Your guide to living it up in Mumbai in the 1940s

Updated on May 11, 2018 12:59 PM IST
Sixteen rare guidebooks which will be on display next week, at the Artisans’ gallery in Kala Ghoda, have tips on getting around in Mumbai in the pre-Independence era.
American architect Robert Stephens whose collection of guidebooks will be on display at Artisans’ gallery in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai.(Anshuman Poyrekar/HT)
American architect Robert Stephens whose collection of guidebooks will be on display at Artisans’ gallery in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai.(Anshuman Poyrekar/HT)
Hindustan Times | ByKrutika Behrawala, Mumbai

Back in the 1940s, amid World War 2, a number of American and British troops were stationed in Mumbai.

To ensure they had a pleasant stay, they were given little booklets and pamphlets that served as their guide to Mumbai. These included lists of restaurants and cinema halls, tips on getting around, even a guide to pronouncing numbers in Hindi (read: eck, doe… beece). There were dos and don’ts in a palm-sized pamphlet titled V For Victory. Another, titled Hello Chaps! This Is Bombay, cautions men not to greet Indian women with ‘Hey cutie’.

A list of movie theatres in Mumbai in one of the guidebooks. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT)
A list of movie theatres in Mumbai in one of the guidebooks. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT)

These titles are among 16 rare guidebooks on display next week, at the Artisans’ gallery in Kala Ghoda. The books are from the personal collection of Mumbai-based American architect Robert Stephens, best known for the series of aerial photographs of Mumbai.

A map of Bombay Island. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)
A map of Bombay Island. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT Photo)

“The guidebooks published until the end of World War 2 were clearly aimed at Europeans. Post-Independence, they became more cosmopolitan in nature, with information about events and venues in the city, and places to visit outside Bombay, which would generally mean the northern suburbs,” he says, laughing.

Each book features a map of the city as it was then – with one even shaped like a hand with its finger pointing downwards resembling the shape of the peninsular city. “Unlike guidebooks of Delhi or Kolkata that start with monuments, most guidebooks of Mumbai start with description of its people,” Stephens says. The exhibition will also mark the launch of the architect’s website, Urbs Indis: Cities of India. “It’s an archival library that brings together 10 years of my work,” he says.

A discalimer about germs in India in one of the guidebooks. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT)
A discalimer about germs in India in one of the guidebooks. (Anshuman Poyrekar/HT)

The website will have a digital reading room featuring snapshots of the books in his collection, and an online journal where he will document photo-essays on the public libraries and second-hand booksellers of India.

“These are rare guidebooks,” says city historian Deepak Rao. “In the pre-Independence era, Bombay was on the tourist map of the entire world, so these guidebooks were required. They were well-researched. Each book also had a map. Today, in the age of Google maps, these books serve as beautiful memories of the past.”

The guidebooks from 1880 to 1980 will be on display from May 18 to 27 at Artisans’ gallery, Kala Ghoda. The entry is free.

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