“It’s important to go to Mazagaon before heading to Byculla. That’s the only way you will understand the visible difference in the height of the two areas,” said Dr Anita Rane Kothare, the head of department of Ancient Indian Culture, St Xavier’s College. In the 18th century, Byculla was a low-lying area; a barren extension of Mazagaon. It was only after the Bellasis Road Causeway (which joined Mazagaon and Malabar Hill) was constructed in 1793 that residences started mushrooming. However, it took another 40 years for Byculla to become a developed township. Baghdadi Jewish leader and entrepreneur David Sassoon, who arrived in Mumbai in 1833, was instrumental in the rapid development of this region. Soon there were hospitals, restaurants and schools being built in the area. However, today, most of the older architecture is shielded by the rampant construction of bridges and flyovers. Nevertheless, look closer and you will discover the multi-ethnic roots of the area.
DID YOU KNOW?
>> The shining white façade of Palace Talkies is close to Byculla railway station. It is one of the oldest movie theatres in the city. Not a single brick of its Art Deco-styled edifice has been damaged, although the majestic exterior is covered in layers of dust and soot in corners. The theatre is still functional but screens Bhojpuri films.
>> In the 19th century, Byculla was a cosmopolitan hub with Jews, Parsis, Catholics, Hindus, Armenians and Muslims residing in the neighbourhood. The Armenian community of Mumbai was concentrated only in Byculla.
>> If you enter the JJ Flyover from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, you can spot the JJ Hospital on your right. In the hospital’s premises, once stood Victor Sassoon Hospital that hosted Mahatma Gandhi at the end of his 21-day fast during the Quit India Movement in 1943.
>> The iron man:It’s hard to miss the imposing 40ft statue of the 19th century Parsi industrialist and reformer, Seth Cursetjee Manockjee, at the Byculla flyover junction. The 150-year-old monument, made of cast iron, was built in pieces in London before it was assembled into a statue at the site. However, over the years, the statue has suffered damages and some parts were stolen. The Brihanmumbai Muncipal Corporation completed the restoration of the statue in 2014.
>> The Magen David Synagogue, which was Sassoon’s first residence in the city, still houses the traditional clay-based matzoh ovens. These ovens were used to prepare and store unleavened bread. The bread would then be distributed across the Jewish community in India during their annual eight-day festival - Passover - which commemorates the Israeli exodus from Egypt.
>> Right before entering the A Patil Flyover, adjacent to the Khada Parsi statue, is the Mumbai Fire Brigade Headquarters. Right outside the headquarters is the Firefighters Memorial. It was built in memory of the 71 firefighters who lost their lives during the Bombay Docks Explosion in 1944.
>> What is known today as Gloria Church in Byculla is not the original structure built in 1632 by the DeSouza E Lima family in Mazagaon. After the British decided to relocate the Mazagaon church to Byculla, the original edifice was destroyed in 1911. The Roman Catholic church was reopened in 1913. Built using basalt salt, this English Gothic-styled church flaunts elaborate stained glass work on its rose window panels. As one enters the church, one can see a huge pipe organ resting on one of the lofts. Presently, the church is under renovation.
>> After the railway station was built in 1857, several textile mills were established in the neighbourhood. However, in the mid-20th century, most of them started moving out of the locality to re-establish themselves in Parel. The last remaining mill – Khatau Mills - was shut in 1994 after its owner, Sunit Khatau, was murdered in the same year.