch past ill-balanced scooters; men manage to traverse roads without bumping into other men, handcarts, trolleys and all the paraphernalia of Indian street life. On the road it's bright hot - in the deep houses, dark. Noise and bustle; all appears to be chaos.

Yet, there is method in the madness. Every local knows what is happening around him. "If the police were to come looking for you now," says a frequent visitor, "people would be able to trace your every step for them."

This is the area around Sir Jamshetji Jeejeebhoy Road, the heart of the Native Town, which extended northwards from Crawford Market in colonial times. The Bazaar area where the Gujarati Bohra, the Konkani, the Khoja and the Aga Khani Muslim have, according to chronicler, J F Bulsara, "congregated, even with their appropriate, distinctive trades and their jamats and jamatkhansas, their mosques, maktabs and madrassas."

The vibrancy of the bazaar atmosphere is alive even today. From the mutton and fish market which gave the Chor Bazaar Road its name of Mutton Street to Imamwada where umbrella and kite sellers sit, from Bhendi Bazaar Road where one can buy lungis, pearls, surma and attar to the Bohra area of leather merchants on Raudat Tahera Street. And clustered above or behind shops are homes, many built between 50 and 150 years ago, crumbling, held up in places by concrete and steel supports, their ornamentation faded and broken. Families appear to live very much as their ancestors did.

Walking north on the main road, one reaches, just short of JJ Hospital, a narrow lane leading to the BIT Terraces. One of the later projects built by the Bombay Improvement Trust the colony is an outstanding example of low-cost housing. The Trust, set up in 1898 (two years after the great bubonic plague which underlined the need for clean roads, proper housing and sanitation in Bombay) built this colony for its municipality workers. It consists of two chawls and a set of four storey tenements clustered around courtyards.

Though architecturally ordinary, the RCC and brick structures with-sloping Mangalore tiled roofs, wide gutters and broad streets between them are sturdy. Over half a century later, they may need a coat of paint and minor repairs, but they are certainly more humane and useful than their modern counterparts.

Nearby is Piru Lane with its narrow mosque, delicately painted in green, pink, and white. Though its doors are shuttered, worshippers stand outside, hands upraised to God. The lane, named after Piru, the havaldar of a Bombay governor, leads to Imamwada and the Mughal Masjid of the Irani Shi'as. At the lmamwada, "Mohurram is observed, and taziahs and shrines preserved... it is over a hundred years old," wrote Samuel T Sheppard, early this century.
Mughal Masjid

The Masjid is set behind a tank where men perform wazu before prayers. Women cannot enter by the main gate. For them there's a side entrance, separated from the grounds by a jaali that provides meshed glimpses of the mosque's facade. A shaded path runs along the compound wall and in the silence on this side of the grill, a breeze blows; it is a novel feeling being in this soft, cool world of women.

Bhendi Bazaar Road got its name from "its rows of bhendi, Hibiscus populnea". Here were stabled, in the 1800s, fine Arab horses and "a little later in the century Bombay became well-known as a centre for horse-trading. (Gillian Tindall in The City of Gold.)

Many restaurants in this area are called Shalimar; the most famous is a falooda place at the Bazaar Road junction. Lovers, families, businessmen stop for a glass of kesar falooda, "milk cold drink" or shikanjbin. Soon the restaurant is full and a phenomenon unofficially called spoon bashing begins. To melt the ice cream in the falooda, experts bang their spoons up and down. Like so many pastimes in India - nibbling tobacco in the palm, chewing paan, massaging the feet in a train - this rhythmic tap-tapping is a soothing exercise.

On the other side of Bhendi Bazaar Road, which leads to Chor Bazaar, are RaudatTahera Street and Null Bazaar on Bade Imam Street. This market opened in 1867 and was so named because the city's main drain flowed past this point, "on its way to the sluices at Varli".

At Null Bazaar, with its close-set stalls, all manner of prayer goods are available - racks of loban, dhoop and other incense piled up like fragrant blocks of granite; peacock feathers, biscuits and utensils; sweets in rainbow hues; equally colourful decorations for celebrations. Aromatic spices, and boxes overflowing with dates evoke the Arabian bazaars of lore. In an adjoining lane, there are only pots for sale. Big pots, little ones, squat pots, long ones, pink pots, white ones, earth red and black ones.

Kochra Drinking Fountain
and Cattle Trough
Nearby is the Kochra Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough, erected by Oomer Haji Ismail in 1952. At one end, an impromptu hair saloon has sprung up. Under a plastic awning, an entrepreneur cuts "baal for rupees seven and daadi for rupees three". The fountain basin is now a sink. The barber calls himself "HAIER DEREES" and applies Vicco cream enthusiastically on a client's face.

Saifee Masjid
Across, on Raudat Tahera Street (earlier called Dhabu Street) sit, by tradition, the leather merchants. Dominating this "lane" is the Saifee Masjid, built 50 or 60 years ago. Outside, vendors sell ridahs, topis, prayer books, tasbees, coconuts and pale pink roses to devotees. Nattily dressed Bohra gentlemen in shervanis and white and gold embroidered headgear saunter past, comfortable in their world.

A world decaying and collapsing, sometimes into penury, sometimes catching up with the times in a show of glass and chrome. Tomorrow maybe they will venture into that other city. But for now everything they need is right here. In the heart of the native town.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 14 April 1994.

Neighbourhoods Talk

Kaumudi Marathe 
with inputs from Sanjiv Bajaj and Sualeh Fatehi

A warm, lazy afternoon in Byculla. As its residents take siestas after holiday lunches, the streets of the erstwhile European suburb breathe easier. A walk down the main street at this hour is a pleasant, relaxed happening.

Tree-lined Clare Road was named after the second Earl of Clare, Governor of Bombay from 1831 to 1835. Constructed in 1867, the road still gives strollers glimpses of its colonial past amidst the present-day of a working class locality. Along the street innumerable hairdressing salons beckon, kebab and "pyali" wallahs sit behind their wares, which fragrantly lure the hungry buyer, and the smell of baking bread is a comforting aroma on the breeze.

Turning from Bellasis Road on to Clare, what a change of pace and atmosphere - from the noise, traffic and crowds of the former to the residential somnolence of the latter. History is everywhere in Bombay but on that Sunday afternoon in Byculla it felt as if one had taken many steps back into time where gracious dwellings sit peaceful in the shade, carriages or "gharries" roll by and churchgoers walk sedately to Mass.

Towards the end of Clare Road, near the Byculla Bridge where the Khada Parsee stands forlorn, half-hidden by the monstrous flyover, are three churches - The Convent of Jesus and Mary, the Taylor Memorial Methodist Church and, across the road, through a short lane, Christchurch.

It is this last, standing in the compound of the Christchurch school, which is one of the oldest churches in the area. Built in the neo-classical style in 1833, the same year as the famous Byculla Club on Bellasis Road, it is a strange cousin of the Asiatic Society in the Fort. The Society or Town hall was designed with a double row of Doric columns for its portico so these were supplied in "full number" from England. However by the time the columns arrived the building plans had been modified, so some that were not needed were used at Christchurch. The resemblance between the two buildings is striking. Originally "white-stuccoed", Christchurch is now a salmon-pink colour which nonetheless does not detract from its stark, modern facade and clean lines.

Indeed, this part of Byculla is a blend of the Christian, Muslim and Chinese communities, each an integral part of the neighbourhood's character. Located at the physical centre of the island city, Byculla was the coveted suburb of the Europeans. According to Meera Kosambi in her bookBombay in Transition, "This area was perhaps the most visibly European cultural space, with its elite club, the botanical garden and race course."Its spacious grounds are being hemmed in from all sides by construction in the area but the church and school still lie in relative peace and quiet. Shaded by the Cassi fistula (India Laburnum or "bhaya") trees, which probably give Byculla its name, it is an escape for people wanting fresh air and open spaces. Across, the newer Parish Hall resounds with children's shrieks at a gathering of Chinese residents.

The family of Parsi ship builder Lowji Nusservanji Wadia also made their home here as did Baghdadi Jew David Sassoon. His residence "Sans Souci" is now known as Masina Hospital. Sassoon built a synagogue on Sir J J Road, just around the corner from Christchurch in 1861. One of only two Yehudi synagogues in the city, the Magen David, now painted yellow and white, is a simple structure proclaiming the Ten Commandments in Hebrew at the doorway.
It looks solitary and deserted. The caretaker who has lived in the compound for "42 long years" says few people come there now. "Many have gone to Israel". Yet one devotee comes, bags full of her weekly shopping, scaring the pigeons in the hall rafters as she enters. A moment of worship before a long journey back to Chembur.

Next to the synagogue towards Clare Road is the Traffic Institute, a beautiful horizontal structure with an impressive facade of stonework, arches and verandas, somehow reminiscent of English cottages with rose creepers and ivy growing on the walls. "What a lovely building!" one exclaims to the policeman on duty. "Of course," he responds. "It's an old building, isn't it?" as if that's all the explanation necessary.

A shortcut back to Clare Road is through Christchurch lane, at the corner of which people stop for a dish of sizzling "pyali" - a concoction of potatoes and liver masala, topped with kokum juice, garlic oil, chillies, amchur, tamarind chutney and fresh onion. At the other corner is an old Chinese restaurant called Duke's exuding more oriental atmosphere than any new-fangled Chinese eatery.

Christchurch Lane snoozes in the sunshine. Mostly occupied by Christians there are one or two houses owned by Muslim joint families with names like "Haroon Court". Old retainers sit on the steps, after a morning's work, leisurely preparing pan. Opposite the end of the lane is the Convent of Jesus and Mary.

A small, narrowish church built in 1878, it is only one part of a complex that stretches back into unbelievably large grounds housing a convent and school. To one side of the church is a frangipani tree showering blossoms onto a statue of Jesus Christ. Not a car can be heard here: two girls use the silence to study.

Sharing a wall is the Taylor Memorial Methodist Church built by Gostling, Chambers and Fritchley in 1906. Its doors open at four o'clock and inside can be seen well-polished pews, a simple pulpit against a wood mural. The Indian setting of this English-built church is enhanced by the lotus motif in its stained glass windows. The preacher lives upstairs. From a distance the building resembles a "churchlike" house. The frilly curtains and the drying clothes lend to the misconception.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Europeans began to rediscover the charms of Malabar and Cumballa Hills and soon Byculla began to be bypassed for residential areas on the Western sea-face. Also by the 1850s the mill came to Bombay, springing up all over Byculla. From an upper class area Byculla metamorphosed into one with "a mainly industrial and working class residential character."

The Byculla Club on Bellasis Road was superseded by the Bombay Club on Chowpatty and the Royal Yacht Club at Apollo Bunder. The racecourse was moved to its present-day location at Mahalakshmi. Where the clubhouse stood is today the State Transport Depot. Builders vie with each other to build taller skyscrapers, drains overflow. Of colonial Bombay there is little trace.

The one monument on the road, which bears testimony to another age, is the crumbling St Paul's church. A simple stone structure built in 1872, the church is impoverished and needs maintenance. Reginald Victor, a middle-aged third generation Thakur convert to Protestantism, lives above the prayer hall. He runs a nursery and preaches to a congregation of 250 each Sunday. "The church was built without any foreign funds. The land was donated by the Government of Bombay in 1826. We couldn't build a church in Kamathipura so we came here. My father used to preach here. You know, Mala Sinha was married from this church." But now few people come and maintenance costs are rising. Victor who took over as priest in 1978 spends Rs 15,000 a year on the church's upkeep. But it isn't even on the heritage list, and how much can one man accomplish? "I've had offers for this land. But I've promised to look after St Paul's and that I will continue lo do."

Siestas over, Clare Road is beginning to rouse itself for Sunday evening pleasures. And on Bellasis Road of course, the activity had never abated. Life there is frenzied, passing St Paul's by. So very different from two hundred years ago?

If only buildings could speak.

This article was published as part of a series - Best Foot Forward - in the Independent, on 31 March 1994.