secrets of south bombay’s parel queensway

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The stories and secrets Bombay holds in its folds behind its crumbling Victorian edifices and chaotic traffic spans centuries. Of all the streets which cover the city in a tangled web, Queensway, a road that leads through Parel in South Bombay, is perhaps the richest in terms of history and also the least to have divulged its mysteries.

A two and a half kilometre stretch, the wide boulevard lined with towering trees contains 19th Century temple courtyards, odes to the Indian Independence Movement, stories of magnanimous philanthropy, and an open air museum of Indian sculpture traversing 1,600 years. And if you did not know, you would not even come close to guessing they exist. Continue reading

about me: in a bit more detail

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Compliments of the New Year! 🙂

It is already the 7th of January, and it seems just yesterday that I was contemplating the closure of yet another year and what all it had meant for me even as it paved the way for a sequel. There was a sense of déjà vu in the air.

Except for one thing—a chunk of my holidays was taken up in finalizing my personal site. Tweaking it and polishing it to ensure it was perfect, for me at least. You could call the site my fancy online business card, for a better word. But why a personal site, you may ask? Is a blog not enough? Continue reading

3 reasons why the bdl tops as mumbai’s most lovely museum

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Do you like museums? I do. Not all of them though. Just those that stand out, whether it be in scale or the splendour of its exhibits, recount a tale which draws one within its folds, or is so darned quaint it looks like it stepped straight out from another world, another time.

I spent this past Sunday at one that fit the last bill.

One does not often relate Mumbai to museums. And when one does, it is invariably the grand Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya which comes to mind. The name itself is a mouthful as is its repertoire of treasures. But there is another that is just as inimitable, albeit in an altogether different way—reminiscent of a large Victorian doll house brimming with charm and pretty things. It is the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.

Three things set the second one apart and place it firmly as Mumbai’s most lovely repository: Its restored stunning Victorian edifice, a bevy of vibrant clay models which transform the place into a magical fantasy, and its exquisite collection of decorative arts which showcase India’s rich heritage. Quite a heady mix!

Read on to know more. 🙂 Continue reading

the 158-year-old whimsical parish church on pali hill, bandra: st. anne’s

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This week I want to share with you a little gem in my neighbourhood in Mumbai.

I live in Bandra on a hillock called Mount Mary. Around me, literally, are an abundance of historical churches, of which three stand out. Across the road is St. Stephen’s Church built in 1845 by wealthy English entrepreneurs who made Bandra their home during the British Raj. A couple of hundred yards away is the legendary Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Mount (1904), the locus of the Bandra Fair and a place of spiritual refuge and comfort for people of all faiths. Down the hill is Bandra’s oldest church which transposes one to Goa with its whitewashed Portuguese facade—St. Andrew’s Church—dating back to 1575.

And for long [in my case] and for many [including me] these three comprised the Christian heritage of Bandra. But there is more. There is always more! Continue reading

a self-guided walk through mumbai’s iconic business district: ballard estate

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Though an avid proponent for guided walks, I love self-guided walks just that tad bit more. They are like a treasure hunt filled with the thrill of discovery! Don’t you agree? As one decodes a route and identifies details, a place takes on an added meaning. From then on, it is never just another precinct, another site, discovered and rapidly forgotten. You start to recognise its finer nuances, unveil layers, and imbibe a bit of its soul. Such was how I explored Ballard Estate a few days ago.

To many in Bombay aka Mumbai, Ballard Estate is just another business district, the chief differentiator being “London-like.” London-like? Yes, that’s the catch word!

Whilst the rest of the city, and in particular, the adjoining Fort area is Victorian-Gothic in style, with its associated chaos, Ballard Estate is serene and uniform. A meticulously planned, purpose-built district by Bombay Port Trust, Ballard Estate is the coming together of two urbanisation concepts in the period between 1914 to 1918. These are: 1) Twenty-two acres of reclaimed land using excavated rock and soil from the creation of Alexandra Dock, and 2) the aesthetic design sense of architect George Wittet. Continue reading

the heritage precinct of gamdevi in mumbai: modern india’s birthplace

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Whoever said Mumbai is all steel and glass often-times grotesque, or miles of slums topped with blue tarpaulin needs to revisit it. Seriously, and, no, this is not some biased Mumbaikar’s rambling.

The city spills over with heritage. It is perhaps not in a blatant form as in other Indian cities which are decorated with grand tombs and forts. Mumbai’s heritage is sepia-toned, like a beautiful memory living on in the modern everyday life we live out on a daily basis, and are unaware of where it stems from. It is a heritage not of brick and mortar but of ideologies and modernism, the latter both political and cultural. It is the sapling that grew up to become “Modern India.”

A few months ago, this became evident to me when I joined a heritage walk through a precinct in South Bombay called Gamdevi or Gaondevi, meaning Village Goddess. The neighbourhood is named after its 200-year-old temple dedicated to Durga, also referred to by its devotees as Lilavati “a graceful woman.”

Spanning less than 500 metres across in width and length each, Gamdevi is where Bollywood talkies originated and Indian feminism shaped itself. Its lanes have triggered the imaginations of painters and authors alike, and its edifices given concrete form to convictions. It is also where Mahatma Gandhi lived and launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Gamdevi is a pot pourri of the makers of Modern India, and their stories, and by default, our stories, I like to believe. Continue reading