Mumbai, with its rich and varied heritage, has tickled the interest of many a history buff.
Mumbai, with its rich and varied heritage, has tickled the interest of many a history buff. But for the layman, the term heritage as it applies to the city, largely remains restricted to the towering Victorian-era buildings of the Fort area, contends heritage-expert Bharat Gothoskar. Bharat, a general manager at Mahindra and also a full-time history-buff takes time out of his busy schedule to conduct walks around Mumbai’s streets to bring to light the city’s heritage beyond Fort. One such walk, the Beyond Bazar Gate tour, is taking place today. Starting at the 77-year old restaurant Aram Vada Pav, opposite CST station, the tour will meander along the old city streets to Metro Cinema and Crawford Market.
The heritage guide has taken up this particular stretch because it was part of the esplanade, which acted as a divide between the ‘White Bombay Fort’ and the ‘Black Native Town’. “During the British rule, the Europeans of the city stayed in the Fort area while the native Indians stayed in the area around Metro cinema,” Bharat explains. “The space between this was a stretch of greenery in the form of three grounds and one section of buildings. It is this section that we are going to take a closer look at,” he adds.
“Many heritage walks are limited to the architectural structure of the place or a lecture on only the general history,” says Bharat. He further adds, “one often forgets to look at the anecdotes and stories that revolve around the place and make it more real.” He goes on to narrate a few such stories. Some of the sites that fascinate the heritage-lover are the sites overlooked by the masses as they rush to and from work. One such place is the Pedro Shah Baba Darga, which dates back more than three centuries. “Pedro was a Portugese sailor or soldier, according to different accounts, who converted to Islam,” says Bharat, “he now rests in a marble shrine in the darga.” Another spot, which is often overlooked, is Lord Harris’ home. Temporarily used as a school, the building has now been proposed for a cricket museum. After all, without Lord Harris, who introduced the sport to India, the boys in blue would never have existed.
Some of the other spots may be obviously visible but the stories surrounding the places remain unknown to most. The Cama and Albless Hospital, for instance, has an interesting story surrounding its founder Albless. “He was a Parsi gentleman who went around saying ‘God bless everyone’ all the time, so eventually his last name became Albless,” explains Bharat. Another anecdote which surrounds Sardar Griha, where Bal Gangadhar Tilak breathed his last, claims that his funeral in 1920 was the biggest such procession to have taken place till date and that Mahatma Gandhi was one of the pall bearers at the procession. The entire tour comprises 25 stops, including Rudyard Kipling’s childhood home, the 1857 uprising memorial and the Ubris Prima in Indis statue on the façade of the Mumbai municipal corporation building.
Bharat and his associates at Khaki Tours officially started their heritage walks in August 2015 with an aim to keep the city’s heritage alive. “We all have full-time jobs,” Bharat clarifies, “some are architects and urban planners, some are just history-lovers or people who got hooked to the tours after going on a few of them.” The team organises walks in places like Lalbag, Parel, Banganga and other spots, which are not usually associated with the term heritage but are rich in historical narratives. “We hope that by making people more aware about the city’s heritage, we can ensure better conservation of these sites,” Bharat signs off.
Bharat is conducting the Beyond Bazars Tour today, 8 am onwards, from Aram Vada Pav, opposite CST station.