Keeping a watch on city’s silent timekeepers | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Keeping a watch on city’s silent timekeepers

ByChirodeep Chaudhuri
Jun 30, 2024 06:52 AM IST

For close to three decades, a photographer and city chronicler has documented public clocks. On discovering the 100th he shares vignettes from his journey

MUMBAI: Let me begin by putting this in some context. Pushed into a corner, how many public clocks might you remember seeing in Mumbai? In my experience and interactions with people, most told me that they couldn’t recall “more than three or four”. I have been walking Mumbai’s streets, searching for public clocks for the last 28 years and a few weeks ago found my 100th such clock in the city.

The clock hanging at the entrance of Mahim Dargah was the hundredth find. (Chirodeep Chaudri)
The clock hanging at the entrance of Mahim Dargah was the hundredth find. (Chirodeep Chaudri)

The credit for finding it, though, is not entirely mine. Given the times we live in the lead emerged through an Instagram tag. It so happened that @twiningcities - ‘a photo project showcasing Mumbai and Karachi, two sister cities united by a shared heritage and warm waters’ - tagged me in a post of @passportandpizza. It was a photograph of the clock hanging at the arched entrance of the Mahim Dargah. And so, just like that through pure serendipity, I found my 100th clock! Even for an eye that has grown accustomed to spotting clocks or picking up clues as to where they might exist, I had somehow missed this one despite having visited the Mumbai landmark on many previous occasions.

I have always joked that this project, dating back to 1996, is the first crowd sourced photography project from a time before ‘crowd sourcing’ as a term had entered our lexicon. My mother was one of the first to find me a clock - she spotted the Prince’s Triumphal Arch near Cadbury’s Junction during a bus ride. That was in 1997. Since then, I have had a steady flow of leads from sharp-eyed friends, Mumbai flaneurs and trivia hunters and people who had visited and loved the four exhibitions of ‘Seeing Time: Public Clocks of Bombay’. It is a matter of great interest to me how varied citizens, over time, have gradually become participants in my project through a shared love for the city and the simple act of keeping their eyes open.

The number, as it has grown, has also been a source of anxiety for me for a while now. When the work was shown at the Goethe Institute in early 2020, weeks before the Covid lockdown, the number had stood at 81. Then a few months later when it was shown again just before the second lockdown, I had managed to add five more, all thanks to the leads provided by visitors to the earlier exhibition.

Here, let me take you back to the early days of the project when after some two years of searching and photographing I had been invited to exhibit the work at the first edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. At that time, in 1999, I knew of 22 clocks, most of them in South Mumbai and it included many usual suspects. Most visitors to that show were amazed that this city had that many clocks. Twenty-two had then indeed seemed like a large number. Who was to know that my search would continue and reveal so many more. At a time when the number hovered in the 80s, I was beginning to seriously think of a book on this work which may well be the longest running photographic documentation of one single aspect of any city in India. Gradually, more were getting added to the list and I stepped into the 90s. The matter that was nagging away, however, was that if the book were to be published right then, how many might I have missed spotting.

One day, Dilip Doshi, the bespectacled former India spinner from our childhood cricket watching days and a friend of the family told me “You should certainly try and hit a 100”. He’s a cricketer, after all, and a century in that matter of bat vs ball holds some degree of significance. But, I don’t think he really understood the import of what he had just said. Anyway, I was on 96 and, in a cricketing sense, in the nervous 90s. A 100 has a nice ring to it, a sort of well rounded off figure and so, in the event of me declaring the innings closed with the publishing of a book, would the book with four short of a century seem like an incomplete effort. This worried me endlessly. Adding to my worries was the fact that no one actually knows how many such clocks there actually are in this city. These, anyway, are not things that you can hurry. You have to just keep looking and put in the kilometers, one step at a time, always alert to any revelations.

Something else had been developing parallelly in the life of the project in the weeks leading up to this sequence of events. As we were planning the Goethe Institute exhibition, in the last months of 2019, it had been suggested that I consider building typologies as an organizing principle. I went about segregating them in categories like ‘Residences’, ‘Office Buildings’, ‘Educational Institutions’, ‘Railways’ and buildings that stood on the ‘Docklands’ and so on. Most of the buildings that were floating about outside a category after this exercise were buildings of more recent vintage – mostly around 15 to 20-years-old. I had been debating as to whether these should be included as part of my documentation. With the intention of being thorough and to keep my records up to date on the excel sheet that I had been populating all along with details about shooting plans and a variety of information about these clocks I had photographed many of these too. There were some strong photographs among these but also some indifferent ones in that mix. It was then decided that, since they amounted to a significant 17 in number (even though in this age of wristwatches and mobile phones the modern-day public clock is an anomaly of sorts) that these newer clocks should not be excluded. And so, I inched some steps closer to the landmark century and found myself standing at 97.

Malabar Hill resident, Indrani Malkani confirmed that the hedge clock with Roman numerals at Kamala Nehru Park that a stranger had given me information about was still around, though dead. Number 98. Then one day, Zoru Bhathena, the intrepid city activist shared a picture on Facebook of the 1951-built main office building that houses the office of the Manager-in-Charge of the Aarey Dairy. And, lo and behold. I had my number 99. Till then the farthest clock I had photographed on the map of Bombay, going northwards from the southernmost tip of Colaba (where stands the Sassoon Dock clock tower) was Bhagat Bhuvan, a ground-plus-one storey private bungalow in Vile Parle. Now, I had pushed further up north to Goregaon. A century was now only a matter of time.

Of course, the search hasn’t stopped at 100 and two of my friends spotted a clock each in the lanes of Girgaon and Thakurdwar and another discovered one at the Mulji Jetha Market. Since then, a few more old and new ones have been found and photographed. Recently, Vikas Dilawari, one of the city’s well-known conservation architects, hinted about a structure his driver had pointed out around Mankhurd at the junction just before you get on to or exit the Eastern Freeway. That’s still a work-in-progress and I have been keeping a look out since it was all wrapped up in green netting and scaffolding. From what it looks like now, it might well be Mumbai’s public clock number 107. But, let me not get too ahead of myself.

My search continues and dear readers, if you happen to spot a clock you can always drop me an email at Who knows, maybe you would have helped me find one that has been hiding unnoticed.

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