Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mumbai’s School Sports Day Ground

Everyone who went to school in South Mumbai will definitely remember coming here for their school’s sports day. I am talking about the University Ground officially called the University Sports Pavilion which is located between the Wankhede stadium and the Hindi Vidya Bhavan School on ‘F’ Road. If you commute by the Western Railway you will see this ground just before you reach Churchgate station after you have passed the Marine Lines flyover.

I had gone there today (after many many years) to treat a stray dog who lives there. He saw us and promptly ran into the ground. Being there brought back memories of my school days and I remember spending one day every year out here, cheering class-mates who were taking part in different sports activities an running around on the wooden bleachers carefully avoiding the bigger gaps which had been caused because of the broken bleachers.

The ground is huge and has an athletics track around it. It has the old wooden bleacher seating for spectators’ on one side of the ground. The ground has a nice approach road as one has to walk through a tree-lined path for one length of the ground to get to the spectator stand. The canteen is located behind the stands. The watchman told me that it is busiest in December with Sports Day’s of various schools being held here and is also given out for college and corporate sports events. It is naturally not used during the monsoon.

Today, the stadium needs desperate attention as most of the bleachers were broken in one whole section on the stand. I remember reading reports in the press that a business house was going to sponsor the renovation of the stadium. I just hope that they keep the bleachers and not replace them with concrete seating.

We left the place after leaving medicine for the dog with the watchman in a most appropriate container found lying around. A broken tennis ball!!

Friday, December 29, 2006

James - R.I.P.

James was named so because of Arvind – the boot polishwala whose habit was to name all the strays that lived with him on the footpath outside Eros theatre after the movie that was running at the theatre when he acquired the stray. So James was named after the James Bond movie that was running there and this was sixteen years ago.

James was jet black and his aging grey hair showed prominently on his face. He was one of the lucky few that would have escaped the BMC dogcatchers as he was born much before the BMC stopped the inhumane practice of electrocuting stray dogs. James lived with his companion’s -Pretty, Tipu, S. Raj, Hritik, Amisha and the recent additions of the two Pomeranians. Though all these dogs came into Arvind (and thus James)’s life at different points of time, James was the second eldest in the group after Pretty.

James had a very docile temperament and if you happened to walk down near the Eros theatre at Churchgate, you would see him sleeping on the footpath or trotting back and forth between Eros and Satyam Collections or crouched between the cars parked on the road and the pavement or chasing the crows or following Arvind wherever he went.

James died last week. Though he was old, had lost weight and slowed down, he was still quite fit with good heamoglobin levels, a good kidney and a slightly bad liver. He died after being run over by a car. Arvind who brought him up as a puppy was devastated and still cries remembering him. Now he has only Tipu and the recently acquired Pomeranians left.

James, of course will be dearly missed by everyone including me as I knew him for the past ten years and saw him every Sunday at 9:30 am, as his home is the meeting point of the WSD South Mumbai on-site first aid team.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Nilambari-The Open Double Decker Bus Tour

Photo - Courtesy : Rohan Mukherjee
Though the double decker BEST bus has become obsolete, you can still enjoy a ride on an open double decker bus and see the buildings around South Bombay by going on MTDC’s Nilambari, the Open Deck bus service, which leaves from The Gateway of India. The tour is an hour long and is conducted only on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year (barring the monsoon). It has two services at 7 pm and 8:15 pm.

It is a nice ride and apt for tourists who do not have much time to see the city, for people who like open bus rides and also for Mumbaikar’s who would like to see South Mumbai from around 15 feet high and would like to know about the different illuminated buildings and areas along its route.

The bus commences the tour from the MTDC booth at the Gateway of India (the place where tickets for Elephanta are sold), passes the statue of Shivaji Maharaj, moves along the Gateway of India road past the Taj Mahal hotel and turns onto Colaba causeway towards Regal. It then takes you via the Mantralaya towards Marine Drive, takes a U-turn at the NCPA, past the new Oberoi and runs along a little bit of the Queens Necklace to turn at Jazz by the Bay towards Churchgate station. It turns right at Churchgate round the Oval Maidan, past the University of Mumbai, The Rajabai Tower and the Bombay High Court (all magnificent buildings). It goes along the road behind the Bombay Gymkhana, past the Tata House (now Deutsche Bank building). At the end of the road you see the World Heritage notified V.T.Station (Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminius). It then runs along Dadabhai Naoroji Road past Fountain and turns onto the road, which leads you to the State Bank building past Bombay House (The headquarters of the TATA’s). It passes Horniman Circle, the Asiatic Library and heads back towards the gateway via the Naval Docks road.

You can listen to the guide who gives you a running commentary on the different aspects of the buildings along the route, the history of Mumbai, anecdotes on incidents associated with Mumbai and a little bit their own stuff like “ There across the harbor you can see Malabar Hill, it is said you can buy your mother or father in Bombay but you cant buy a house there, heh heh heh” OR a story on why the Marine Drive is called the Queen’s necklace OR his or her interpretation on which is the better hotel between The Taj and The Oberoi OR he would be pointing towards the BSE and doling out advice on not to buy any stocks as it had reached 14,000 and is definitely going to fall OR how a ‘business house’ painted the ‘Fountain’ and that’s why it has turned green with the moss growing over it. Else you can just ignore the guide and look out and absorb the city. If you are standing up on the Upper Deck, do watch out for the tree branches that might hit you.

Do go early in tourist season as all the Upper Deck seats get taken. The tickets are priced at Rs 90 per person for the Upper deck and Rs 40 for the Lower deck. (No half priced tickets for children and children sitting on the lap are not charged for) It is better to go onto the Upper deck as you can hardly see anything from the Lower deck and you may as well go onto any BEST bus which runs along South Mumbai instead.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Starbus in The City

As a true blue Mumbaikar, I want to try anything that is new in the city. Thus when the BEST launched their new STARBUS, I wanted to get onto it pronto. But, it deluded me for six months as it ran on routes that I never took or never passed through my house, office or kennels. One also could not just jump into it at a signal like other BEST buses as its doors are shut while it is moving. So finally some days ago, I was happy to see a Starbus waiting at the signal outside the Esplanade Court building at Kala Ghoda and as its doors were open, I promptly jumped into it.

At the next stop (opposite the High Court), I heard commuters banging on the door and realized the reason for the doors being open when I got in. The driver had forgotten to shut the door at the earlier stop and thus pressed the button at the bus stop to let the passengers in, only to shut the open door.

The Starbus has two levels and it reminded me of the trailer buses that Bombay had years ago. (Route nos 1, 70, 74) The lower level which is really low almost touches the floor (okay, about one foot higher than the floor) and it can seat 12 people with 3 seats on the side that are foldable and first-timers like me are left wondering how to operate them.

If you are tall, mind your head while climbing the two steps that take you to the higher level. A sign in Marathi, Savdhan, doke aaptel will warn you anyway. The higher level seats 14 people but avoid the last row, as it is terribly hot because of the engine at the back. The bus seats less people than other buses but if you happen to be standing, see that you are holding on dearly to whatever you can get your hands on, as the Starbus is very very unsteady.

Well now for the positives… One big one is that it takes care of the physically challenged. It has a foldable ramp and a place for the wheel chair to be strapped. Another first was that they were playing songs, which I have heard only on public buses and private buses in the South. I though they were playing “In the Summer Time”, only to realize that they were playing a Marathi fusion of Summer Time, They also played some nice old Marathi numbers like ‘he chinche che zaad’, ‘maalyacha malya mandi’, ‘ye jawal ye laju nako’ and ‘aaga ye na, jawal ye na.’ which unfortunately had Jhankar beats.

The bus driver and the conductor were not too happy with the bus. The conductor said that it was used only on short routes and is too shaky. Poor fellow! Must have to put on quite a balancing act. The driver was unhappy that he could not cruise with it through the narrow Jagannath Sunkersett Road in Girgaum as he though it was bulkier than the regular buses.

If you do intend to take a ride on this bus, do read the “In Emergency Instructions for passengers” written there.

1) Press red knob provided near door and open manually.
2) Remove the flap and press handle to open rear door.
3) “Fire extinguishers” near drivers seat at rear end.
4) ‘Break’ rear glass with hammers nearby.
5) Operate “battery cut-off switch’ near driver seat and rear end engine.

So the STARBUS may be suave and foreign looking but the good ole single and double-decker buses are best suited for the hustle and bustle of this city.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Diwali – Then and Now !

Over the years, the way Diwali is celebrated has changed as I see it. Here are some random notings.

Gone are the days when our ‘wadi’ used to have Diwali festivities. Soon gone will be the days when we would have ‘wadis’ left as they would be replaced by some ‘tower’ but that’s besides the point. When we were small, we used to look forward to Diwali, not only for not having to go to school but also for the wadi festivities. They were so popular that all the cousins and relatives of people staying in the ‘wadi’ used to come and spend time with the wadi relatives and participate. The wadi used to be flood lit and a host of events used to be organized. There would be different sporting events arranged including Badminton, Table Tennis, Cricket, Carom and Volleyball tournaments. A play would be staged with the youngsters participating. The highlight of the festivities was arranging an open-air movie show on the ‘parda’. Thus, a white screen used to be put up and a Hindi movie(in black and white) used to be projected on it. Everyone used to sit on chairs or on ‘satranjis’ laid out on the ground and watch it. Our Parsi colony neighbors also used to come into the wadi to watch or watch it from the other side of the screen. I remember seeing Kishore Kumar’s ‘China Town’ on the parda one of the years.

Unfortunately, for many years now these festivities do not take place as many of the wadi youngsters have migrated to the US or are too busy with their own lives.

Diwali at home also meant putting some ‘uttan’ on the ‘pahli anghol’ day and breaking a ‘karit’, putting up lights, making a ‘kandeel’, putting a rangoli and diyas. Faral – the sweets and savories distributed and eaten during Diwali used to be made at home. So one gorged on chiroti, balu shahi, besan, rava and motichur laddoo, karanji filled with a coconut filling, chakli, shankar pali, chivda, shev, kadboli and anarse all throughout the Diwali week. It also meant going out and buying new clothes for yourself and family. On Bhau Beej, my sisters used to perform and Aarti and I had to give them a gift. This custom was carried out to honour the brothers for taking care of them and protecting them, and pray for their well-being. Today, all this has also changed. The faral is home made but bought from some one who makes it at his/her home and is not eaten with as much fervor. As sisters are not in the country, there is no aarti and no gifts to give. The lights are still put on but the kandeel is bought from the market.

Diwali in the city has changed too. If you took a bus from V.T. thru Girgaum thru Parel to Mahim, you would see many chawls and buildings having similar colored kandeels(lanterns) put up in a row on the long balconies. Today, many of these chawls have been pulled down. In fact our ‘wadi’ too had this uniform code as far as the Diwali lights were concerned. There would be nine ‘zero’ bulbs with a set pattern of colors. Red at one end, then green, then yellow, then orange and white in the middle and the same repeated on the other side. Thus all the flats in the wadi used to have the same kind of Diwali lights put up on their balconies. Today barring a few nobody follows this code. The kandeels too have changed. Unfortunately, more and more people have started buying plastic kandeels which not only are bad for the environment but also look terrible and tacky.

If you go to Marine Drive, the sky is lit up with firecrackers. It seems that the whole of Bombay descends on Marine Drive to either burst the crackers or to see the fireworks display. I remember one year on Diwali day as I was waiting for a 123 BEST bus, I was pleasantly surprised that the 123 was an open-top double decker bus and when it went onto Marine Drive, one could see the firework display right above you. Though, I am sure Marine Drive residents must be having a tough time during Diwali.

Of course, over the years with people becoming more aware of noise and air pollution and the judiciary stepping in, one hears fewer crackers than 15 years ago. This is a welcome sign not only for us but also for the animals – stray dogs, cats, and pets etc that all have a bad time during Diwali. They go through immense trauma because of the crackers and every year the number of road accidents, burn cases and pets that get lost are very high

I wonder what further changes would happen twenty years hence in the way people celebrate Diwali, maybe it would be celebrated on the net only and through blogs ??

Monday, October 02, 2006

Gandhiji and Bombay

The above photograph of Gandhiji was taken on his return to Bombay from South Africa in 1915. Thus, on Gandhi Jayanti day, if one has to remember places that bring out Gandhiji’s association with Bombay, the most important would be Mani Bhavan,now a memorial museum at Laburnum Road, Gamdevi that served as his headquarters from 1917-1934.

Bombay, a city in the forefront of the freedom struggle had attracted Gandhiji often and he used to stay in the city at the residence of Shri Revashanker Jhaveri’s Mani Bhavan. It is a two-storied building, with the ground floor housing a library and the first floor has a picture gallery and an auditorium. On the second floor, you can see the room where Gandhiji worked out of and also various photos, memorabilia and letters. It also has an exhibition on his life called Glimpses of Gandhi, which shows the important events in Gandhiji’s life in a mini-figures format. Mani Bhavan attracts many tourists but I wonder how many Mumbaikars have visited it.

Gandhiji's room at Mani Bhavan

These are some of the activities that Gandhiji carried out in Bombay

# In 1917, he took the first lessons in carding from a carder who used to pass Mani Bhavan every day.
# He learnt spinning here.
# The Satyagraha movement against the Rowlett Act was launched from here in March 1919.
# He took over the writing of two magazines Young India and Nava Jeevan in 1919.
# He lent support to the Khilafat movement from here in 1920.
# He participated in the funeral procession of Bal Gangadhar tilak from Sardar Griha to Chowpatty in 1920. His words " A great among men has fallen" are remembered by all.

# The decision to collect one crore rupees from the Tilak Swaraj Fund was taken and its start made here in 1921.
# He organized the boycott and bonfires of foreign cloth from here on July 31,1921.
# He was arrested from his tent on the terrace of Mani Bhavan on Jan 4, 1932.
# His last stay at Mani Bhavan was on June 17-18 1934.

Various statues Of Gandhiji exist in Mumbai, the most prominent being the one at Mantralaya. As all cities Bombay has an M.G. Road, in fact more than one. The most prominent being the one from Metro to Kala Ghoda. The others are in Goregaon (W) and Ghatkopar. Various organisations like the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal at Nana Chowk spread his teachings and sell books on Gandhiji.

As I was leaving Mani Bhavan, I smiled seeing a banner on the opposite side on the road “Use Gandhigiri, For Peace and Harmomy”. Gandhiji is also being remembered at many of the theatres in Mumbai that are playing the film “ Munnabhai”.

Pujo in Mumbai

The multicultural and multilingual ethos of Mumbai is seen by the various Durga Puja’s organized by the Bengali community in Mumbai and is a worth a visit. In Mumbai, Pujo’s are mostly held at the Tejpal auditorium at Gowalia Tank, Shivaji Park, Lokhandwala in Andheri, Powai, Chembur, Vashi and Patwardhan Baug at Bandra

I have been to the Puja’s at Tejpal, Chembur, Shivaji Park and Bandra. The Puja’s start on the sixth day (Maha-Shashti) and go on till the tenth day (Maha-Dashmi). It symbolizes good winning over evil. The Tejpal Pujo has a beautifully decorated idol with an Arati carried out in the midst of playing of the dhak.They also have a musical programme everyday with jugalbandi, dance drama, bengali songs and a theatrical musical being performed in the evenings. The committee which organises the Bandra Puja organises a Marathi play every year. The Shivaji Park Puja has a bigger idol and has many stalls, which sell Bengali foodstuff (sweets like kheer kodom, payesh, gulab jamun, rossogulla etc), Sarees and handicrafts from Bengal.

I ate the traditional Durga Puja meal (Bhog) at the Bandra Pujo this year and it was wonderful. Hundreds of people stand in a line and volunteers dish out a hearty meal of khichadi, potato and paneer subji, begun bhaja, tomato chutney, payesh and gulab jamun.

The photos here are from the Tejpal and the Bandra Puja. For more information on Durga Puja see here and here.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bahubhashik Bahurangi Natyotsav

A five-day theatre fest is currently going on (September 28-October 2, 2006) at the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh at Girgaum, near Charni Road station. This festival organized jointly with the Saraswat Co-operative Bank in memory of the late Dr Shrirang Adarkar, a theatre enthusiast and an ex-director with the Saraswat Bank.

The festival has quite a mélange of plays in Marathi, Malvani, Hindi and English. The first one called Bin Baykacha Tamasha, as the name suggests has no women but men dressed as women. It was wonderful to see the men dancing in the tamasha form and the male singers who were singing in both male and female voices. Look at this link here and you will find it difficult to identify that the actors are all men.

Then there was Sangit Swayamwara, the Natya Sangeet form of theatre in which the plot was of Rukmini’s Swayamwara with Lord Krishna, Rukmini, Rukmini’s brother Rukmi, her father Bhishmaka, the King of Vidharba all part of the plot and were emoting out scenes through dialogues and moreover through classical singing. The photos that appear here are from this play. This form of theatre was made popular by the legendary Bal Gandharva.

The other plays that are going to be staged are Magni Taso Puravtho, a play in Malvani by the famous comedian Macchindra Kambli, Katha Collage II directed by Naseeruddin Shah and Tamasha Mumbai Ishtyle, a comedy by Bharat Dabholkar.

Do pay a visit to this old theatre, which used to be an open air theatre in the 1920’s and for many years now is an enclosed auditorium named after Dr Bhalerao who was responsible for reviving Marathi drama in the 1940’s when the audience for plays had thinned out after people started turning towards films.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Champi !

No, this is not a story about a malishwala or a dog owned by a malishwala but about a stray called Champi.

If you ever walk down around the Oval Maidan (South end), it would be difficult for you to notice a brindle colored dog sitting on the side of the footpath opposite the sugarcane juicewala or lying under a broken crate. You really have to look for her as her color and the small built camouflages her with the surroundings.

That’s Champi who is looked after by Mauryaji, the old sugarcane juicewala. Mauryaji brought her when she was puppy and when he was still living on the footpath at the Oval Maidan. Some time back he moved into a ‘kholi’ in Ghatkopar and commutes everyday to the Oval Maidan. He and his son run the sugarcane juice business and everyday quench the thirst of hundreds of passerby’s and young cricketer’s who play at the Oval with their freshly churned ganne –ka –juice. Champi, ofcourse continued to live at her ‘home’ outside the Oval

Mauryaji fondly talks about his Champi and says that she is twenty years old (she must be sixteen). Champi has now gone frail and has one bent hind leg due to an accident she suffered many years ago. We have seen her for the past eleven years. Some months back she has another accident and that too on her other hind leg. Thankfully, she responded to the treatment and could hobble around again. Currently she is being treated for a maggot wound on her bent leg (paw). She is a very good patient and wags her tail gently when we approach her, letting us treat her without a squeal.
So if you happen to walk down from the Oval maidan (South end footpath) towards the Institute Of Science building, look out for Champi or chat with Mauryaji about her and it will surely make your day!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bombay Books 1

Here is a list of books that are either about Mumbai or the backdrop of the story based in Mumbai. The list is in no particular order but includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, compilations and so on. If you want to ensure that I add all of them to Bombay Books 2, 3 etc, do leave a message. The obvious ones like Maximum City, Shantaram and Sacred Games along with the many others that I have in mind will be added in due course. The list is exhaustive and will be continued..

Kala Ghoda Poems

Poems penned by a simple man, the late Arun Kolhatkar while sitting at the erstwhile Wayside Inn at Kala Ghoda make their way into this book. . I was fortunate to have met him once, very briefly. My favorite for obvious reasons is Pi-dog but the compilation of 28 poems brings out Mumbai’s ethos on a Kala Ghoda backdrop.

Time Out Mumbai

Mumbai finally has a magazine of her own (for two years now) after many years since ‘Bombay’ and ‘Island’ disappeared from the scene. Edited by Bandra boy Naresh Fernandes, this fortnightly previews probably everything that you can do with respect to Mumbai’s Food and Drink, Art, Books, Dance, Films, Music, Nightlife, Theatre, Happenings and also has a section for Kids.

Anchoring A City Line

This book details the history of the Western Suburban Railway (the life line of this city) and its Headquarters in Bombay from 1899 to 1999. It contains some beautiful old photographs of different aspects of the railways i.e. trains, tracks, stations, engines, bogeys etc with well researched information by well known heritage writers Rahul Mehrotra and Sharada Dwivedi.

50 And Done

Tara Deshpande, the actress has written some short stories and verses that provide glimpses of Bombay through stories like Wicked, which is about a loney old woman and a bunch of wicked children out to seek revenge over the loss of a cricket ball at a building in Marine Drive. Other Mumbai mentions in the book include Mondegar Cafe, Grant Road’s Topaz, St Xavier’s College, Mid-Day, Carter Road and Ruparel College.

Busy Bee (From Bombay to Mumbai)

Busy Bee or Behram Contractor’s compilation of his columns ‘Round and About’ which he wrote initially for the Mid-Day and then for his Afternoon Despatch and Courier that struck a chord with millions. Many people used to buy the newspaper just because of his column. Nobody and I say nobody can write about or know Bombay as well as Busybee did. He wrote simple, everyday stuff about the life in this city by creating a character for himself as a family man with a wife, two sons (Derek and Darryl) and a dog (Bolshoi). Busybee loved Bombay and this is what he said about the city, “ Everybody has some place he calls home. This is my home, Bombay. I would not live anywhere else even if I were paid five month’s salary in a lump sum.

Bombay Gothic

Christopher London takes us through the fascinating history of Gothic Bombay through color photographs and rare archival material. This book presents a comprehensive perspective of Victorian architecture (here ,it is Gothic Revival architectural style adapted to local conditions) of Bombay as envisaged by Governor HBE Frere.

Bombay Time

Thirty Umrigar work of fiction is based in Wadia Baug, a Parsi colony in Mumbai where she introduces us to its Parsi inhabitants, men and woman who have grown up together in the Baug’s aging community. Here she takes us through the life of Rusi Billimoria, a middle aged businessman coming to terms with his bad marriage.

The Mumbai Nature Guide

Sunjoy Monga, the Mumbai based naturalist surveys a selection of natural sites in and around the city. He takes us to Borivali’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Chinchoti, Tungaresjwar, Elephanta, Karjat, Aarey Milk colony, Uran, IIT Campus, Malabar Hill and the Mahalakshmi Racecourse and many many more green places. The book has beautiful photographs of the flora, fauna and birds found in these areas.

City of Gold – The Biography of Bombay

This book was published in 1982 and is a must read for anyone who wants to know Bombay’s origin and history. Gillian Tindall has done immense research and in her foreword says “ battered, dirt, overcrowded and choked with exhaust fumes, it may be, but it is also a city of dreams”

Times Good Food Guide ( Mumbai)

This has a listing with ratings on the food, service, ambience and expense of mostly all the restaurants, bars, pubs, paan shops, caterers, restobars and nightclubs classified zone-wise, cuisi ne-wise, area-wise and alphabetically.

Swimming Lessons and Other Stories From Firozsha Baag

Rohinton Mistry’s first book with short stories is about the life in a fictional Firozsha Baag, a Bombay based Parsi colony. You will laugh and cry along with the residents such as Najamai, Khorshedbai, Nariman Hansotia, Tehmina, Viraf and others.

Rediscovering Dharavi

Kalpana Sharma narrates stories from Asia’s largest slum Dharavi. She takes us through Dharavi which for many is just a mere cold statistic, through its history from the days when it was one of the six great Koliwadas to the present time and also talks about it’s people like the potters and the chikki maker.

Bombay, Meri Jaan

This book edited by Jerry Pinto and Naresh Fernandes is a compilation of writing on Mumbai by authors like Pico Iyer, Adil Jussawalla, Rudyard Kipling, Suketu Mehta, Sunil Gavaskar, Kiran Nagarkar, Khushwant Singh etc and poems by Nissim Ezekiel, Arundhati Subramaniam and Dilip Chitre.

Love and Longing In Bombay

Vikram Chandra paints a vivid picture of Bombay, its ghosts, its passions, its feuds and its mysteries through five stories called Dharma, Shakti, Kama, Artha and Shakti.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


I don’t know who named him or why he was called Bullet. He was black (and for a change not named Kalu) and used to live at the Cross Maidan near the Khau Galli side. I had known him for the past ten years. Bullet died last week of old age. Another stray whose photo I regret not having taken.

Bullet used to be looked after by the caretaker of the maidan. This responsibility was passed on to Shiva who liked all the strays in the area and used to call us for any first-aid requirement. Shiva had a shop on Fashion Street and strangely for the past 4 years I had not seen him. During this time the policemen sitting at the Fashion street signal used to call us for any help that Bullet needed.

I ran into Shiva last week co-incidentally just before Bullet died, while we were re-vaccinating strays dogs against rabies in the New Marine Lines/Fashion Street area. He told me that he now had 3-4 shops on Fashion Street. We were also remembering olden times about how he had seen Bullet as a puppy, about all the strays on fashion street which are no more and also about Bullet’s companion Sheru who used to live at the same place and died many years ago when he was sixteen

Bullet was a very quiet and docile dog and used to never show any expressions. I had never heard him bark. One would find him quietly sitting either in the tent, which was used, as a pavilion when cricket matches were on or under the policemen’s bench at the Fashion Street signal, which everyone passed if, they were using the short-cut to go to Churchgate station from Azad Maidan via Khau Galli. Else he would be sprawled out in the corner of the maidan watching a cricket match.
Bullet had slowed down for some years now and signs of ageing could be seen on his black face with the grey hair making him look sweeter. Bullet lived a good life in cricketing company and he surely will be missed. He was seventeen.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The RBI Monetary Museum in Mumbai

Go down Phirozeshah Mehta Road in the Fort area and almost at the end, towards Ballard Estate you will come to Amar building, which houses the RBI Monetary Museum. The entry fee to the Museum is Rs 10 (students – free) and you won’t be allowed to take cameras or bags but you can leave them in a safe deposit box at the office.

This museum has a ‘rich’ (literally speaking) collection of coins and information about everything to do with money, coins, notes, currency and the RBI. The Museum brings out the great numismatic history associated with India through a time line of all dynasties, foreign rulers and princely states. Here is a virtual tour of the Museum

The Museum is divided into Six Sections

Section One: Concepts, Curiosities & the Idea of Money.

This section provides the definition of money and gives information on its evolution. It talks about the Barter system and also displays all the items that were used as commodity money including cowri shells, Neolithic stone, axes, silver bar money, knife money and beads.

Money used to be in various forms like the bent bar, the punch marked coins, canoe money, bullet money and bracelet money. Coins would be pentagonal, hexagonal, square, triangular, rectangular and of course circular.

The nomenclature of coins in India were anna, cash, dhinglo, dokdo, doudou, dub, escudo, fanam, faruqi, karshapara, kas, kon, mohur, naya paisa, pagoda, panam, pice, pie, rupia, suvarna, tanga and tanka.

Coins were made from different Metals and Alloys. Gold, Silver, Copper, Lead, Nickel and Alloys like Electrum (Gold & Silver), Billon (Copper and Silver), Alu-Mag (Nickel and Brass)

Section Two: Indian Coinage

This is the most impressive section and you can spend hours here as it displays coins through a time line right from 6-4 century B.C. to those of Independent India. It seems that the earliest documented coins of India are the silver punch marked coins which were issued around the 6th cent BC. Punch mark coins were made by punching symbols with the history or something associated with the period when they were made. Sometimes there could be up to 4 symbols punch marked on the coins. Thus, punch-marked coins were issued by the Gandhara (6-4 cent BC), Avanti (5 cent BC) and the Mauryan and Magadhan empires.

There are coins displayed of the Kuras of Kolhapur (1cent BC), Satavahana, Indo-Greek, Kushana (issued the first gold coins), Gupta (issued lots of gold coins), Early Medieval North (6-8 cent AD), Northern States-Indo-Sassanian, Kalachuris of Tripura, Early Medieval South (9-13 cent AD) like Chalukya, Kerala, and Pandyas. Coins from Delhi Sultanate and others, Sind Lodi Sur, Muhammed Bin Tughlaq, Provencial Sultanate – Bengal, Malwa, Gujrat, Madurai. (15-16 cent AD) Then the Bahmani, Adil Shah and Qutb Shah coins of the 16-17 cent AD.

During the Mughal era Sher Shah Suri (AD 1538-45) was the one who introduced monetary reforms. He standardized the silver coin by a weight standard of about one tola or 11.6 grams. Later this was the coin, which came to be known as the rupee.

Coins are displayed from the Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, Shah Alam I and II, Marathas (called the gold coins hons), Awadh (had fish motifs), Sikh (had leaf mark), Shivaji and Peshwas (Ankushi rupee from Poona), Wodeyar – Chamundi (had animal motifs of lion and elephant). Northeastern States included Ahom rulers of Assam, Manikyas of Tripura (octagonal shape coins)

The Post Uprising Regional States had coins with the Mughal rulers name with the name or portrait of the ruler of England on their coins. In 1947 Hyderabad, Mewar, Jaipur, Travancore, Kutch, Gwalior, Jodhpur, Indore and Baroda were still issuing their own coins.

Then there is a whole section on The Indo-European Coinage (Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French and the East India Company with denominations of the pie, 1/2 anna, copperron, pice, ½ pice, ½ anna, star pagoga, dub, sicca rupee, ½ rupee, 1/3 rupee, ½ rupee. It continues with British India Coinage, Coinage from Republic India and Commemorative Coins (IX Asian Games series, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Series etc)

They have tried to make this section somewhat interactive with two information kiosks with a lot of information and also interactive games for children like match the currency with the country and so on.

Section Three: Coins to Bank Notes and Section Four : Indian Paper Money

This section deals with the transition of coins to Bank Notes. It displays Promissory Notes, Cheques, Bills of Exchange, Hundies and Early Bank Notes. Notes issued by the Bank Of Bengal (Unifaced, Commerce and Britannia series), Bank Of Bombay, British India notes with hand-made paper of denominations of 10,20, 50,100, 500 and 1000 have been displayed. There are notes from the Underprint series (1903-1911), small denomination notes of November 1917 of a rupee two annas eight, King portrait series, first notes issued by RBI in 1938, first notes issued after Independence to the current RBI notes. The display also incudes representative notes of the Princely States and a collection of exigent money.

Section Five: Know Your Currency

This section talks about how currency is managed in India and the features of the contemporary Mahatma Gandhi Series of notes.

Section Six: RBI and You

This section covers everything you wanted to know about the RBI and didn’t know whom to ask. There are portraits of all the governors of the RBI – right from Sir Osborne A Smith ( the first Governor ) to the current Y V Reddy. It displays the functions of the central bank of the country, its role in the economy and how it touches the day-to-day life of the common man.

So if you are interested in the history of our money and have at least 2-3 hours to spare do visit this museum. The timings are Monday to Friday: 10:30 to 17:00 hrs and Saturday: 10:30 to 13:00. The Museum is unfortunately closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mumbai Names 3

This one comes after a long gap after I wrote Mumbai Names 1 and Mumbai Names 2. The Bombay Gazette also mentions that many of the names of places in Bombay are very naturally of Koli origin. Kolis are nature and tree worshippers and thus names of so many areas are associated with trees and vegetables. This list is still incomplete and to be continued…

Cumballa Hill: This area near Kemps Corner is named because of the huge number of ‘kamals’, i.e. lotus groves that used to grow here. Today, Cumballa Hill does not have any lotuses growing but has many skyscrapers and some old buildings inhabited by Parsis.

Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum located between Sion and Mahim gets its name as it was at the site at the doors to the island. (dar - door in Marathi)

Bhuleshwar: This very old area of South Bombay which also houses the flower market gets it name from the God-Shiva in the form of “Bhola” and thus Bhuleshwar.

Byculla: This name is supposed to be of early Hindu origin. This area used to have a lot of ‘bhaya’-'cassia fistula’ shrubs and this word was combined with ‘khala’ or level ground. Byculla is a very important train station on the Central Railway between Chinchpokli and Sandhurst Road.

Tardeo: This area near Bombay Central station derived its name from the trees of 'tad’or palms that were flourishing below the Cumballa Hill. A deity('dev') was also named and installed here and thus the name tad-dev.

Babulnath: There used to be a huge plantation of ‘Babul’ or acacia arabica in this area, which is at the foothills of Malabar Hill. The deity of the temple built later (Shiva) also took this name and is a well-visited place of worship and is located very close to Chowpatty.

Chowpatty: The name became generic for all the beaches in Bombay- Girgaum, Juhu and Dadar but it was meant for the Girgaum ‘chaupatty’ because of the probable existence of four channels of inlets of sea near Girgaum.

Wadala: This area located near Dadar T.T./Kings Circle was so named because of the banyan tree rows it that used to exist in this area. The name is a corruption of Wadali. Wad, which is the Marathi name for Banyan and Ali, which means row.

Mahim: Mahim was a desert island washed by the waters of the western sea and sparsely populated by families of Koli fishermen. According to the Bombay Gazette, King Bimbadev (A.D. 1300) the mystery King and indisputable founder of Bombay, had built a city called Mahikavati from where the name Mahi or Mahim has been derived.

Naigaum: This area (Nyaygrama) near Dadar (Central) was so named as King Bimbadev used to have a palace here where he used to have a ‘court of justice’ and a ‘hall of audience’. Nyay means justice in Marathi.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pudhcha Varshi Lavkar Ya

There must be no other day when Mumbai’s streets are thronged with so many people as I saw yesterday on Anant Chaturdashi, the visarjan day when Ganpati is immersed into the sea at various places like Girgaum, Juhu, Shivaji Park, Versova and also in various water bodies(lakes,ponds and wells) in Mumbai.

I was standing in the midst of lakhs of people at Girgaum Chowpatty who were either a part of the visarjan procession or like me watching the Ganpatis pass by. Women, men, children, young and old people, some of them drunk were either dancing away in the din as a part of the procession heading towards the beach or standing or sitting on whatever space was available… footpaths, dividers, roads, building walls, rooftops of terraces and shops.. on or in any vacant space available. One foreigner was dressed for the occasion and was wearing a Ganpati shirt.

The Ganpatis came in all sizes and colors. There were small, medium and big Ganpatis. There were household, wadi, building, galli and area sarvajanik Ganpatis. There were white, blue, silver, golden and yellow Ganpatis. There were rajas and maharajas. (The most prestigious Ganpati in a particular area is suffixed with a raja or maharaja like Lalbagcha Raja or Girgaumcha Maharaja). There were lone Ganpatis or Ganpatis with accompanying gods and goddesses. There were Ganpatis being carried in hand carts, carts, tempos, cars, jeeps, trucks and the really huge ones were being pulled on manual trolleys by the people itself. There were Ganpatis from Agripada, from Khetwadi, from Girgaum and from Lalbaug. There were Ganpatis from Sutar Galli and from Satta Galli, from Dhobi Talao and from Chinchpokli. Well, they were coming in from all directions and from all over Bombay.

I walked to Girgaum Chowpatty which is just a kilometer away from my house. The traffic was being diverted onto different routes. Many roads were closed or made one-way. Many offices had declared a holiday and those that were open would have left their employees early. All along the route, various political parties had put up stalls and were offering sharbat, water, cold drinks and even laddoos for the people who were dancing in the procession. Each group had the Ganpati generally in the front followed by the people dancing to different tunes of Bollywood numbers, Ganpati songs in Marathi or to the sound of dholaks and drums. They were bursting firecrackers, throwing gulal or even spraying confetti from cans which looking like shaving foam cans. One group danced to the traditional Marathi dance form of Lezim.

Visarjan also brought out ‘entrepreneurs’ selling foodstuff all along the route. Yesterday there must have been some kind of Guinness book record set of the most number of ‘wada pavs’ being sold in Bombay. One of the guys selling wadas at the corner of Nana Chowk told me that he would sell at least thousand wadas till 6 am in the morning. There were enterprising homemakers also selling wada and bhaji pav along with the regular vendors of dosa, dabeli, sev-puri, pani puri etc. Most of the places to eat out at Chowpatty were closed.

We thought that the best way to go to the beach was to be part of a Ganpati procession. So we joined a group which had a medium sized Ganpati. Each group had people holding a thick rope tied in front and back of the truck, which encompassed and thus protected and segregated their group from the rest of the crowd. The beach had lakhs of people who were either going towards the sea immersing the idol they had come with, standing or sitting around watching the idols go into the sea or going back after immersing the idol they had come with through a long drawn exit which came out opposite Wilson college. If one looked towards the sea one could see many idols at different distances being immersed in a sea of humanity.

There also were VIP viewing galleries, which had some politicians and foreigners with garlands, various stalls with a First-Aid facility, Announcement booths, May I Help You booths and toilets. One could hear announcements of “ Chotya mulancha haat pakda’ – Hold your small child’s hand, Chala chala pudhe chala – Go on, walk ahead or - “Yeto aahe ata Girgaumcha Maharaja”- indicating which Ganpati was about to pass by next.

The police and the security that one saw were unprecedented. They were all over the place. Volunteers were helping out in the water distribution stalls. The Traffic police, Mumbai police, riot control police, Senior citizen volunteers, NCC and volunteers from an organisation called the Anirudh Institute Of Disaster Management were handling traffic and crowd management excellently. It is said that the traffic management is so good on visarjan day you would have taken less time to drive through Marine Drive yesterday than on a normal working day. One also spotted the Municipal Commissioner, Johnny Joseph, Police Commissioner A.N Roy, Chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh and other ministers at Girgaum Chowpatty.

I did not wait till the Lalbagcha Raja arrived at 3 am but I am sure that there would have been a lot of cleaning to be done at Chowpatty on the next day when the crowds had disappeared and all the Ganpatis had been immersed.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Trivandrum's Street Tea Vendors

Thought that I would get coffee when I approached this beverage seller near the main Trivandrum railway station and I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was making tea. I was even more delighted at his ingenious way of making it.
He had a kerosene stove on which he had placed a large stainless steel (others had brass) vessel with a tap at the bottom (more like a vessel which one uses for storing water). This vessel had another vessel inside it. This the large vessel underneath stored the hot water and also acted as a double boiler for the small vessel which stored the milk. The lid also had a small hole, which kept a conical shaped stainless steel vessel, which contained the tea infusion. So when you wanted tea he would put a little of the infusion through a sock shaped muslin, add sugar and milk and then open the tap to pour the hot water into a glass and voila the tea was ready.
I have seen them make tea in a similar fashion in Bombay’s Irani cafés but they use different vessels for the hot water and milk unlike the all-in-one container used by the street tea makers in Trivandrum.