Friday, August 23, 2019

Mumbai Known and Unknown: By Dr. Y A Raikar


Ever bursting at the seams, the bustling city of Mumbai keeps its charm alive, thanks to its seashore psyche, innovative enterprise and an all-embracing outlook to work and life. What truly sets it apart is the unique obsession with contrast and contradiction. Abundance & deprivation, hygiene and filth, virtue and vice, black and white…all extremes mingle in matter-of-fact fashion. Find your voice or lose your poise, Mumbai lets you make the choice. "Run, live and let live" is Mumbai’s mantra but in the maddening pace is an unmistakable rhythm. The ears that catch this music also see method in madness, order amid chaos, clarity with confusion and more importantly hope despite the despair.

Presenting PART 1 of Qs (and their As) picked at random from the treasure trove of notes penned by my father Dr. Y A Raikar. The whole idea is to relish and cherish Mumbai's legacy, legend, history & heritage. Couldn't think of a better tribute to my father...

- Sudhir Raikar
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Mumbai Known and Unknown - Dr. Y. A. Raikar PART ONE

How did Mumbai survive the raging fire of February 18, 1803?

The disastrous 1803 fire in Mumbai's Fort area claimed as many as 417 houses but the story of how Mumbai survived the near-fatal flames is even more incredible. The Navy had been summoned to quell the fire but it was still inching closer to an arms and ammunition warehouse with a stock of around 500 drums of gun powder. Had the warehouse caught fire, the whole of Mumbai would have been reduced to ashes within no time. Governor Jonathan Duncan was present at the site despite the instruction to leave Mumbai as soon as possible. Fighting panic and desperation, he asked Admiral John Sermon Carden of the Royal Navy for a possible last-minute solution who came up with an near-impossible but only option: carry each drum and dump it into the sea. Carden himself led the operation, wearing his fire-proof jacket as the sole cover and carrying a drum on his shoulder. This motivated his men to follow suit. Luck was on Mumbai's side and all drums were drowned without causing a single explosion. Carden was later felicitated for his exceptional courage and presence of mind.

Governor Duncan, who didn't desert Mumbai in its monumental moment of truth, died in the same city. The Duncan Road, named after him, is non-existent today but his marble-sculpted memorial in St. Thomas Cathedral near Flora Fountain continues to remind us of his greatness: the sculpture, carved in England, shows a European lady penning Duncan's glory and a Brahmin and two children at the base mourning his loss. Duncan strove hard to abolish the inhuman practice of female infanticide prevalent among Rajputs, hence the bereaved little ones. But who's the Brahmin? An ordinary clerk in Duncan's East India office at Calcutta during his initial years of employment, the Brahmin is believed to have predicted Duncan's meteoric rise in career. When Duncan was appointed the Governor of Mumbai, he fondly remembered the Brahmin. Hence the depiction in the memorial.

What happened in Mumbai on February 18, 1946?

The Royal Indian Navy's 'Talvar' ship was at anchor in the Mumbai harbor. On February 17, 1946, port authorities found the letters Quit India scribbled on its surface and elsewhere too. It was decided to investigate the matter, and, to take strict action against the guilty. Talvar's captain Commander A T J Cole was sympathetic towards the Indian sailors and immediately stepped down from his position. A new officer was given the charge to interrogate the matter but the next day, on February 18, the Indian sailors openly revolted against the British rule, deeply pained by the discrimination and inhuman treatment meted out to them over the years. The dissent spread like fire to other ships. On 19th, 3000 sailors joined the protest and unfurled the Indian flag in place of the Union Jack on several ships. 1200 members of the Royal Indian Air Force organised a procession on February 20 to support the revolting sailors. The next day, however, saw the Army and the Navy pitted against each other. Cotton mill workers and railway employees went on strike to uphold the cause of the native sailors and violent riots ensued at many places in Mumbai. The Mumbai Navy mutiny was mirrored at other shore establishments including Calcutta, Vishakapattnam, Cochin, Delhi and Karachi, now involving 78 ships and 20,000 sailors. Peace was restored only on February 23 through the timely intervention of Sardar Patel. Gen Sir Claude Auchinleck assured Indians of no vindictive action whatsoever against rebel sailors. The Navy Mutiny of February 1946 made it clear and evident to the British that their days in India were now numbered.

What makes the Tata family's philanthropy and public welfare unparalleled in India?

Very few business empires can match the Tata benchmark of philanthropy. For the Tatas, if industry is for wealth creation, wealth is for institutional development. The Tata Charitable Trust has always been known for its noble endeavors, scrupulous impartiality, professional conduct and visionary management. The Tatas established nine trusts between 1892 and 1974 sponsoring a host of initiatives across spheres including scientific research, technological development, medical service, social welfare and promotion of art and culture. Most Tata businesses are owned by Trusts and around 80 per cent of Tata Sons' profits are deployed for funding trust initiatives. Four world-class institutions of Mumbai were born out of the Tata's visionary philanthropy: Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tata Memorial Hospital and NCPA & Tata Theater. When India kicked off its nuclear energy mission, and the first nuclear reactor was set up, it was only Tata's institutional foundation that ensured an indigenous talent pool of highly qualified scientists and technicians.

Who was Lakulish?

Lakulish was the founder of the Pashupata sect hailing from Karvan in Gujarat in the second century BC. According to Linga Purana, he was believed to be the 28th avatar (reincarnation) of Lord Shiva. This was reckoned as a Shavian victory over the 24 avatars of Lord Vishnu as cited in the Bhagvat. The worship of Shiva in rudra (fierce and wild) form gained immense popularity in an era of Hun, Turkish, Shaka and Iranian invasions. The mace on Lakulish's shoulder is a symbol of aggressive self-defense. The Pashupath sect originated in Gujarat and spread across Rajasthan and Karnataka in due course. The Kalchuri kings brought it to Mumbai in the sixth century. Today, Lakulish idols are found in three Mumbai locations - one in Mandpeshwar cave of Borivali, four in Jogeshwari and two Yog Yogeshwar Shiv idols in Gharapuri.


When did Mumbai Police establish its finger print bureau?

Forensic science came to India in the year 1896. Bengal's Inspector General of Police Sir Edward Henry set up India's first finger print bureau on June 12, 1897. Mumbai followed suit in the next year at the behest of police commissioner R. H. Vincent (1893-1898). Two officers were trained under Henry for this purpose. Earlier, the Burtillon method - developed by French psychologist A. Burtillon (1853-1914) - was in vogue for criminal investigation but Vincent believed it was flawed. The police force, however, took some time to accept the new method and till 1899, both techniques were used in parallel. The finger print bureau gained popularity only in the twentieth century.


Who was Kamal Wood?

For several years, people were not aware of the news reader on Congress Radio (Azad Radio), a clandestine broadcast service run by Gandhian freedom fighter Usha Mehta and her associates during the 1942 Quit India Movement. Even the police and judicial authorities had no clue. The lady in question was Kamal Wood who read the news for 90 consecutive days on the underground radio, which was the mouthpiece of the Indian National Congress. Professor of English at Elphinstone College and later at Ismail Yusuf College, she kept her patriotic mission a top secret all her life. Before her name was brought to light through subsequent research, this brave-heart had breathed her last.

Which is Mumbai's oldest Parsi temple? Where's the first Parsi dakhma located?

Though the Parsi community first arrived in Mumbai during the Portuguese rule, their numbers grew only during the British regime. The first Parsi Fire Temple (Agiary) was built by Hirji Vacha Modi in Fort area sometime between 1670 and 1675 but sadly, the fire of 1803 destroyed it beyond repair. In 1709, Banaji Limji built Mumbai's second Agiary in the same Fort area. The Charni Road Agiary of 1845 was built from the donation of Framji Cowasji. Mumbai's first Dakhma (Tower of Silence as Robert Z. Murphy christened it in 1832) was built by Hirji Vacha on Malabar Hill between 1672 and 1674. When Framji Cowasji built a new Dakhma at Malabar Hill in 1832, it was shown to European visitors prior to its use. Once a Dakhma is put into use for exposure of the dead, it ceases to be a tourist venue.

Why and how is N.C.P.A's Tata theatre a unique architectural feat?

J.R.D. Tata once remarked, "We asked for a piece of land, we were given a piece of water." Tata Theatre, though externally appears as one big structure, stands on two different rocks that were once submerged in sea. Constructing a structure on a land reclaimed from the sea is invariably an expensive proposition. A high-grade construction adhesive called Mastic was used to ensure the building's sturdiness. A brainchild of a dynamic duo - celebrated American architect Philip Johnson and renowned acoustician Cyril Harris - this revolving theatre, built in 1980, can accommodate 1,010 spectators. Thanks to the brilliant acoustics, sound is evenly spread throughout the auditorium without the aid of any electronic device. Thanks to the legendary Tata penchant for flawless creations, this structure raised the bar for the construction industry worldwide. Another key factor that make such a high-priced project possible was the abundant availability of low-cost skilled labour in India.



How many Indian National Congress (INC) sessions, prior to independence, were held in Mumbai ?


Of the 58 INC sessions between 1885 and 1946, six were held at Mumbai:

The founding session of the INC was held at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College near Gowalia Tank. Umesh Chandra Banerjee of Calcutta was the President for the session which was attended by 72 delegates

The fifth session was held at Byculla in 1889. A pandal was staged near Albert Sassoon's bungalow (now converted into the Masina Hospital) Sir William Wedderburn was the President. In what was a sweet coincidence, the number of attendees (Lokmanya Tilak was one of them) matched the year: 1889

The 20th session was organised in Fort on December 26, 1904. At the venue of the pandal stands the Prince of Wales museum of today. Sir Henry Cotton was the President who endorsed the policy of Purna Swaraj (complete independence) at a time when India was at the receiving end of Lord Curzon's tyrannical rule

The 30th session took place in a pandal set up near the Marine Lines railway station. A condolence meeting was held during the same session to mourn the demise of Sir Pherozeshah Mehta (on November 5, 1915). Satyendra Prasad Sinha was the president. Lokmanya Tilak (leader of theGaram Dal or hot faction) could not attend the session due to the mayhem caused by members of the Naram Dal (moderate faction). Mahatma Gandhi was one of the attendees. Sarojini Naidu first came into prominence from this session

The same venue saw a special INC session held in August 1918. The huge pandal this time round accommodated 1500 leaders on the dais who addressed as many as 10,000 members of the audience. This session assumed special significance as it was attended by leaders of all political parties thereby reflecting their unity towards serving the larger cause of India

The 48th session was staged at a wasteland in Worli. It was originally scheduled to be held at Churchgate reclamation but the government denied permission at the eleventh hour. The pandal was named Abdul Gafar nagar. The venue was later converted into the Jamburi Maidan (now rechristened Gandhi Maidan). The session president was Dr. Rajendra Prasad. It was here that Gandhiji stepped down as member of INC and heralded a new era of assuming political control sans any formal position. Communists first made a lasting impression on Congress members in this session

Who was Lady Meherbai Tata?

Wife of Sir Dorabji Tata, Lady Meherbai (1880 - 1931) was a prominent activist who played a key role in Mumbai's social development during the third decade of the twentieth century. Though born with a sliver spoon, she always felt very strongly for the poor and needy. When she found Indian laborers were being shabbily treated by British industrialists, she led a delegation that met the Viceroy, condemning the atrocities and seeking justice for the vulnerable workers. Women empowerment was her top priority and she was instrumental in incepting the Bombay Presidency Women's Council and National Council of Women besides inducting India into the International Council of Women. She ceaselessly fought against the evils of untouchability, Purdah system and child marriage. During the time of riots, she was more than ready to open roadside vegetable stalls for the common people deprived of everyday essentials. This selfless lady breathed her last in England on June 18, 1931, succumbing to blood cancer. Dorabji died a year later. The couple's wealth was largely donated towards public welfare. Today, two of Mumbai's world-renowned institutions cherish her memory most fittingly: Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Tata Memorial Hospital. Ironically, the former is associated with her life work and the latter is linked to the cause of her death.

What tragedy shook Mumbai on April 14, 1944?

On this day, there were two massive explosions at the Victoria Docks in Mumbai. The freighter ship SS Fort Stikine, which had dropped anchor two days ago, was loaded with 1200 tonnes of explosives and other inflammable goods. At 1.50 in the afternoon, smoke was seen blowing from the ship and a raging fire erupted within two hours. After 4 pm, there were two enormous explosions which not only blew up Fort Stikine into pieces, it also damaged thirteen neighboring ships almost beyond repair. The shower of burning cotton and other material set fire to the adjacent slum areas. Many commercial buildings of the Fort area collapsed within no time. That sensors at faraway Shimla recorded the tremors gives a fair idea of the intensity of the explosions. Among the material scattered all over the place were gold bars, diamonds and even currency notes. Very few valuables could be restored and deposited in government exchequer. The military had to be summoned to lead rescue operations that continued for as many as seven months. The tragedy claimed the lives of 231 dock staffers and fire brigade personnel apart from those of countless civilians. Thousands of city-dwellers went broke and several residential areas in Mumbai had "To Let" boards put up, following the massive exodus rooted in panic. It's indeed heartening to note, however, that the whole of Mumbai rose to the occasion, garnering help from all quarters within no time. Personnel of all three armed forces, policemen and civilians showed exceptional resolve in locking horns with the mishap. The municipal corporation threw open 26 schools to provide temporary shelter for the destitute. Cotton mills provided free clothing and many social and political organizations opened help lines. The prompt and foolproof police cover ensured that there was not a single incident of theft at the accident site. A memorial was erected at the site which was inaugurated on April 14, 1971. April 14 is also observed as National Fire Service Day(the week beginning April 14 is observed as National Fire Service Week) to commemorate the brave firemen who lost their lives in the disaster.



What's the mystery of Dharavi's Black Fort?


Located near the Dharavi Bus Depot, this fort, also known as the Reeva Fort, was a British watchtower on the southern coast of the Mahim creek. The inscription reveals it was built by Governor John Horne in 1737. That was the year Marathas began efforts to invade the Vasai-Salsette islands. Two years later, they drove out the Portuguese from this marshy land and gained ownership control. Horne probably built the watchtower to guard against the looming threat of the Marathas. With no proper entrance, the Fort seems mysterious. One has to walk up a ladder to locate the path on the inner side. This Fort was used to stock gun powder and other war supplies. Such storehouses were then called Kala Qilla (Black Fort), hence the name stuck. The lack of entrance was probably to deceive the enemy and take them unawares.


What's exceptional about the TISS building in Chembur?


The Tata Institute of Social Sciences campus at Deonar is truly an architectural wonder - a unique blend between conventional concepts and modern sensibilities. The rugged building exterior strikes a blissful conversation with nature. Brainchild of noted architects G M Bhuta and Durga Bajpai, it was inaugurated on October 6, 1954 at the hands of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Mesmerized by the ambiance, he exclaimed, "The moment I arrived here, I was pleased by the external appearance of these buildings. It is attractive, it is unusual as it seems to fit in with the type of work it is meant to do."

How did the American Civil War impact Mumbai's port development?

The Amercian Civil War (1861 - 1865) led to a tremendous boost in cotton export from Mumbai. The neat pile of 8 crore 10 lakh pounds from the trade helped finance many a building in the city. This money was also utilized to develop the east coast of Mumbai and many private builders were awarded hefty contracts. The Elphinstone Land & Press Company took the Dongri wasteland on lease and built a port there. More important, the company reclaimed 250 acres of sea land against the makeover of one lakh acre land at Boribunder. This resulted in two key developments - the Victoria Terminus railway station and Alexandra Docks were conceptualized and land was alloted for both projects. The port contract was made in 1862 but when the company subsequently went bankrupt, the government acquired all ports and transferred ownership to the Port Trust.


What's the fascinating legend of Mumbai's Kala Ghoda?

Today, the Kala Ghoda Festival is one of Mumbai's key annual celebratory events. The name denotes the crescent-shaped precinct between the National Gallery of Modern Art to the Mumbai University, with the Oval Maidan and the Lion Gate on its either side. The name Kala Ghoda (black horse) comes from the old equestrian statue once erected at the crossroad opposite the David Sassoon Library, in memory of King Edward VII,the first prince of Wales to have visited Mumbai in 1875. Abdullah Sassoon (later known as Albert Sassoon) sponsored the construction of the 12 feet, 9 inch tall statue weighing 2 tons depicting King Edward VII riding a horse in a Field Marshall uniform. The sculptor was London's J E Boehm. The inauguration ceremony took place on June 26, 1879. On its platform are dexterously carved faces of prominent personalities including Lord Northbrook, Philip Wodehouse, Sir Bartle Frere, Dosabhai Framji, Mangaldas Nathubhai, Albert Sassoon, Salar Jung and heads of provinces like Baroda, Mysore, Kutch and Kolhapur. But more than the rider atop or the dignitaries at the base, it was the handsome dark horse that captured the imagination of Mumbai and the name stuck despite the fact that this awesome creation was moved to the Jijamata Garden post Independence. King Edward VII died in 1910 but Mumbai, knowingly and unknowingly, remembers him best in the form of King Edward Memorial Hospital (now fondly known as K.E.M.) which was incepted in his memory in 1926. Historically, it would have been more fitting to install the statue in the campus of this hospital rather than in the premises of the Jijamata Garden.



Where's Mumbai's sole Sun Temple located?


Post 13th century, sun worship lost its import even as Shaivism gained prominence. In fact, Shaiv and Vaishnav followers now looked down upon the devotees of the Sun God. Building a sun temple In such adverse circumstances called for phenomenal courage which Harjivanji Vasanji Maniyar, a merchant of Kapol caste, showed in full measure. Sadly, he died before he could take his mission to fruition but his wife Radhabai showed exceptional resolve in ensuring that the construction of Mumbai's only Sun temple, located in Surajwadi, Panjarpol Lane of Bhuleshwar, was finally completed in 1899. A fine blend of European and Indian styles, the temple bears a strong architectural resemblance to the Mumbadevi temple in Kalbadevi.


How many forts were built in Mumbai?

In all, 11 forts were built in Mumbai at strategic locations. These were: Worli, Mahim, Bandra, Dharavi (Black Fort), Reeva, Shiv, Shivdi, Majgaon, Dongri, Fort Saint George and Bombay Fort. Most of them were built in the 17th and 18th centuries but references of Majgaon, Shivdi, Shiv and Mahim are found even in 16th century literature. Dongri, Majgaon and Bombay Fort were completely demolished over time while the rest are still in existence if not intact. The Shiv Fort is managed by the Archaeological Survey of India while Mahim, Bandra, Black Fort, Shivdi and St. George come under the purview of the state government.


How was the 'Bombay Times' of the nineteenth century?

Dr. George Burist was the editor of Bombay Times (later rechristened The Times of India) from 1839 till 1859. A Scottish scientist and journalist, Burist stamped his authority in diverse spheres including geology, meteorology, arts and conservation study. Initially, he was quite popular among native readers for his versatile journalistic coverage but post the 1857 uprising, he lost his editorial poise and regularly wrote anti-Indian pieces, giving vent to his seething rage. The Parsi-Gujarati shareholders of Bombay Times took serious objection to this outburst and failing all efforts to get Burist to see sense, they showed him the door and appointed the prolific Robert Knight as the new editor. This bold stance in a pre-independent India undoubtedly raised the bar for the media industry worldwide. Wish today's newspapers take a cue from this dated journalism of courage.

What's extraordinary about a grand Shiva statue discovered at a Parel site in 1931?

A huge seven-headed monolithic sculpture was discovered in an accidental excavation in 1931, at the foundation site of a building under construction. The idol's uniqueness left even the experts baffled and, after much deliberation, they settled on the following interpretation: The central figure of matted hair with a half moon is Lord Shiva, who at the time of creating the universe, uttered the seven notes Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni. With every utterance, a Shiva idol emerged, and together the Saptsur Shiv (Shiva of seven notes) was formed. This one of a kind idol is believed to have been carved in the sixth century and denotes the growing dominance of Shaivism of the time. It's housed in a temple called Bara Devi (Twelve Goddesses)- certified as a heritage monument by the Archaeological Survey of India - on Acharya Donde Road in Parel.


What's the unbelievable but true story of Veer Savarkar's B.A. degree?


The great revolutionary, writer, poet, dramatist, historian and philosopher Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, or Swantantryaveer Savarakar, was undoubtedly a man of knowledge. But his B. A. degree was conferred upon him in the most peculiar circumstances. Savarkar cleared in B.A. exam from Mumbai University on December 21, 1905 but the Mumbai university denied him the honour as Savarakar had been accused of treason. He left for London on June 9, 1906 and the news of his acts of rebellion meant the University was in no mood to change its position. The formal letter of denial was sent to him in 1911 during his imprisonment in the Andaman Islands. Even after independence, the University didn't reverse its inglorious decision owing to political pressure from the ruling government which was against Savarkar. It took 54 long years, on April 30, 1960, for good sense to prevail, when the University officials conferred the needlessly denied B.A. degree in a felicitation ceremony held at Savarkar's residence. The belated but prudent gesture was more an honour for the varsity than for Savarkar.



Who was Sir Henry Bartle Frere?


The credit for Mumbai's first makeover goes to Governor Sir Bartle Frere (1862 - 1867) who had the ramparts of the old Fort pulled down to enable rapid development of the city. The Flora Fountain was originally constructed in his honour though it was named after the Roman Goddess Flora just before the unveiling ceremony. Having joined as a writer in the Bombay civil service in 1834, Frere was made Assistant Collector of Poona in 1835 after he cleared the language examination. In 1842, he was appointed private secretary to Sir George Arthur, Governor of Bombay. Frere was a progressive and free thinker, a multifaceted personality and a true connoisseur of art. He had a great personal collection of books. When he was posted from Kolkata to Mumbai, the shipment comprised as many as 28 trunks packed with his books and artifacts. Unfortunately the ship sank en route. An exponent of Indian heritage and its regional languages, he was thoroughly convinced that Britain should rule India only till such time Indians become competent to rule themselves.


What are the distinctive features of the Bombay Municipal Corporation building?


Mumbai's celebrated railway station, the Victoria Terminus or VT (now CST) and the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) building (now Brihan Mumbai Mahanagarpalika) - both towering landmarks were designed by the same architect - Frederick William Stevens. Stevens was not in government service when he took up the latter project (1883 - 1893) and worked on the BMC blueprint from London. Compared to the railway terminus, the corporation building is smaller in expanse but its 235 feet height is reassuringly imposing. Stevens made several architectural improvisations to give prominence to native sensibilities. The minarets and onion-shaped domes of this grand monument are loyal to Indian Islamic architectural styles. Actually, the building is a fine blend of Gothic, Italian and Oriental traditions (Indo-Saracenic Revival). Standing tall, despite the emblematic presence of the CST station across the street, the BMC structure makes a lasting impression - whether you are a causal passerby or a curious onlooker. Its exterior has been consciously kept rugged to lend it a distinctive texture unlike the CST exterior which has a marmoreal feel. In what's a flowing tribute to Mumbai, the allegorical figure at the centre represents ‘Urbis Prima in Indis’ (The First City of India)


How did cricket become a popular sport in Mumbai?


Though cricket came to Mumbai as early as in 1847, it was then a close-knit British affair that mostly found favour with the Parsi community. It was Governor Lord Harris (1890-1895), though hugely unpopular as Governor of Mumbai, who made cricket popular and respectable in the same breath. He was himself a fine cricketer, an accomplished right-handed batsman. During his time, a English Vs. Natives cricket match became a common sight in Mumbai. Lokmanya Tilak was a fierce critic of Harris for his discriminatory stand on the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1893 as also his indifferent administration. Interestingly, Tilak was a fierce critic of cricket too and ridiculed it as Chendu-Dandu cha khel (a trivial game of bat and ball) but his ardent follower Dr. M. B. Velkar was a die-hard cricket enthusiast. So, opinion about the game was divided among Indian freedom fighters. In 1893, Dorabji Tata took the initiative in forming Mumbai's first school cricket team. It was this team that seeded and sponsored the now-famous Harris Shield matches in 1896. From Vijay Merchant to Sachin Tendulkar, Harris Shield has given the nation many a cricket gem. The Harris Road in memory of Lord Harris has now been renamed as Dr. E. Moses Road.


What's the eventful history of Mumbai's Jumma Masjid?

The Jumma Mosque on Sheikh Memon Street was constructed in 1802 by Nathu Patel and Ibrahim Patel and later renovated in 1837 but this was not the birthplace of the mosque. It was originally built near the Dongri Fort by Konkani Muslims. After having been driven out of the Fort by the British government for allegedly helping Tipu Sultan's forces in the English-Mysore battles, they moved to the north of the present-day Crawford Market and erected the Jumma Masjid at Boribunder opposite the J. J. School premises. When Fort Saint George was built in 1769, the land in the purview of its canyons was confiscated and so the mosque had to be moved out of the said zone. The current location of the mosque was approved in 1775 but a legal dispute between the Konkani Muslims and the land owners - Muslims from Goa and Calicut - came in the way of the relocation. In 1977, the court passed their verdict in favour of the Konkani Muslims and the mosque finally found a new home on Sheikh Memon Street.


Why is revolutionary thinker M. N. Roy's tryst with Mumbai truly remarkable?


Following his ideological differences with the Communist International or the Comintern, Manvendra Nath Roy or M. N. Roy (originally Narendra Bhattacharya) left Europe and discreetly returned to India. He landed in Mumbai in November 1930 and stayed at the Theosophical Colony in Juhu under the alias 'Dr. Mahmood'. Soon after, he began imparting lessons in Marxism for the youth of Mumbai, and those dejected with the Gandhi-Irwin pact made a beeline for these lectures. 'Dr. Mahmood' also frequented the Girangaon area of Mumbai and addressed many a labour gathering there. Some members among the audience, during one such stimulating talk held near the French Bridge, suspected that 'Dr. Mahmood' must be the same person 'found missing' in Europe. The police kept a close watch on his movements thereafter. Roy then joined the Congress movement under the alias 'Banerjee' but he was arrested on July 21, 1931 at Byculla. When he was eventually released in 1936, he was felicitated in Mumbai on December 6 of the same year. His registered marriage with Ellen Gottschalk on March 10, 1937 also happened in Mumbai. From 1938 till his death in 1954, Roy checked in at Jamshedji Wadia's bungalow in Parel whenever he toured Mumbai. The first edition of his journal "Independent India" (later renamed as "Radical Humanist") was also released in Mumbai on April 4, 1937. When Roy formed the Radical Democratic party on December 20, 1940, the venue was again Mumbai. Such was Roy's circumstantial yet celestial bonding with this historic city.

Who was Dr. George Moraes?

1965 marked the completion of 300 years since the British invasion of Mumbai. It was on 18 January, 1665 that King Charles granted Humphrey Cooke the possession of Bombay (save for Salsette, Mazagaon, Parel, Worli, Sion, Dharavi, and Wadala that were then still under Portuguese possession.) Dr. George M. Moraes - excellent academician, incisive research scholar, ardent Mumbai lover, Professor of History & Head of Mumbai University's History Department and Director, Institute of Historical Research, Bombay - conceived a one-of-a-kind project titled "History of Bombay" on the historic occasion. Knowing well it would take more than 30 years to single-handedly execute the ambitious project spanning ten volumes, he thought of a unique way out. He guided 35 of his Ph.D. students to collectively work on the project and led the ten volumes to fruition by the year 1985. Unfortunately, this sterling case study, a wholesome project implemented without any government support whatsoever - no grant, no machinery and no man power, inadvertently posed a problem for its readers. Since the ten volumes were published by different publishers under different titles, the whole work is not available in consolidated form. Dr. Moraes died on April 17, 1994 at the age of 90. Thankfully, his priceless books and research papers have been preserved by Institute of Oriental Studies, Thane.


Which is Mumbai's oldest synagogue?

The Gate of Mercy (Shaar Harahamim) is Mumbai's oldest synagogue, built in 1796 at Esplanade by a Bene Israel Jew called Shamji Divekar (Samuel Ezekiel Divekar). He later rebuilt it in 1860 at its current location: Samuel Street (named so in his memory) in Mandvi area. Employed as a commandant with the East India Company army, Shamji was held prisoner of war by Tipu Sultan during an Anglo-Mysore battle. Shamji's brother was also among those captured. All of them were to be sent to the gallows but having learnt that the brothers were Bene Israel Jews (a community that the Quran approves of), Tipu's mother took mercy on both and had them duly released. Shamji later settled in Mumbai and built the Gate of Mercy synagogue in memory of the incredible incident of his life.


Who was Mumbai's first Gujarati social reformer?

Karsandas Mulji (1832 - 1871) was the first social activist from the Gujarati community of Mumbai. After graduating from the Elphinstone Institute School, Mulji launched his crusade against social evils like superstition and discrimination against women. Initially, he wrote for Dadabhai Naoroji's Rast Goftar (Truth Teller) and later published his own weekly magazine called Satya Prakash. Mulji was known for the dignified poise of his progressive writings. Gujarati poet Narmad (1833 - 1886) was his close friend and both joined hands to expose the fraudulent practices of one Jadunath Maharaj of the Vallabh cult whose followers included several high profile dignitaries. Narmad somehow escaped a physical attack at the hands of Jadunath's disciples while Mulji was dragged to court. The defamation case hinged on the statement of a prominent witness - Dr. Bhau Daji Lad - who also happened to be Jadunath's family physician. Dr. Lad gave a clean chit to Mulji, selflessly ignoring his professional equation with Jadunath. As a result, Jadunath lost the case. In 1862, Mulji wrote a book on the trial which was widely read but Mulji continued to suffer the atrocities of society. In 1863, he traveled overseas with Ramchandra Balkrishna Jaykar, founder of the Paramahamsa Sabha. As was the prevalent practice of the time, they were required to undergo penance on their return from abroad. Jaykar succumbed to the pressure but Mulji was firm in his denial. Having been declared an outcaste by his community, Mulji somehow managed his subsistence through his employment stints at the Rajkot and Limdi dynasties. After his demise, his wife was forced to undergo penance. From 1873, Mumbai University constituted the Karsandas Mulji prize for the best student essay in memory of the great man who was hardly recognized during his lifetime.

What's the significance of Mahakali caves?

Although their name is Mahakali, these caves are Buddhist, located about six and half kilometers away from Andheri Railway station. Carved between second century BC in the fifth century BC, they are divided in two broad categories, the bigger category houses 16 caves and the smaller one comprises four caves. Cave number 9, the oldest, has a circular Chaitya Gruh. The grand Stupa inside, resembling a Shiv lingam, was mistaken for Mahakal - hence the name Mahakali. Cave number four houses a serpent with seven heads. These caves were earlier called Kondivita (Precisely why there's a Kondivita Road in Andheri). At the foothills is a Mahakali temple whose presiding deity was originally a Buddhist Stupa. The Hindu influence on Mahakali Caves, in many ways, represents the decline of Buddhism and the subsequent rise of Shaivism that began from the sixth century.

Which were the iconic forts on the East coast of Mumbai?

These were three in number - Sewri, Majgaon and Dongri. The sturdy Sewri Fort, built on the sea shore to the West of Parel, is in good condition to this day. The other two forts were located on the Majgaon island itself. Yakut Khan of Janjira had invaded these three forts way back in 1689. Tucked in the Majgaon Fort, he found ten huge trunks of gold coins, loads of gun powder and several grand canyons. After collecting the loot, he destroyed it beyond repair. The Dongri fort, housing a police station, was atop a hill. It was demolished in 1769 when the police station was moved to the newly constructed Fort Saint. The Dongri Fort hill,later renamed as Navroji Hill, was washed away from the encroaching sea waves. Today, the harbour line passes through the area.


How and where did Dr. Ambedkar and Pandit Nehru meet for the first time?


It was the third week of October 1939. Pandit Nehru had checked in at the Warden Road residence of Bhulabhai Desai, who was the Chairman of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee. Warden Road is now called Bhulabhai Desai Road in his memory. Prime Minster (equivalent to Chief Minister) of the Mumbai Province Balasaheb Kher escorted Dr. Ambedkar to Bhulabhai Desai's residence. Mahadevbhai Desai had come to the venue all the way from Wardha to convey the salient points of the Ambedkar-Nehru interaction to Mahatma Gandhi. On the agenda were issues like India's stance on the ongoing World War and the woes of untouchables. Ambedkar was extremely forthright in spelling out his ideological differences with the Congress party. Post the historic meet, he's believed to have referred to Nehru as a "fourth standard boy", probably hinting at what he thought was Nehru's poor reading of India's problems and priorities.


Which is Mumbai's oldest Church?

Mumbai's oldest Church was a Roman Catholic Church called Church of Our Lady of Hope, built near Boribunder during the Portuguese regime. It was later relocated to Kalbadevi sometime around 1737 and the present-day Church is believed to be the largest Roman Catholic Church. At the old site of the Church is the Cross Maidan of today, named after the holy cross of the erstwhile Church, which is still worshiped at the Maidan. Coincidentally, a Mumbadevi temple, adjacent to the erstwhile Church at Boribunder, was also relocated to Kalbadevi around the same time.


What's unique about the Colaba observatory?

Built in 1826, the Colaba Observatory located on Dr. Moos Road, Colaba, is India's oldest observatory building. With the passage of time, it underwent many structural changes but its defining tower is still intact. Even the Directorate bungalow in the premises is an architectural wonder. This observatory houses some of the earliest and most intricate magnetic observations. Till 1840, it used to be an astronomical observatory after which it was transformed into a magnetic and meteorological observatory.

Which was Mumbai's largest private library?

Dr.B. R. Ambedkar's private library, set up in his Rajgruh residence in Hindu Colony, Dadar was once India's largest, with over 50,000 books on different subjects. From ancient texts to simple primers, his collection had every type of book. Dr. Ambedkar was not only a compulsive collector of books, he was an avid reader too. He read every book end to end and remembered every detail including pages, sections, paras and even design issues like cover layout, page color and font type. His love for books was well known and often made him unmindful of etiquette - he hardly ever returned a borrowed book and many book sellers had a tough time getting their bills settled. Despite his dwindling financial position, he never though of selling his collection despite offers of Rs. 2 lakh and Rs. 4 lakh from Malviya and Birla respectively. In a most gracious gesture, he donated the entire collection to Siddharth College, Mumbai and Milind College, Aurangabad.

What was C. D. Deshmukh's rare Sanskrit accomplishment?

C D Deshmukh held several coveted positions throughout his eventful career which included stints as RBI Governor and Finance minister of India. But even his student-day achievements were no less prolific. In 1912, he stood first in Sanskrit in the matriculation examination and won the Jagannath Shankarshet scholarship. He again stood first in Sanskrit in the 1913 first-year college exam and won the Vinayakrao Shankarshet prize this time round. From 1914, the University discontinued the practice of conducting the FY exam and asked colleges to do the needful. Therefore the Vinayakrao prize was now earmarked for the inter exam. Deshmukh cleared inter again as a Sanskrit topper, hence bagged the Vinayakrao prize for the second time. This was his exceptional achievement in Sanskrit, thanks to his sharp intellect besides the sweet coincidence.

What's the political significance of Mumbai's Afghan Church?


Like the French, the English had become wary of the Russians, more so when Russia signed a friendship treaty with Iran in 1813. To counter this move, the British decided to gain control over Afghanistan and triggered the Afghan wars, the first of which was fought between 1838-43 and cost one and half crore pounds and claimed 20,000 people. Mumbai suffered great losses in this war being the provider of people and provisions for troops advancing through the Sindh province. Sir William Hay Macnaghten, who had been appointed Governor of Mumbai in 1840, died on the battlefront before assuming office. To commemorate the martyrs and supporters of this war, both English and native, it was decided to build a monument. Thus the Colaba Afghan Church was born, earlier called St. John Church. The corner stone ceremony was held in 1847 and the inauguration happened in 1865. This Church was a military base and a popular venue for marriages as well, hence it was also called Garrison Church and Bride's Church.

Which are the Mumbai landmarks with home-grown names that sound European to the ear?

Apollo Bunder (now renamed Wellington Pier) has nothing to do with the Greek-Roman God Apollo. Some scholars say it's a corrupt form of the local word 'Padav' (last leg of journey) although it seems more closer to the word 'Pala' (Hilsa fish) as per another theory which concludes that it was named after the Pala fish which was unloaded daily at this place. Antop Hill is a translation of 'Antobachi Tekdi' (Antoba's Hill), named after its erstwhile owner Antoba who was a koli (fisherman). Charni Road is not a tribute to some English officer Charni as many believe. The place was a 'Charni' (a place where straw is stocked as cattle feed) and hence the name. Gunbav Street in Fort was originally 'Gambasheth rasta', named after Gambasheth, a money lender, and the grandfather of Jagannath Shankersheth. The Cooperage ground was christened by the Parsi community. 'Cooper' is one who makes and repairs casks and barrels and this place was infested with such repair shops. Breach Candy is believed to be a corrupt form of the Hindi-Arabic word 'Burj Khadi'. Some theorists believe Candy is the Anglicized version of the local word Khind (narrow opening)- the one between Malabar Hill and Cumbala Hill. The word Cumbala in turn comes from the native word 'Khamb Aalya'


What's the story of the erstwhile China Garden of Mumbai?


China Garden (China Baug) was the old name for Sikkanagar, a settlement situated on Vithalbhai Patel Road (formerly Girgaum Back Road) This was the venue for many a historic event including Annie Besant's 1916 address as the precursor to the inception of the Home Rule League. In fact, the first branch of the League was incepted in China Baug. Later acquired for Rs. 12 lakhs by industrialist Muljibhai Sikka, who earned name and fame in the banking sector during the year 1915, China baug was rechristened as Sikkangar. After his formative years in Mumbai as a vegetable vendor, Muljibhai shifted base to Calcutta and reaped a fortune in the tobacco trade. He later returned to Mumbai and ventured into banking. A staunch nationalist, he lent valuable support to Mahatma Gandhi in the independence struggle. He died in the year 1938.


What remuneration was paid to the Mumbai Governors during the rule of the East India Company, or the Company Sarkar as it was called by natives?


During the initial years, financial gains for the Mumbai Governors were meager. Till 1662, the annual salary of a governor was only Rs. 800. From year 1700 onward, this figure rose to Rs. 3000. But salary was hardly paid in time. In fact, Governor Richard Bourchier (1750-60), who had served the company for 23 long years in various capacities, died a bankrupt man. Governor Charles Crommelin (1660-67) had to take up an ordinary job in Goa for sustenance post his retirement. Governor Mountstuart Elphinstone often cited his poor pay as the reason for remaining a bachelor for life. To make matters worse, all these gentlemen had to work in adverse, unhealthy environments that invariably lessened their life spans. The only respite was the free food and ration supplies from the Company account. Traders and merchants lent them easy credit, loans were easy to fetch and generous offerings and lavish gifts from several donors were very common. Yet, none of the Governors managed to build up a steady pile for their fag-end years since almost all were profligates. The situation improved towards the end of the Company rule and Mountstuart's nephew John Elphinstone (Lord Elphinstone) became the first Mumbai governor (1853-60) to earn a hefty salary of 1066 rupees, 10 annas and 8 paise per month besides Rs. 25,000 earmarked per year for other expenses.

What's the connection between the revolutionary Chapekar Brothers and the Ramwadi temple of Kalbadevi?

During every Chaturmas, Haribhau Chapekar sang Kirtans at the Ramwadi temple. His sons Damodar, Balkrishna and Vasudev lent him support with the musical accompaniments of Harmonium, Taal and Mridang. But these three didn't attend the Kirtans performed on June 22 and 23 of 1897. They murdered W. C. Rand, the British plague commissioner of Pune and and his military escort Lt. Ayerst on June 22. The British government suspected Lokmanya Tilak's hand in the assassination but failed to furnish any evidence supporting the claim. On the other hand, Tilak filed a defamation case against London's Globe and the Times of India and secured their apologies in writing for publishing a fabricated police claim. After independence, it became clear that Tilak knew the assassins of Rand and had also arranged for their accommodation when they were in hiding. Tilak was a firm believer in the principle of "Sadhananam Anekataa" (diversity of alternatives) in his fight for independence.

How did sugar cane travel to Mumbai?

There were no sugar cane plantations in India till the beginning of the nineteenth century. As sugar was imported from Mauritius, it was fondly called 'Moras'. The credit for initiating sugar cane plantations in Mumbai goes to two gentlemen - Framji Cowasji Banaji (1767 - 1851) who grew sugar cane along with mangoes in his Powai farms and even incepted a sugar factory and Nana Shankarshet (1803 - 1865) who brought sugar cane seeds from Mauritius and planted them in Mumbai's Tardeo area on an experimental basis. The cane that grows in India today is largely of the Mauritius variety.

How did Gothic architecture get its name?

The word "Gothic" houses a paradox of sorts. Goths were savage tribes ill-famed for their incessant attacks on the Roman empire. They embraced Christianity sometime in the fifth century but this new-found civilization, via the doorways of religion, had nothing to do with architecture. It so happened that a new style of European architecture that emerged in the 13th to 15th century overshadowed the Roman art of design and construction. Followers and admirers of the Roman school disparagingly labelled the new style "Gothic" to underline what they reckoned was an uncultured development. With time, the derogatory reference faded into oblivion and the word "Gothic" unanimously assumed avant-garde status. Much later, it found a new, cosy home in Mumbai.

Which was India's first motion picture?

We all know that India's first feature film was Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra (1913). But prior to that date, a silent film called Pundalik had been released in Mumbai on May 18, 1912 as per the research done by Manohar Purandare. This was a brainchild of Ramrao Balkrishna Kirtikar which was produced by Nanabhai Chitre and Ramchandra Torne. Kirtikar was the writer while Torne directed the movie in which the trio also featured as actors. Camera and other equipment were imported from England and the film was shot on "Do Hatti" (Two Elephants) on Lamington road. The film was sent to England for processing. It ran for two weeks at the Coronation cinema of Girgaum and was subsequently released in other theaters but throughout the run, it failed to draw enough crowds. In another tragedy, the sole print was destroyed in a fire. The producers went broke and Kirtikar also suffered huge financial losses. Worse, these pioneers of cinema didn't even find a mention in the annals of Indian cinema.

Who were the first women among legal practitioners in Mumbai?

The field of business law, like most other professions, was male-dominated for long. And very few of those men were Indians during pre-independence. Indian men made their presence felt in due course but no woman - whether Indian or British - had yet entered the fray. Hence January 25, 1924 proved a milestone in the history of the Bombay High Court when a lady dressed in the conventional black gown stepped in as Mumbai's first lady barrister. She was Miss Mithan Tata, daughter of Ardeshir and Hirabai Tata, one of the first women in India to be qualified as a Barrister-at-law from Lincoln's Inn. Later, another distinguished lady Miss Cecilia Clementina Ferreira became the first women solicitor of Bombay High Court on March 24, 1933.

Who were the first B. A. pass-outs from Mumbai University?

In 1862, the Mumbai University conducted its first-ever B. A. examination. Of the six students who appeared, four cleared the exam who were duly felicitated on April 28, 1862 in a historic Town Hall ceremony. These distinguished gentlemen were Mahadev Govind Ranade, Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar, Vaman Aabaji Modak and Bala Mangesh Wagle. Needless to say, their names brought prestige to the university degree rather than the other way round. All four went on to scale new heights in their respective spheres. Ranade, a High court judge, scholar, social reformer and political leader, was instrumental in ensuring a place of pride for Indian languages in the university curriculum. He convincingly exposed the flawed Western view of Maratha history through his sterling activism and incisive writings. Bhandarkar became an orientalist of worldwide fame, Vice-chancellor of Mumbai University (1893-95) and its first D. Lit 1904). Modak rose to fame in the sphere of education. He became the principal of Elphinstone High School, a rare feat for an Indian in those times. Wagle became an advocate in 1869 and was the chief justice of Baroda for some time.


Why should Mumbai cherish the memory of Dr. John Wilson?


Christian missionary and educator Dr. John Wilson (1804-1875) was a leading authority on ancient oriental studies. He spoke fluent Marathi, Sanskrit, Gujarati, Hindi, Persian, Hebrew and Latin and extensively traveled across West India on numerous study tours. He wrote a Marathi primer on Hebrew grammar for the native Jews of Mumbai besides a booklet on the adivasis of Mumbai. He was the first English scholar to author a book on Zoroastrianism. He took pioneering efforts in conserving ancient coins, motifs and scriptures and for institutionalizing the study of rock-cut architecture. As the Vice chancellor of Mumbai University from 1868 till 1870, he showed exceptional courage in retaining his scholarly bent of mind, defying the bureaucratic diktats of the powers that be. In 1836, he established a college in Mumbai, now called Wilson College.


Where would you find the elephant who lent Elephanta Caves his royal name?


The stone elephant that inspired the Portuguese to rename Gharapuri Islands as Elephanta Caves has been a resident of Jijamata Udyan of Byculla (earlier called Victoria Garden) since 1864. It was first relocated to Byculla from Gharapuri in the year 1814 during the British rule. Found in mutilated condition on arrival, it was repaired and installed at the current location. The elephant however boasts of a much deeper legacy than the sixth century Gharapuri sculptures. It was originally located on the royal port, a strategic harbour of the Satavahana dynasty, to the right of Gharapuri Island as the royal emblem of the Satavahanas.

What exactly is Mahikavati's Bakhar?

Of all the Bakhars (ancient chronicles) in Marathi literature, Mahikavati's bakhar is the oldest, throwing light on the pre-Muslim era of Mumbai. It covers the span from Bimbraj Yadav's rule till the time of Portuguese invasion and is a definitive source on the history and lineage of thePathare Prabhu clan. These people originally hailed from Patan in Gujarat and were hence called Patane Prabhu. The word Patane later became Pathare and the current name became popular. After rising to fame as valiant warriors of the Yadav army, these people came to Kelve Mahim during Bimb Dev's regime and later settled in Mumbai. Over time, they dropped the sword and picked up the pen. Mahikavati's bakhar, written by Bhagavan, Datta and Keshavacharya, dates back to the year 1448. It assumed full-fledged form only in the 17th century. One can trace the roots of the contemporary Marathi language in this work. The earliest mention of the words "Maharashtra Dharma" is found in this bakhar.

Who was Thomas Ormiston?


Thomas Ormiston, a renowned engineer, was initially employed with Nicole and company, a firm that was entrusted the responsibility of developing the Mumbai port and which managed the Elphinstone Land and Press company. In 1873, he assumed charge as the Chief Engineer of the Port Trust and created the blueprints for Princess Dock, Prongs Light House and Sun Rock Light House. After his retirement in 1882, Ormiston was appointed Dean of Mumbai University's Engineering faculty. In 1888, his admirers built a marble statue in his memory,to the East of the Convocation Hall on a garden site alloted by the University authorities.

Who was Dr. John Mclennan?

Mumbai of the pre-independence era was home to a few English medical practitioners. One of them was Dr. John Mclennan, well known surgeon, scholar and humanitarian who was also a polyglot par excellence, well versed in Marathi, Hindi, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Latin, Persian and Arabic. He was among the early pioneers to blend allopathic medicine with Ayurveda and Unani practices and incepted the Medical School for the Instruction of Native Practitioners (1825-1830). Students of this school were taught in Marathi on a freeship of eight rupees per month. Dr. Mclennan authored two books in Marathi "Oushad kalpana Vidhi" (1822) and "Sharir" (1852) It's indeed tragic that despite his herculean effort, probably the first of its kind in India, the medical profession was not able to shun the clinical illiteracy that plagues it to this day.

Which is Mumbai's first cricket stadium?

The Cricket Club of India was incepted in Mumbai in the year 1937. This club built a cricket stadium near Churchgate reclamation in the same year. This was Mumbai's first cricket stadium named after Lord Brabourne (1933-1937) who was the Governor of Mumbai at the time.

What's unique about the cornerstone of the Mumbai University building?

The grand cornerstone ceremony of the Mumbai university took place on December 29, 1868 in the presence of eminent personalities. A copper vessel engraved with the names of prominent leaders, and comprising the day's newspapers, a copy of the university calendar (1868-69) and currency coins, was placed beneath the cornerstone. But the earmarked land of the university, where the cornerstone had been laid, was later reserved for the construction of the High Court building (construction began in 1871) vide a government order. The university was reallocated a piece of land to the south of the original area. Believe it or not, the poor cornerstone of university was wholly forgotten in the relocation to the new premises(construction began in 1874). Literally tucked in a corner somewhere under the High Court premises, it was unknowingly forced to sink into oblivion.


What's the history of Sydenham College?


Mumbai university was the first varsity to grant a degree in commerce and Sydenham College was Mumbai's first commerce college. In 1909, eminent men like the Late Subramani Iyer, Sir Vitthaldas Thackersey and Sir Dinshaw Wacha were among the first to stress on the need for a commerce college. They won the support and encouragement of Governor George Clarke (1907-1913)who later came to be known as Lord Sydenham. As a result of this patronage and thanks to the generous donations from many among Mumbai's rich and famous at the time, the Government Commerce College was born in 1913, the very next year after Mumbai university incepted the commerce stream. Classes were initially held in the premises of Elphinstone college but a hefty donation from the Lord Sydenham memorial committee saw the college move to the present location and be rechristened as the Sydenham College. Within a short span, it came to be known as one of Asia's best commerce colleges.


Where is one of Mumbai's oldest theatre auditoriums located?


The Capitol cinema on Dadabhai Nowroji road was originally a theatre house. Built in 1879 by a Parsi gentleman called Nazar, it was called Gaiety theatre at the time of inception. Its architecture bears strong resemblance to the Gothic style. Besides hosting plays, this place was also a popular choice for conducting public meetings. However, the oldest theatre of Mumbai was not Gaiety, it was Bombay theatre (built in 1770 and demolished in 1833) located on Bombay Green at Horniman Circle.


What was Mumbai known for prior to its industrial makeover?

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Mumbai was famous for its natural produce viz, Salt, Fish, Mangoes and Coconut. Staple occupations included animal husbandry, rice farming, tobacco growing and vegetable trading. The Bhandari community made jaggery from toddy and dates. Mumbai's Bombay Duck fish had achieved cult status. The only other place to match Bombay Duck's quality benchmark was Surat. Mango season was twice in a year and Majgaon and Parel mangoes were considered among India's best. Majgaon mangoes were the favourite of Emperor Shahajahan (1628-1658) The Portuguese introduced mango grafting in India and the credit for the Majgaon plantation goes to a gentleman called Faraya after whom the Payari mango was named. The illustrious Framji Cowasji Banaji planted over a lakh Mango trees in his Powai garden. In 1838, he gifted some of this produce to Queen Victoria who is said to have been delighted by the delectable taste of the mangoes.


What's the story of Jinnah House in Mumbai?


Jinnah House, once known as Mohammad Ali Jinnah's residence, is located at Mount Pleasant Road (now renamed Bhausaheb Hire Marg) on Malabar Hill. Built in 1936, this house hit the headlines in the year 1944 for Mahatma Gandhi's umpteen visits between September 9 and 27 from the adjoining Birla House (where Gandhiji used to stay while in Mumbai) to convince Jinnah to be on his side in the fight for India's independence. Post 1947, Jinnah House was leased to the British Deputy High Commission. 1982 onwards, it came under the possession of the Union Government of India but remained vacant throughout. It was handed over to The Indian Council of Cultural Relations in 1997 for hosting cultural events. The right to its ownership has long been an apple of discord between arch rivals India and Pakistan.


Who was the first chairperson of the school committee of Bombay Municipality?


Dr. (Mrs) Malini Sukhtankar was elected the first chairperson of Bombay School Committee(1933-34) She was a student of the Thakurdwar Kanya Shala (popularly known as Kamalabai's school)incepted by the Students' Literary and Scientific Society. Post her M.B.B.S. in 1917, she worked as a Hospital House surgeon for a while and later served the larger cause in various capacities, both in professional and social spheres. Her husband Bhalchandra Sukhtankar was a renowned solicitor, French language expert and poet. He translated Lokmanya Tilak's magnum opus Gita Rahasya into English.


What treasures lie beneath the cornerstone of Bhau Daji Lad museum?


The cornerstone of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla (erstwhile Victoria & Albert Museum) was laid on November 21, 1862 in the area behind the present-day ticket counter. Before laying it, a copper vessel containing that day's newspapers and copies of Museum's official documents was tucked underground. On the vessel were engraved the names of Queen Victoria, Viceroy of India Lord Canning, Governor of Bombay Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, industrialist and philanthropist Nana Shankarshet, physician and Sanskrit scholar Dr Bhau Daji Lad, medical professor and naturalist Sir George Birdwood and municipal engineer and designer William Tracey.


What's the deep connect between Suez Canal and Mumbai?


When the artificial sea-level waterway Suez Canal was being constructed (1858-1869), France had dominant control over it. Not surprisingly, England had then vociferously opposed the construction. But later in 1875, sensing a great opportunity, England gained control of the canal, conveniently going against its original stance in the process. But this twist in the tale opened the floodgates of prosperity for Mumbai. How? The earlier detour from Africa had placed the distance between Mumbai and London at 17,700 km, the Suez brought it down to 11,200 km. This meant now the travel time between London and Mumbai was now a mere 25 days which reduced even more with the passage of time. On the old route, London-Mumbai and London-Calcutta (Kolkata) were equidistant, now the Suez got Mumbai closer. This proximity to London spelt rich rewards for Mumbai - employment opportunities zoomed, textile mills mushroomed and Mumbai soon became India's leading top-class city. Later, when the canal's depth was extended, a dock for the bigger motor boats was built in Mumbai: the Alexandra Dock (now rechristened Indira Dock) Beyond doubt, Mumbai owes a lot to the great canal that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez, and separates the African continent from Asia.


Who was Garcia de Orta?

Garcia de Orta (1534-1552) was Mumbai's first physician and herbalist. During the Portuguese rule, he acquired a Mumbai island on rent and gradually made it lush green with plantations, transforming it into a botanical garden of sorts. His Portuguese language book "Conversation on the drug samples in India" was very well received. Orta was also well versed in ethnobotany and natural history and his pioneering contributions across spheres brought great dignity to the Portuguese regime. As an aside, we must thank another Portuguese gentleman General and Military expert Afonso de Albuquerque for taking the lead in grafting a priceless variety of the one-and-only Mango fruit named after him: the Alphonso mango(Hapus).


Who was Khurshid Khanum Quassim Ali Jairazbhoy?


Khurshid was an eminent lady belonging to Mumbai's elite class (1920 to 1940). She took exceptional efforts for the education and emancipation of Muslim women. En route the Haj pilgrimage with her husband in 1932, she filmed emblematic scenes of Mecca and Medina and became the first Indian woman to shoot a documentary. The next year, during her world tour, the documentary won flowing accolades in Europe and US. She was later elected Mumbai's Justice of Peace, a post similar to that of a Mayor.


What's the story behind Worli's Love Grove pumping station?

The name "Love Grove" is a tribute to a 18th century love story. The Worli Hill then was a scenic forest. One fateful day, a couple was busy exchanging sweet nothings on the banks of the creek flowing off the hill. All of a sudden, the girl lost balance and fell into the creek. The boy followed suit in the vain attempt to save her. News of two dead bodies recovered from the creek spread like wild fire the next day and the Hill was informally christened "Love Grove" in memory of the two lovers. The name was made official in 1838 when Governor Robert Grant inaugurated a drainage system at the hill. The pumping station, built in 1942, got the same name as the Hill.


Who was the first activist to revolt against the deplorable practice of child marriage?


Child marriage had traditionally been one of the most sticky challenges plaguing the Hindu society. But the first activist to raise his voice in methodical fashion was a Parsi gentleman called Behramji Malbari, poet, author, social reformer, journalist and editor of Indian Spectator. In 1881, a Gujarati widow accused of infanticide was sentenced to 'Kala Pani' imprisonment. Shuddered by this incident, he began stressing on the fact in public forums that far more serious than infanticide was the inhuman practice of child marriage. He prepared comprehensive notes on the issue and circulated them to eminent Mumbai leaders of the time. Impressed by the prudent and precise notes, Mahadeo Govind Ranade opined that the government should immediately take steps to abolish child marriages through legislation.


Where is Mumbai's oldest library located?


If you feel libraries worm their way on the back of book lovers alone, you are sadly mistaken. The Native General library of Dhobi Talao, next to the Framji Cawasji Institute, the oldest library of Mumbai, was set up through the pioneering efforts of a Military Board clerk called Raghoba Janardan. Himself a man of modest means and credentials, it was his burning desire to see younger generations catch the reading habit.


What was unique about the first death anniversary of Lokmanya Tilak?

The first death anniversary of the Lokmanya, falling on August 1, 1921, was observed in Fort's Excelsior cinema hall. Commoners wanting to be part of the historic gathering had to pay an entry fee in the fashion of a movie ticket. The ticket for the first row was Rs. 25, an astronomical sum in those days but the public response was still tremendous and the ticket window had to display the board of 'Houseful' within no time. Mahatma Gandhi was the chief guest to address the hall packed to capacity. All proceeds of the show were donated to the Tilak Swaraj Fund constituted by Gandhiji in Lokmanya's memory.


What's the little known story behind a famous dock and a famous street in Mumbai?

In striking contrast to the growing gender wars around us, both Prince’s Dock & the Princess Street, built in 1875 and inaugurated in 1905, are fondly remembered as one gender – male or female – that’s anybody’s guess. But the choice is free of ugly debates and fanatic claims. While the dock was named after Prince of Wales (later crowned Edward VII), the street was named in memory of Princess of Wales who accompanied Prince of Wales (later crowned George V). The difference in gender is eclipsed by the common pronunciation but the royal aura remains.


What's the history of David Sassoon Library?

The year was 1847. The staff of Royal Mint and Government Dock Yard thought of institutionalizing a knowledge-sharing culture in the field of technical education. Thanks to the patronage of eminent men, the Sassoon Mechanical Institute was set up in Government docks premises, with a mission to create top-class scholars and achievers in Chemistry, Physics, Technology, even sculpting and English speaking. A library was set up in due course and experts across spheres were regularly invited for knowledge discourses. Sometime during 1867-1870, the institute relocated to the current building in Fort called the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room, thanks to a generous grant from the father-son duo David and Albert Sassoon. The library was thrown open to the public on March 24, 1870 and, ever since, is the favourite den of book lovers and students alike.


Who created the geological map of Mumbai?


A B Wynne compiled the first geological map of Mumbai based on his survey in 1866, in an era of Mumbai' modern makeover when different aspects of the city were being scientific studied for the first time. Sadly, there were no revised editions of Wynne's rare map and gradually, the very challenge of updation lost its significance, thanks to the Golem-like human encroachment of Mumbai.


Who was the first Indian Fellow of Royal Society (F.R.S), London?

F.R.S. is undoubtedly one of the most coveted recognitions for any scientist. Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia (1808 - 1877) was the society's first Indian Fellow, elected in the year 1841. Interestingly, Ardaseer had no formal education in science, not even a diploma. It was his inborn talent, tenacity, observation and obsession with experimentation that helped him bag the honour. He belonged to a family of ship builders but he carved his own niche when he built India's first ocean boat called 'Indus' which was launched on August 16, 1833. One of his sterling feats was the illumination of his bungalow using as many as 28 gas lights. He went to England on an East India scholarship and after successful completion of his training program, the Company appointed him Chief Inspector of Steam Factory to lead a team of several English officials. He died in England on November 16, 1877. It's a tragedy that he remains largely unsung in his native land.


Who was Sir George Birdwood?

Sir George Birdwood joined the Grant Medical college in 1854 as a Professor. He spent 14 long years in Mumbai and had diverse interests outside the sphere of his profession. He was an ardent admirer of Mumbai and toiled for conserving and enhancing its natural beauty and splendor in different capacities including as curator of Central Museum, secretary of Royal Asiatic Society and Registrar of Mumbai University. Among his notable contributions was the architecture plan for Victoria Garden. His love for Mumbai was intact even after he returned home which regularly reflected in his writings. His half-statue in the campus of Mumbai University reminds us of his sterling achievements to this day.


What was Gokuldas Tejpal's unique contribution to Mumbai's development?


Gokuldas Tejpal (1822 - 1867) belonged to the Bhatia community of the Kutch region. He rose to fame as one of Mumbai's leading industrialists and made a great fortune during the time of the American civil war (1861-65) (but spent most of it on charity). Acknowledging the growing import of the English language, he opened two schools in Mandvi and Mumbadevi and built the famous Gokuldas Tejpal hospital in 1858. In his short life of 45 years, he made hefty donations to as many as 20 institutions. His benevolence towards Mumbai continued even posthumously through special provisions made in his will. Another Gokuldas Tejpal Hospital near Dhobi Talao (1870) and the Gokuldas Tejpal Hostel and Sanskrit School near Gowalia tank were built from his earmarked funds. Interestingly, this place later became the birthplace of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Eminent personalities like Morarji Desai and C N Vakil spent their student years at this very hostel. The descendants of Shri Gokuldas continued his tradition of generosity. The Parle railway station came into being in 1906 from the donation of his son Govardhandas Tejpal.


What's the story behind the statue of Late Justice Mahadeo Govind Ranade near Churchgate?

Justice Ranade was acutely conscious of the squint in his right eye, and hence invariably ensured all his photographs didn't capture this twisted anatomy. The sculptor Ganapat Mhatre, known for his outstanding dexterity, was truly in a fix. Gasping in the tug of war between the loyalty to his art vis-à-vis Ranade’s sentiments, he carved a perfect replica but erected it facing the High Court, and not the road, thereby avoiding the statue's eye-to-eye contact with the countless commuters and tourists passing by day in and day out.


What's the legacy of the Esplanade Mansion building in Mumbai's Fort area?

Situated next to the illustrious Army Navy stores, this building housed the erstwhile only-for-Europeans Esplanade Hotel – then considered a deluxe hotel with as many as 130 suites. The “premium” room tariff of the year 1889 would seem ridiculous today – Rs. 7 for the ground floor (a rupee less for every floor upwards) inclusive of breakfast, lunch, dinner, ice, hot/chilled water besides an attendant.


What's the deep connect between Mumbai and the Telgu Foolmali community?


The Telgu Foolmali people of Andhra Pradesh migrated to Mumbai in the 18th century and found their livelihood in the construction business. The area of Kamathipura became their headquarters. Many among these people earned name and fame with time and seamlessly merged with Mumbai's Maharashtrian culture. A Telgu gentleman called Jaya Yallapa Lingu opened the first Telgu-Marathi school in Kamathipura in the year 1864. He along with his colleague Venku Baloji Kalevar took inspiration from the teachings of Mahatma Phule during the latter's month-long stay in Mumbai. Earlier, they took pride in serving five-course meals to Brahmins, now they took it upon themselves to provide financial help to disabled and deprived students. One of the leading social reformers of this community was Ramayya Venkayya Ayyavaru (1826 - 1912), contractor by profession and part of the team that built some of the most sterling Mumbai landmarks like Municipal Corporation and the General Post office.

He was instrumental in initiating and supporting several institutions and organizations like the Gynotejak Sabha & Gyanvardhak Sabha (devoted to knowledge conservation), anti-liquor campaigns, libraries, school for Telgu girls and many forums to promote moral and righteous behaviour in public life. He was also a prolific writer. He was a strong believer in the minority thought that conversion to Christianity is not a silver bullet to solve all problems. He also motivated and convinced his own people to abandon the tradition of causing mayhem in the guise of a tiger during Moharram festivities. This practice was banned from the year 1893 onwards.


How did Malabar Hill get its name?

It's ironic that Malabar Hill, now a mute spectator to the dark deeds of modern-day pirates, our white-robed politicians, has its name rooted in piracy… after the infamous Malabari pirates who invaded the Mumbai shoreline during the seventeenth century. In reality, these pirates were a mix of Americans, British, Arabs and Sri Lankans. The Walkeshwar Hill was used for monitoring their nuisance. They were eventually driven out in 1695 but the name stuck.


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Dr. Y A Raikar (1932-2015) was a renowned author and archaeologist in the league of eminent Indologists and historians like Sir Jadunath Sarkar, Prof. D D Kosambi, H D Sankhalia, S N Rajguru and Dr. Subbarao. His doctoral thesis titled Indian History - A Study in Dynamics, especially his incisive chart depicting the operation of the Centripetal and Centrifugal forces in political history, won the admiration of, and endorsement from, renowned scholars like A L Basham of the University of London (and later Head of Department of Oriental Civilization at The Australian National University), Robert Bosc, S.J of the Institut Cath-olique de Paris, Institut d’Etudes Sociales, Action Populaire, France, Dr. J M Mehta, Vice-Chancellor, M S University Baroda, legendary geographer O H K Spate, eminent historians R N Mehta, D C Sircar and Professor Herbert J Wood and noted scholar A D Pusalker. He has authored several books across different spheres including ancient history, religion, spirituality, humanism and languages.



Thursday, August 01, 2019

Chittaranjan Locomotive Works of the Spiritual Realm - I




Note: This thought piece is a two-part personal tribute to an unassuming master in our midst, yet it is universal in significance given the sheer perspicacity and pertinence of his wit and wisdom. The locomotive of his conviction steers several intellectual carriages ripe with invigorating insights and infinite possibilities across different disciplines and domains. A dialogue with him is never overbearing, given his trademark lyrical elaboration on even the most clinical phenomena. It's the dignified poise of his freewheeling narration that makes even an intricate subject like spirituality so very delightfully inclusive. If my tribute inspires some of the readers to develop the keenness to probe deeper even into the seemingly obvious, I would consider the effort sanctified, way more than fulfilling.

The span 2003-2004 was one of the most trying phases of my life. The severity of the IT downturn was at its peak, the futility of a career in business analysis and marketing communications with a series of confused IT set ups was beginning to hit me hard, I was deeply pained by the dark side of software development, where the same old devils of power distance, ruthless ambition and narcissism were at play and where a handful of smart and wily operators merrily ruled over a veritable but vulnerable majority. The Machiavellian machinations in a prior career stint had caused me great anguish, the mounting pressure of feeding and sheltering a growing family was driving me crazy and key familial relationships were turning sour, thanks to my dwindling finances and fractured reputation in social circles. But all distress paled into insignificance before my mom’s ill health. She was grappling with the ruthless invasion of secondary breast cancer; she was literally on her death bed although it never seemed so, partly because of my wishful thinking and partly because of her exceptional courage in locking horns with the ghastly blows of the terminal disease. Just when she was getting closer to the ultimate voyage, I joined a new IT set up, a nondescript offshoot of a banking major, in the capacity of a pre-sales consultant. The work environment was homely, thanks to a young bunch of staffers – a great blend of innocence and ignorance - who sincerely believed that the pre-sales function was a more dignified name for a postman’s job, one who gathered tidbits from different departments to prepare a harried response to RFPs and RFIs, adorned with the choicest content droplets duly cut-copied-pasted from the highly magnanimous ocean called the internet. This work culture didn’t bother me much, thanks to my heavy baggage of woes and the company of few selfless co-workers like the tall and lanky Ajit Nair, whose unconditional smile was one of the few bright spots of my tenure.

Shunning aside the despondency over my mom’s health, I devoted all my time in preparing a data migration concept paper which I named Songbird (pitted against Hummingbird, an established productized offering) and archived it in our central repository. Any spare time was spent frantically surfing the internet to find some miracle cure for my mom’s condition. One fine day, thanks to the overzealous nature of one of my colleagues, my concept paper was informally shared with a group that had been chosen for generating business in the US. The group head, a man of fickle morals, unabashedly claimed ownership, nay authorship, over the paper. The group went on to win a couple of prized US contracts based solely on the paper’s conceptual merit. Needless to say, I was happy to see my effort bear fruit for the company but I was distraught at having been ignored in such crude fashion. To make matters worse, which is a favorite preoccupation of fate, my mom passed away.

One dynamic individual – the benevolent head of my department known for his cheerful disposition and non-interfering ways - helped me rise above the helplessness that my situation had thrust upon me. In his august company, I was able to lend remarkable grace to my silent mourning. I still remember him handing over a copy of Yog Vashisth and introducing me to the transcendental universe of Ramana Maharshi and his teachings. Over time, I had the opportunity to discuss a host of issues with him, ranging from software to spirituality, academia to industry, and physics to philosophy. I equally relished the brainstorming sessions with him on key proposals and concept papers, including Songbird.

I invariably found him lost in work, seated at his cabin desk even at odd hours. To me, he was always a Yogi in jagrut samadhi, refreshingly different from the 'boss' you would expect in a typical software development firm. His stoic calm in dealing with office matters, his genuine concern for the well being of his team, and the aura of positivity he brought to our mundane affairs…these are experiences I consider my cherished treasures.



Meet Chittaranjan Naik (CN), whose intellect and instinct go way beyond the sum total of his twin degrees: B.Tech in Aeronautical Engineering and M-Tech in Industrial Engineering from IIT Madras. Before the Q and A that seeks to capture the essence of his conviction, vision, mission and values in full measure, it would be prudent to share a biography of sorts.

CN was born in Kumta, Karnataka, on the 24th of July, 1954. About a year later, his father, who then served in the State Govt. Civil Services, was transferred to Belgaum. After a three-year stint in Belgaum, he was transferred to Bangalore where CN spent all his schooling years. He was enrolled into an English school; his father reckoned it apt for seeding the dream career he had in mind for his son, as an IAS officer. CN’s initial schooling happened in an English school run by the Anglo-Indian staff of the Indian railways. He subsequently moved to the up-end Bishop Cottons School where he studied right up to the 11th standard, which was the time he appeared for the Indian School certificate exams, then called the Senior Cambridge exams.

The next seven years of his life – from 1971 to 1978 - were spent at the coveted IIT Madras, five for B-Tech and two for M-Tech. During the early B-Tech years, CN was engulfed by the wave of a new age anti-establishment movement which encapsulated the hippie movement. Overtly consumed by an elusive angst, he yearned to seek blissful refuge in the natural bounties of the earth; this was the time he also experimented with marijuana to the accompaniment of folk-rock music of the late sixties and seventies.


College Life

It was during his M-Tech days that his life underwent a momentous change. In 1977, he had a powerful epiphanic experience that blessed him with a deep visceral insight into the nature of reality and the realm of the spiritual world. The undercurrent of that experience has not left him ever since; it has become a predominant guiding influence at work and in life.

The litany of spiritual experiences that followed left him intensely averse to seek the beaten track of employment for paving a lucrative career path. He refused a campus interview offer of a prized job at TCS and spent the whole year poring over different books on philosophy and religion, both Indian and Western. But since he couldn’t live off his father’s income forever and could not take up sannyasa either; he took up the first job offer that came his way in April 1979, with the well-known PSU Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilizers Ltd (RCF).


At the RCF desk

He was with RCF for a good 18 years. For the first five years, he worked in the Management Services Department, on the planning and execution of the world’s largest fertilizer project. The next 13 were spent in seeding and establishing the IT wing of the organization. Notwithstanding the meager financial compensation, he considers the experience at RCF as the high point of his career.


With the then Minister of Fertilizers and Chemicals

From Aug 1997 to Dec 2000, he worked as the General Manager of Information Systems at the Corporate Office of a reputed media house. This was the tenure which had him work hard to build a dream only to watch it turn sour. This tryst proved a mixed bag of experience, financially rewarding and challenging work-wise but cursed with a disastrously abrupt end, right in the middle of a roller-coaster transformation initiative, due to a conflict between the group owner and the CEO.

In Dec 2000, CN teamed up with a friend, a well-known IT professional, in his endeavor to build a maverick company, riding on the buoyant IT wave of the time. CN was given the eminent title of Executive Director. But soon after, the IT boom went bust, and the dream turned into a nightmare. There were massive salary cuts, and a total shutdown seemed imminent. It was during this unsparing phase that he learnt what it means to run a small business, how to steer it through its bleakest period, how to diligently follow up on collections so that the minimum-salaries of employees could be paid, how to keep the teams motivated at all times, and how to bring things back to a minimum level of comfort.

In March 2003, after a total financial washout, CN joined an IT setup that was backed by the enormous financial clout of, and guaranteed business from, a well known bank. He reckoned it had the kind of stable foundations that could take it to great heights, but somewhere something was amiss: the setup lacked an inspired leader and an inspirational guiding theme; it revolved more around the one-dimensional idea that the company was an investment opportunity for financial returns and growth. The company simply went on a reckless acquisition spree without adequate planning for assimilating the acquired companies into the organization. CN was deeply pained by the fact that the venture failed to make the most of the human resource talent it possessed.


An outing with colleagues

By 2007, CN had had enough of corporate life. From 1998, he had been participating in philosophy discussions, firstly on The Philosopher’s Magazine (UK) Discussion Forum (now defunct), and then in two Vedanta forums. In Nov 2007, he decided to devote more time to the spiritual pursuit and resigned from his job, despite being a good 6.5 years away from retirement age.
He did part-time consulting work for a couple of years but called it quits in August 2011. Since then, he is busy reviving the Indian intellectual tradition that was thriving till the 17th century but which is lost on most people today. His mission is aimed at bringing together the scholars of Indian knowledge-systems, who are still in our midst, and promoting an exchange between their ideas and those of the contemporary world. He is aware that the task is monumental, with a slim chance of success, but he is pursuing it as an integral part of his spiritual sadhana.


Moving on to the Q and A…


How was life during your growing-up years? Can you describe a typical school day?

There were two distinct strands to my life during those years. The first was fashioned by the schooling I underwent in Bangalore; the second was shaped in the lap of nature during the time I spent in my native village. My father was among the first generation in the family to migrate from the country to the city. Having studied up to BSc (Hons), he wanted me to get the best of education, so he enrolled me into Bishop Cottons even though he could ill afford it at that time. So, there I was, a modest lower middle-class student traveling six kilometers to and fro in a bus, while some of my schoolmates came to school from the plush areas of the city in lavish Impala cars. The dichotomy between my background and theirs instilled in me a sense of inferiority. It took me some time to get over that feeling and return to my natural boyish spontaneity. But once I had got over the culture shock, school was fun, both in terms of academics and sports. Subsequently, I developed a liking for physics and literature. I was motivated by some remarkable and unforgettable teachers. All my school-day interests have stayed with me all my life unlike my interest in cricket. I had a large measure of it during my school days, but the passion disappeared when I entered college.

The second strand has perhaps had a more intimate influence on me. The summer and winter visits to my native place – a small village near Kumta in Karnataka called Valgalli where my grandparents lived - have left an indelible mark on my mind. Set among verdant hills and forests, it was a remarkably beautiful place, with flowing streams and stilled lakes nestled among wooded hills. The place was teeming with birds of many varieties, of various hues and colours, flying, diving into the water, or flitting about from tree to tree. In that veritable Garden of Eden, it seemed to me that nature had come alive on a shimmering canvas of life. And the mystery of the night, with no electricity to mar the beauty of the night-sky, I am afraid, is lost forever. The images and memories that have been imprinted on my mind from those visits define for me a pristine world, and even today my mind often descends on it in solitary flights.


Who were your childhood idols and friends ? Are you still in touch with any?

I am not sure if I had childhood idols in the sense of having overtly idolized anyone. I had childhood friends, of course, with whom I shared close camaraderie. I am still in touch with a few of them though the communication is now sparse.Having said that, I need to mention the individuals I idolized; the fact that I idolized them was hidden in my sub-conscious mind, and it was only years later that I realized who they were and how deeply I was bound to them by something more than mere admiration. One of them was my maternal grandfather, or more accurately my maternal grandfather’s brother. As a young man, he had walked 600 km on foot to meet Sri Ramana Maharshi and had stayed with the Maharshi for a few days. On returning from Arunachalashrama, he renounced the world and lived in a small hut on the outskirts of Kumta. He stayed there for the next 40 years or so, contemplating on the atman, immersed in it and speaking of nothing but the atman. My visits to my native place always included a visit to his humble hut. I was too young and inexperienced then to realize the significance of his achievements, but I was struck by the singularity of his purpose accompanied by the joyous spontaneity that characterized his persona. Somewhere in my sub-conscious mind it seemed to me that this is the way one should live, in unassuming simplicity, attuned to the rhythm of nature’s will. It was only years later, when I had a better grasp of the meaning of the spiritual life, that the magnitude of his spiritual achievements, and the realization that I was then in the presence of an unsung hero, struck me like it should. Needless to say, he remains as an exemplar in my own spiritual quest.

The story of how I discovered the other childhood idol of mine would sound incredible, even bizarre, to most people. I must have been around 12 years of age when someone gifted a book to my father. That book was kept in the drawer of a wooden table in the living room of our house. One day I opened the drawer of the table and found a book, staring at me. As I read the title of the book – Dialogues of Plato - an uncanny feeling enveloped me. There was something intensely familiar about that book and its title. I had never heard of Plato before, yet, as I stared at the book, I had an intense feeling of Déjà Vu, as if it reminded me of something from my own past. Four years passed by and I forgot all about this incident. Then one day, when my English teacher was reading out a passage from Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’, I had the same feeling. The passage was a citation from Plato’s dialogue called ‘Alcibiades’. Nehru was quoting Alcibiades to show that a large section of the Indian populace was affected by Gandhi in the same manner as Alcibiades was by Socrates. I was entranced by those words and I had the same experience linked with Dialogues of Plato. Why was it that the mention of Plato, or Socrates, should suggest something to me and affect me in this way? I had no answer to the question. The answer came 10 years later, in the year 1979. I was attending an extended program on Project Management at NITIE in Mumbai. One weekend, whilst most of the other participants had gone out to the city, I stayed back and visited the Institute’s library instead. There, on one of the shelves, I came across the book ‘Last Days of Socrates’ by Plato. I turned its pages and began to read one of the dialogues. It was the Phaedo. As I read on, a strange thrill went through my being, for I knew that this was not something I was reading for the first time! I already knew Plato’s philosophy! And I even knew what was going to come in the next few pages. I had never read Plato before, and I had heard that it was not an easy thing to fathom his philosophy but here was his philosophy, opened out to me like the pages of my own heart! As I have mentioned before, all this may sound bizarre to most people but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a previous birth of mine, I was one of those youths who had followed Socrates through the streets of Athens looking upon him wide-eyed as he debated and cross-questioned the Sophists and gentry of Greece.


How was your academic performance at school?

It wasn’t too bad. I usually ranked between 2nd and 6th but I never topped the class. Even in the ISC Board exam, I missed the top position in school by 5 marks and the 10th rank in the state by 7 marks. That’s how it has been all along. But even though I might have never topped the class, I did manage to hit the nadir once. It was when I was in the 6th standard. I was so self-assured that I would always be among the first five or six but when the results were out, I found myself ranked 24th in the class of 30! That was a good lesson to me: to never take anything for granted and to keep my presumptuousness in check!


What were your favorite subjects during your formative years?

Physics and English literature. I also loved mathematics initially, but by the time I had moved to college, it had become a love-hate relationship, as I did not fancy losing sight of the semantics while focusing on the syntactical rules - as mathematics entails - especially when dealing with long and complex equations. This has a deep philosophical significance and I realized it only in recent years after I had started my explorations into the foundations of logic.

My love for literature began quite early, during one of my childhood visits to my native place. My grandfather was a freedom fighter and later the headmaster of the village school. He had collected a large number of books, and among them were English classics by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jonathon Swift, Nathaniel Hawthorne, to name a few. These books had no readers in the house, so they had found their way into the attic, or ‘atta’ as it is called in Kannada. That is where I discovered them, generously layered with dust. I began to read them, often while sitting on the branch of some tree or the other in the large orchard that my grandfather had developed and nurtured, and I must say the environment provided a delightful setting for getting acquainted with the pleasures of English literature. Later, I moved on to Wordsworth and Shelley, Shakespeare and the Greek Classics, thanks also to an appreciation of poetry and prose instilled in me by my English teacher.

Meanwhile, I had also been reading books on science, and it fueled my abiding interest in two areas: physics and aeronautics. I had a habit of exploring beyond the boundaries of school textbooks and by the time I had passed out of school I had learnt a fair bit of aerodynamics, aircraft control systems, propulsion systems and astronautics. Alongside classic literature, I became an avid reader of science fiction as well as of books on history of aviation. Around this time, I took up aeromodelling as a hobby and was happy to fly self-built rubber-band-powered aircrafts for all of 90 seconds!


To be continued…