I’d only been to Ballard Estate once or twice before and I actually knew nothing about the area, so when I heard that Inheritage walks was organising a tour I decided to sign up. Inheritage walks is run by Alisha Sadikot, a passionate historian who managed to keep me interested in Ballard Estate for two whole hours- no easy feat as even a 30 minute history class has me drifting off.
The walk began with a brief introduction to the history of Mumbai. In the last post- I might have mentioned Garcia de Ortez, the Portuguese physician and botanist. (check it out here). It turns out that what I didn’t know was that de Ortez was a secretly practicing Jew. This was important as the Portuguese had deep Catholic beliefs and made concerted efforts to convert people. When they found out Garcia’s secret- years after his death- they dug up his corpse and burnt it. Pleasant.
Fast forward to the islands coming under control of the East India Company. The Company was desperate to make profits in this mulchy swamp land and decided to advertise the islands as the New Ports. They promised citizens religious freedom and tolerance. Traders and merchants began arriving by the dozens and land from hills all around was used to patch up the swamp. Standing on the steps of the Asiatic library (and old town hall) Alisha showed us a picture of Hornimans circle and the city beyond. I had not realized- but the city was designed exactly like the Vatican, sprawling Greek and Roman style buildings.
We began walking into Ballard Estate and I had my mind blown yet again when I was reminded that we were standing on what was once the sea. As years passed, the ports and docks extended and there was also significant shift in the architectural style of the buildings. When architect George Wittet was commissioned to design the new port, the face of Bombay, he was appalled at the Gothic architecture used. Plenty of buildings in Bombay incorporated the Gothic style- pointed archways, colored bricks, carvings of elaborate animals, flowers and leaves. Some of the best examples are the VT station and Rajabai Clock tower.
George Wittet preferred clean lines and modern interpretations of Greek and Roman architecture with curved arches, plain buildings and large windows. Therefore, much of Ballard estate really could be a street down London or somewhere else in Europe.
The sun was overhead and my feet were considerably hurting (I’d made the mistake of pretending I could fit into old converse shoes). As the walk got over and we posed for a picture, I bared my teeth in what I hoped resembled a smile and ignored the blisters down below.
^ Hamilton studios, the oldest photography studios in Mumbai.