a walk down ballard estate

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.


an introduction to mumbai

To begin my quest-of-sorts, I enlisted help and was promptly presented with a book that was probably heavier than me: Bombay (The Cities Within) by Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehotra. All I knew about Mumbai before this came from an ICSE textbook where doodlings prevailed over what visible information there was. The city had been gifted to King Charles II as dowry by the Portuguese who promptly gave it to the East India Company. That was well known fact. What I didn’t know was that Charles leased the city to the Company for the paltry sum of 10 pounds.

10 pounds. That number really shocked me. While it’s true that 10 pounds was worth more in the 1600s- actually about a hundred pounds in today’s money, King Charles didn’t want or like the city and pawned it off without realizing its value. Of course, the city did not seem like much back then, a rough composition of several islands and a manor house belonging to the Portuguese physician Garcia de Orta. 10 pounds though- I’d have gone straight for Hawaii..

The Company wanted to equip Bombay as a stronghold against the Portuguese but realized its potential for trade along the West Coast also. The population expanded rapidly as merchants (both local and European) were encouraged to sell and ship their wares from the newly built ports. There were established connections with Persia, the Arabian Gulf, Africa, China and Malacca (a city in Malaysia that I had no clue even existed).

Due to the sudden and unexpected expansion of the city, there was not much architectural structure, but rather new settlements added and islands connected every day. This would be a factor for some of the chaos that Mumbai is in today, because of the lack of planning 100s of years ago.

I was more interested by the concept that Mumbai was a bunch of separate islands, and that even by the 1800s, most the city was under water. It’s really weird to imagine that the land that we eat, sleep and live on was probably mulchy swamp or seawater years ago. Of course a whole new level of weirdness can be reached if you stop to consider the fact that dinosaurs might have used your living room for a battleground in the Mesozoic era (I had to google that, wasn’t really channeling my inner Ross Geller today).

Centuries passed and the population of Mumbai would continue to expand to 18 million (about three times that of Singapore). Today there is so much history visible in Mumbai- from the old stations to the gothic buildings but unfortunately all that is a crumbling façade with no maintenance. I did want to find out more about   Mumbai though and decided to start with a historical walk along Ballad estate-next week.


mumbai from another eye

Growing up as a child, my parents took me on multiple trips to Mumbai to meet family and friends.  Inevitably, we would end up rushing from one wedding to another party to somebody’s house for dinner. I saw the city through the backseats of cars and taxis as we drove down Walkeshwar or to Mazgaon.

There were brief glimpses of the Mumbai you see on the Incredible India buses; a day spent at Byculla zoo (Bhau Daji Lad) or buying cheap bangles amidst the bazaar and feeding pigeons peanuts at the Gateway of India before being whisked away to a family brunch.

Then, when we moved to Mumbai, I saw the city in a completely different light. Going to the YMCA for after school practices, meeting friends at restaurants to party and shopping, eating, movie-watching at Inox and mall ratting at Palladium.

It took me three years and months from various visits to realize something: I hadn’t seen Mumbai- and I desperately wanted to. The small roads and back lanes tucked in with art galleries, the street food culture, colonial buildings with vintage shops and cafes, streets of nothing but knockoff shirts, temples, churches and museums, bazaars and markets. I wanted to see my city properly, and not through the tinted glasses of a student but through the eyes of somebody who wanted to explore every nook and cranny.

As summer was here and I had plenty of time to kill, I decided to rediscover Mumbai, or at least parts of Mumbai and then publish it on this blog to share with all of you. Sitting at my computer, I’m not quite sure how to rediscover a city, but I do know that I’ll go on walks, tours, confront these big coffee table books we have about photography on the city and take pictures all while at it. Ending, or beginning rather, with a quote by Jerry Pinto whose ‘A Bear for Felicia’ introduced me to Mumbai when I was younger.

In this city, every deserted street corner conceals a crowd. It appears in a minute when something disrupts the way in which the world is supposed to work. It can disappear almost as instantaneously. -Jerry Pinto


to go sailing

My exams were over; the school year had ended. New term would begin in a week and I wanted to make the most of the short time I had. Something else besides binge-watching Netflix, hanging out with friends, or lazing away the time- I needed to something different but I wasn’t sure what to do.

Luckily, a family friend made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: a day out in a sailboat over the ocean. We straight up accepted, after all what could be better than a healthy dosage of Vitamin Sea?

As we left for the Bombay harbor, I realized there was a lot to learn. I began by asking our guide plenty of random questions that conveyed my ignorance about sailing. Of course I knew that the oars were just in the boat for backup and no I didn’t just call dibs on using the smaller one. The name of the boat we were sailing in was the Ibis who stretched 20 ft long.

Out between the array of various boats that dotted the docks, I climbed into our sailboat and sat meekly while our guide expertly began to open the mast and white sail. The boat caught a breeze instantly and after yanking and sliding of various ropes, headed into the green blue sea. Every now and then, the main sheet of the boat would need to be tightened to regulate the wind it was receiving. The boat would lean to one side, at such an angle that I could easily skim my fingers across the sea.

Not that I’d want to though, as the harbor was packed with speedboats, yachts, and those big travel boats that left fumes in the sea as they churned up garbage from the depths below. The sun was overhead and glinted off the waves which made them shine and sparkle. When the breeze changed, or buoys blocked our path, the mast was adjusted (we all had to duck) and we would begin to pull and tug at the ropes, twisting them around the grooves of the boat.

Our voyage was going well until a gust of wind blew my family friend, Uncle Ravi’s hat off. The sailing expedition had now become a mission to retrieve the hat before it was lost to the waves. Desperation set in as we made turn after turn but sure enough, a soaking hat was pulled out of the waves a few minutes later. I was even lucky enough to spot a dolphin a couple minutes later and two faux sea turtles that turned out to be plastic bags.


After passing miles of buoys and lighthouses, we turned around. The sun had been overhead when we started but was now sinking slowly into the horizon. I clambered off the boat to recover my sea legs and possibly get a glass of water- not salty if you’d please.