Mumbaiwale: A freeway to history
It’s going to happen. You’ll be in south Mumbai, heading towards the Eastern Freeway. It’s going to be a smooth ride too. But before you ascend, you’ll be stuck in a bottleneck of traffic that extends all the way to Fort. You could curse your fate. Or you could turn your car crawl into a leisurely heritage tour. The path along Shahid Bhagat Singh and P D’Mello roads has plenty of markers from Mumbai’s history. Start at the spot where PM Road meets the Mint. Look left or right, as our signs indicate. As you inch forward, you’ll dial back to the past.
Ruttonsee Muljee Fountain
Public fountains were usually erected to honour important people or events. But businessman Ruttonsee Muljee commissioned this one in memory of his son, Dharamsee, who died at 15, and whose statue (a boy reading) stands atop the fountain. Indian and European designs blend to create the Indo-Saracenic style. Water spouts from lion and cow heads. The troughs, brackets and domes feature elephants, alligators, iguanas, goats and plants.
Perhaps you’ve dropped in for a bite. The restaurant was established in 1921 as an Irani café, serving buns, omelettes and kheema until the 1970s before transforming into a beer bar and, by the early 2000s, a multicuisine restaurant. But perhaps you’ve never noticed the well-preserved building. Two styles of grilles dominate – wrought iron on the ground and first floor, vernacular wood ones on the wraparound balconies above. There are also double-decker windows common to 1900s Indian city homes, which let floor-seaters take in the breeze.
General Post Office
Think you’re constantly on the move? The GPO has bounced all across this neighbourhood. Established in 1794, it was located inside Fort St George, just down the road, and was primarily used by the East India Company. As private correspondence flourished, it moved to buildings close to where the Gateway of India now stands. But a fire gutted them and in 1831, the GPO moved again, this time to Forbes Street in today’s Kala Ghoda. It grew and moved yet again, to a building near today’s Asiatic Library, in 1844. By 1869, it had moved closer to Flora Fountain and finally to this permanent home in 1913. The building is beautiful: a dome modelled on Bijapur’s Gol Gumbaz, turrets, minarets and filigree panels inspired by Mughal architecture.
Wall of St George’ Hospital
Why are you looking at a wall? It’s the last bit of the fort that gives Fort its name. Fort St George was built in 1769 to honour King George III, and beef up defence against a possible French attack during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was 1.6km and was largely used to store ammunition and weapons. By 1862-65, the ramparts were pulled down to accommodate a growing city. This bit of the wall now houses an office of the state’s Directorate of Archaeology & Museums.
At the top of that clocktower peeking out of the dock walls stands a time ball – a time-signalling device that allowed offshore ships to accurately set their clocks before heading out. Here’s how it worked: at a predetermined time, a large ball (painted bright red or orange) would drop from the X structure down the pole. Ships would set their marine chronometers by it. The clock no longer works and there have been feeble plans to restore it and the time ball. But in the age of sail, all eyes would be on it.
Our tour ends here. Have a good trip!