Live & let live – Mumbai

Mumbai – the all inclusive city, has a place for everyone. The city receives 200,000 immigrants every day who meld into this amorphous metropolis that is known for its live and let live ethos.

From seaside high rises worth more than US$ 10m, the glitzy Bollywood industry along Pali Hill, cricket stars, industrialists, slum dwellers and also wildlife like pumas, flamingoes, tigers and deers – have all found a place in Mumbai. Low in crime rate and deemed the safest city in India, Mumbai has a wealth of kindness no other city can ever, ever have.

Mumbai, a city rich in kindness

The original inhabitants of Mumbai were the fishermen who prayed to sea goddess, Mumba, who they affectionately called, Mother Mumba or Mumba aai; Aai, in the vernacular language being “mother”. From its original name, it came under Portuguese domain who named it Bombay, from the phrase: Bom Bahai, meaning Good Port.

India has seen many colonists – the Dutch, French, even Danes, but the most influential were the Portuguese and the British. While not much is know about how the two got along, one way out was “marriage of state”.

Bombay was given away as a part of dowry of princess Catherine of Braganza when she wed Charles II of England in 1621; she became the Queen of England in 1622 and Bombay came under British rule.

Gateway of Infia

Gateway of India was designed by Scottish architect, George Wittet. Commissioned in 1914, it was completed a decade later. The memorial arch was erected to commemorate the arrival of King George V, the first British monarch who visited India in 1911. The emperor only got to see a cardboard model of the monument. George Wittet combined Roman triumphal arch design with the locally prevalent Islamic architecture, which is called the Indo Saracenic and seen also in British Malaya (now called Malaysia). The monument also became a triumphal arch signifying the conquest of India, then called the jewel in the British crown.

Mumbai was once 7 islands which were hemmed together through land reclamation; the south side where the fort is, being the place that still has the most eclectic mix of architecture – from Victorian Gothic to Venetian Gothic to Art Deco, Edwardian, Palladian, Indo Saracenic and Roman. As my guide Bhakti from Khaki Tours would say, Mumbai is really bhel puri – a mixture of sweet, savoury and tangy ingredients that assimilates all flavours into a delicious concoction.

The long stretch of island is connected by the local trains that tirelessly chug night and day. Churchgate is the last stop on the train that ends at Victoria Terminus (now called CST after the Maratha Emperor Chattrapati Shivaji).

Architected by the British born Frederick William Stevens, the station took 10 years to complete. The stone masonry and wood work were designed in Bombay’s elite J.J.School of Arts.

The Italian Gothic architecture was built in 1887 to mark the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1837. It was the headquarters to the Britain’s great invention during the industrial revolution – the steam engine.

With the railway, the British were able to connect all of British India – currently the countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka (Ceylon). The rai routes were also extended to British Malaya. Some of the architecture that bears resemblance to Indo Saracenic art is Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh railway station.

Saint Thomas Church, built in December 1718, was considered Zero Point or the City Centre. Distances along all major roads were measured in miles from this point.
Interior view of St Thomas Church which gives the railway station’s eponymous name, Churchgate.
Dedicated to St. Thomas, the apostle, King George and Queen Mary attended the divine service at the church in 1911 prior to their departure to the Delhi Durbar held in the Coronation Park.

Bombay attracted traders from everywhere – Zoroastrians from Persia, Sindhis from Pakistan, Baghdadi Jews from Babylon, the British, Scotts, Irish, the Portuguese as well as Arabs and the Chinese. Each of them shaped the city’s history in myriad different ways.

David Sassoon Library

David Sassoon, an eminent Baghdadi Jew who served as the treasurer to the Pashas, came to Bombay via Surat in Gujarat to serve the British East India Company. The contributions of the Jewish community in India is across literature, film industry, medicine and philanthropy among others. (Read about the Jewish community in Singapore who migrated from Bombay, in my blog here)

The arched walkway outside Sassoon Library.
The bustle that is Bombay as seen from the entrance of Sassoon Library.
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue was built by Albert Sassoon, son of David Sassoon in 1884, to cater to the increasing number of Baghdadi Jews who were arriving in Bombay. Built by the British architectural firm, Gostling & Morris of Bombay,
The Zoroastrian fire temple in Bombay

Bombay or India as a whole, owes a debt of gratitude to the Parsis or the Zoroastrians who sought refuge in India after facing persecution in Iran (then known as Persia). Even today, some of the most successful businesses like Tata, Godrej, Wadia and Poonawala – the person behind the Covid vaccine development in India, belong to the Parsi community, who have made an indelible mark on their country of adoption through arts, culture, medicine, law, and of course philanthropy.

Faravahar is the Zoroastrian symbol that is a winged-sun that also has significance in Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian and Mesopotamian civilisations. You can see Faravahar on fire temples, sanatoriums, Parsee homes, dachmas and also resting stops like these – this has a sweet water fountain for weary travellers.
Asiatic Library

Yet another eminent library in Bombay is the Asiatic Society which was built in 1833 in Neo Classical style borrowing from the Grecian and Roman Palladian architecture. Dedicated to the learning of ancient Indian culture and civilisation, the Asiatic Library has among its collection, Dante’s Divine Comedy, which Mussolini ones offered to buy for £1 million. It is safely kept in the library’s vaults.

Prince of Wales Museum which is now called Chatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalay was built in Indo Saracenic style of architecture comprising arches, canopies and minarets.
The museum has more than 50,000 artefacts
My most favourite painting in the museum is the Sword of Damocles by French artist, Antoine Dubost worth £10m or even more.
Bombay University was established in 1857, was built in Gothic revival style designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The library and clock tower – which resembles the Big Ben, are in a Venetian Gothic style – the two different architectural styles blending perfectly.
Bombay University’s masonry and stonework was completed in the prestigious JJ School of Arts in Bombay, which is also where Rudyard Kipling’s bungalow is. The author, who was the son of Lockwood Kipling, first Principal of Sir JJ School of Art, was born in Bombay in the bungalow on 30 December, 1865.
The Bombay Municipal Corporation building now called the Mumbai Municipal Corporation building, is classified as one of the Worlds largest architectural heritage by the UNESCO. Designed by Frederick William Stevens (1847-1900), it was started in 1884 and completed in 1893. Sir Pherozeshah Mehta’s statue graces the building. Considered to be the Father of the Bombay Municipality, Mehta drafted the Bombay Municipal Act of 1872.
BMC alternate view – and by that I mean without traffic which is impossible to see in Mumbai.
I have no idea which part of Mumbai was this, but if spruced up, this place could look like anywhere in Paris.
Martyr with a flame – a Soviet like statue of a farmer and a labourer holding a torch, marching to a better future. India’s economy relies significantly on farmers who feed a billion of its people, contribute to its GDP and keep inflation in check.
Right nearby to Hutatma Chowk is the Flora Fountain. Dedicated to Flora, the Roman Goddess of spring time, the fountain was originally intended for the planned Victoria Gardens in the Fort area.
Horniman Circle is part Victorian and part Edwardian combining the Yin and Yang of the 2 styles of architecture.
Elphinstone Building is a fine specimen of Venetian-Gothic architecture designed by Reinzi Walton designed it in late 19th century. The sandstone building has arcaded walkways and verandahs.

But regardless of all the Victorian and the Portuguese history, the great unifier is the Arabian Sea – the long stretch of beach that brings the populous together for its sunsets, the corn on the cob, the sand, the selfies and the shaved ice lollies.

The salty breeze and the warm sand is a playground for all
Corn roasted on charcoal is the beach food all indulge in – a must-eat in on Mumbai’s coastal stretch
The childhood memory of colourful paper fans swirling in the Arabian breeze

To tour Mumbai, you can join Khaki Tours who are dedicated to preserving the culture and heritage of the city. The word Khaki is an acronym for Keeping Heritage Alive & Kicking in India.

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