Saturday, February 24, 2007

Sniffer Mac

The above photo is that of the three year old Labrador 'Mac', a sniffer dog who has been trained to sniff out bombs and is on emergency duty at the Mumbai airport. It is sad that the life of a sniffer dog is not very long due to them sniffing out all kinds of stuff but they carry out an immense service to the nation. I asked Balbir Singh, Mac’s handler if he had ever sniffed out any bombs. The answer was thankfully no which meant that no one had managed to take a bomb in, but he did say that during Diwali he had caught a few people who were trying to carry fire-crackers in their baggage.

Mac was patiently sitting at the entry-gate where passengers and visitors go into the terminal and he had just come after taking a round on the terminal. He looked up at me and shook hands and would be soon zooming off to attend to some other emergency call.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Walk into Mumbai's past

Bombay's past on an image with the reflection of the present outside

This Sunday, take a different kind of a heritage walk. You won’t be walking around the streets of Mumbai but would be comparing the archival Philips Images of Bombay to the South Mumbai of today from the roof-top of the Ambassador hotel. A walk back in time! This walk has been organized by the Bombay Heritage Walks founded by city architects Abha Bahl and Brinda Gaitonde who started these walks in 1999 to raise the awareness about the city’s architecture and heritage monuments.

Look out of the window towards the east and you will see what is still known as the Fort area. The Fort was built in 1716 and housed many residential and commercial buildings. It had three gates Apollo, Church and Bazaar and a moat with a wide stretch of open space towards the west known as ‘The Esplanade’. Today you will hardly see any traces of the Fort other than its name. The names of the demolished gates have also been retained but by the station (Churchgate) and the street (Bazaar gate). The fort was demolished in the 1860’s, a bold move by the then Governor, Sir Bartle Frere, a visionary and master planner who wanted to make Bombay, the first modern urban city of India. He had a list of 14 buildings that he wanted to build including a high court, the secretariat and many of the magnificent Gothic buildings which one can see in this area.

Look above at the old photo of the headquarters of the Western Railways(then BB&CI),the magnificent stone building opposite Churchgate station built in 1899 and you will see that the sea is almost touching it and there are vast open spaces around it. Look across the sea in the photograph and notice the densely forested Malabar Hill inhabited then by the Malabaris (thus the name) who were supposed to be pirates and thus kept people away from this place. Now look out and in place of the forest is Mumbai’s skyline, numerous skyscrapers dot Malabar Hill. At the southern tip, you will see the Governors house (Raj Bhavan) which was earlier inside the Fort, then moved to Parel (Haffkine Institute) and finally moved here in 1820.

Look closely at the same photo and you will see a very tiny Churchgate station designed in the Swiss chalet style (built in 1876) with the railway tracks going further south. They would have run from under the existing Eros theatre and parallel to the today’s M. Karve Road, all the way upto the Colaba railway station (built in 1869 and demolished in 1930). The Art Deco buildings that you see today opposite the Oval would come up later on this railway line with the lines then terminating at Churchgate station.

Chowpatty in the olden days

Then look at the old photograph of Chowpatty and you will see benches facing the sea at the edge of the beach. You will recognize the Wilson College, the other buildings around it and naturally notice the absence of Kulfi Centre and Café Ideal. Do notice the small round about at the junction of the road which comes from Sukh Sagar onto Marine Drive.

Move ahead to the photograph that shows Marine Drive with its Art Deco buildings (built in the 1920’s) and the absence of the fly-over. Now,look out from the roof top and you will not only see the beautiful Art Deco buildings but also notice how the Mumbai skyline has changed with tall skyscrapers emerging out from the Nana Chowk and Girgaum areas.

So if you want to see and hear all of the above and many more stories including the one of the Hornby’s Vellard and others about Bombay’s past, head straight to the roof-top of the Ambassador hotel on February 11, 2007 at 4:00 pm at the event which is a part of the Heritage Walks section of the ongoing Kala Ghoda festival and have a blast with the past.
All pictures of old Bombay are from Phillips images.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Afternoon Siesta

A street dweller taking a siesta with his companions in the by-lanes of Fort.

Mumbai's Outdoor Performance Venues

Mumbai has its regular venues for plays and musical concerts. Amidst Sharmukhananda, Prithvi, Chembur Fine Arts, Andrews, Sophia and NCPA, it also has alternative venues where you can see a play or a concert in the outdoors. All these places are mostly heritage structures and you can watch the performance in an old world setting. Here is the list

Banganga: Banganga is a rectangular water tank constructed in the 13th century within a temple precinct with around eight temples that surround it. Thus, you would be sitting around this sacred tank on the stone steps (covered with a carpet) and watching a musical performance during the two-day Banganga Festival conducted by MTDC in January every year. You will be enthralled by the classical vocal and instrumental performances in the ambience of the serene water, quacking ducks with temples and old buildings in the background.

St Xavier’s College: The three-day Jan Fest has a charm of its own and is hosted by the Indian Music Group run by students of the college. The classical music performances are held in the college quadrangle, amidst this gothic stone building with gargoyles and the chapel with beautiful stained glass windows makes an amazing backdrop. Kishori Amonkar, Bhimsen Joshi, Zakir Husain, Parveen Sultana and many other talented and upcoming artists have performed here. You can also buy daily tickets for the ‘baithak’.

Elephanta: The Elephanta festival will be held this year on the 23rd and 24th of February and you will not only get to see a good performance in the tranquility of a woody and leafy island also known as ‘Gharapuri’ but also a ferry ride back and forth. The festival is the only time when you can come back from Elephanta as late as 10 pm. Call MTDC on 22024482/22024522 for more information.

Bandra Fort: Performances are held here generally as a part of local festivals like the Bandra Festival or corporate sponsored programmes open to the public. This 17th century fort built by the Portuguese is also known as Castella De Aguada. Amjad Ali Khan and Shubha Mudgal amongst many others have performed here in the past with the Arabian Sea forming a beautiful backdrop.

Horniman Circle Gardens: You can go and watch a play or a musical amidst trees and shrubs in this well maintained garden overlooking the Asiatic Society Library. There are regular performances held by Prithvi Theatre on the first weekends of every month. (barring the monsoon). Go here during the ongoing Kala Ghoda festival (Feb 3rd – Feb 11th) and you will be able to watch film screenings, photo exhibitions, rock concerts and theatre performances. For more information check here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Go Vote !

Mumbai goes to the polls today where the corporators of the richest Municipal Corporation in Asia will be elected. So go vote for a better Mumbai . See the candidates with rankings here.