yet modern, fabulously rich yet achingly poor.
city of Bombay originally consisted of seven islands, namely Colaba,
Mazagaon, Old Woman's Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, and Matunga-Sion. This
group of islands, which have since been joined together by a series of
reclamations, formed part of the kingdom of Ashoka, the famous Emperor of
his death, these islands passed into the hands of various Hindu rulers
until 1343. In that year, the Mohammedans of Gujerat took possession and
the Kings of that province of India ruled for the next two centuries. The
only vestige (mark) of their dominion over these islands that remains
today is the mosque at Mahim.
1534 the Portuguese, who already possessed many important trading centers
on the western coast, such as Panjim, Daman, and Diu, took Bombay by force
of arms from the Mohammedans. This led to the establishment of numerous
churches which were constructed in areas where the majority of people were
Roman Catholics. There used to be two areas in Bombay called
"Portuguese Church". However, only one church with
Portuguese-style facade still remains; it is the St. Andrew's church at
Bandra. The Portuguese also fortified their possession by building forts
at Sion, Mahim, Bandra, and Bassien which, although in disrepair, can
still be seen. They named their new possession as "Bom Baia"
which in Portuguese means "Good Bay".
hundred and twenty-eight years later the islands were given to the English
King Charles II in dowry on his marriage to Portuguese Princess Catherine
of Braganza in 1662. In the year 1668 the islands were acquired by the
English East India Company on lease from the crown for an annual sum of 10
pounds in gold; so little did the British value these islands at that
time. The Company, which was operating from Surat, was in search for
another deeper water port so that larger vessels could dock, and found the
islands of Bombay suitable for development. The shifting of the East India
Company's headquarters to Bombay in 1687 led to the eclipse of Surat as a
principal trading center. The British corrupted the Portuguese name "Bom
Baia" to "Bombay". The Kolis used to call the islands
"Mumba" after Mumbadevi, the Hindu deity to whom a temple is
dedicated at Babulnath near Chowpatty's sandy beaches.
first Parsi to arrive in Bombay was Dorabji Nanabhoy Patel in 1640. The
Parsis, originally from Iran, migrated to India about 900 years ago. This
they did to save their religion, Zoroastrianism, from invading Arabs who
proselytized Islam. However, in 1689-90, when a severe plague had struck
down most of the Europeans, the Siddi Chief of Janjira made several
attempts to re-possess the islands by force, but the son of the former, a
trader named Rustomji Dorabji Patel (1667-1763), successfully warded off
the attacks on behalf of the British with the help of the 'Kolis', the
original fisher-folk inhabitants of these islands. The remnants of the
Koli settlements can still be seen at Backbay reclamation, Mahim, Bandra,
Khar, Bassien and Madh island.
George Oxenden became the first British Governor of the islands, and was
succeeded later by Mr. Gerald Aungier who made Bombay more populous by
attracting Gujerati traders, Parsi ship-builders, and Muslim and Hindu
manufacturers from the mainland. He fortified defenses by constructing the
Bombay Castle (the Fort, since then vanished except for a small portion of
the wall) and provided stability by constituting courts of law.
1822 and 1838, cattle from the congested fort area used to graze freely at
the Camp Maidan (now called Azad Maidan), an open ground opposite the
Victoria Terminus. In 1838, the British rulers introduced a 'grazing fee'
which several cattle-owners could not afford. Therefore, Sir Jamshedji
Jeejeebhoy spent Rs. 20,000 from his own purse for purchasing some
grasslands near the seafront at Thakurdwar and saw that the starving
cattle grazed without a fee in that area. In time the area became to be
known as "Charni" meaning grazing. When a railway station on the
BB&CI railway was constructed there it was called Charni Road.
Zoroastrian Towers of Silence on Malabar hill were built by Seth Modi
Hirji Vachha in 1672. The Zoroastrians believe in venerating the earth,
fire, and water and hence they prefer to expose their dead to the elements
and flesh-eating birds within the confines of the Towers of Silence. The
first fire-temple was also built in the same year by Seth Vachha opposite
his residence at Modikhana within the British fort. Both of the these
structures can still be seen today although they have been expanded and
inroads of the sea at Worli, Mahim, and Mahalaxmi turned the ground
between the islands into swamps making Bombay an extremely unhealthy place
at that time. Many commuters going to the Fort by boat between islands
lost their lives when there was a storm during the monsoons (July to
September). During the next 40 years much was done to improve matters.
Reclamation work to stop the breeches at Mahalaxmi and Worli were
undertaken. The Hornby Vellard was completed in 1784, during the
Governorship of Mr. Hornby. In 1803 Bombay was connected with Salsette by
a causeway at Sion. The island of Colaba was joined to Bombay in 1838 by a
causeway now called Colaba Causeway and the Causeway connecting Mahim and
Bandra was completed in 1845 at the total cost of Rs.1,57,000 donated
entirely by Lady Avabai Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, wife of the first baronet
Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy with a stipulation that no toll would be charged
to citizens for its use by the government. Initially the cost was
estimated at Rs.100,000 but as the work commenced in 1842 the cost
escalated. When the initial sum was exhausted and work about to stop Lady
Jeejeebhoy once again dipped in to her personal purse with a second
donation to the treasury of Rs.57,000.
Robert Grant (1779-1838) governed Bombay from 1835 to 1838 and was
responsible for the construction of a number of roads between Bombay and
the hinterland. The Thana and Colaba Causeways were built during his
tenure as well as the Grant Medical College attached to the Sir Jamshedji
Jeejeebhoy (J.J.) Group of hospitals.
Saturday 16th of April, 1853 a 21-mile long railway line, the first in
India, between Bombay's Victoria Terminus and Thana was opened. The Great
Indian Peninsular (GIP) and the Bombay Baroda and Central India
(BB&CI) Railway were started in 1860 and a regular service of steamers
on the west coast was commenced in 1869. Also during this period Bombay
enjoyed great economic wealth. Raw cotton from Gujerat was shipped to
Lancashire in England through Bombay port, and after being spun and woven
into cloth, returned to be sold in the Indian market. The outbreak of the
American Civil War in 1861 increased the demand for cotton in the West and
several personal fortunes were made during this period from the resulting
trade. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought the West closer to
Bombay, and as the city became more prosperous, many schemes were launched
for reclaiming additional land and building more roads and wharves. Bombay
began to attract fortune hunters by the hundreds and the population had
swelled from 13,726 in 1780 to 644,405 in 1872, in a little less than a
hundred years. By 1906 the population of Bombay was to become 977,822.
1858, following the First War of Independence (the British called it the
"Sepoy Mutiny") of 1857 in which the Rani of Jhansi and her
infant son strapped on her back were killed, the East India Company was
accused of mismanagement and the islands reverted to the British Crown. In
1862 Sir Baartle Frere was appointed Governor, an office which he held
until 1867. By 1862 the town had spread over the lands reclaimed through
constructions of causeways and it is from this date we have the rise of
the modern city of Bombay. In 1864 a fountain was to be erected in his
honour at the Victoria Gardens by the Agri-Horticultural Society of
Western India. Somehow, the plans were changed at the last moment and the
fountain, named after the Greek goddess Flora, was placed in the centre of
the city on what used be known as Hornby Road. Unfortunately, no plaque
was placed on the fountain to commemorate the name of Governor in whose
memory it was supposed to have been erected.
1860 the piped water supply from Tulsi and Vehar lakes (and later Tansa)
was inaugurated. One reform which met with much superstitious opposition,
before it was implemented, was the sealing and banning the use of water
from open wells and tanks that bred mosquitoes. A good drainage system was
also constructed at the same time. However, several decades later, the
same wells were to serve Bombay by providing non-potable water to
supplement the same from the lakes. This was true especially during those
years when the monsoons failed to provide sufficient water in the
catchment areas of the lakes. However, well water is now used all over the
city to supplement the water received from the lakes.
later half of the 19th century was also to see a feverish construction of
buildings in Bombay, many of which such as, the Victoria Terminus, the
General Post Office, Municipal Corporation, the Prince of Wales Museum,
Rajabai Tower and Bombay University, Elphinstone College and the Cawasji
Jehangir Hall, the Crawford Market, the Old Secretariat (Old Customs
House) and the Public Works Department (PWD) Building, still stand today
as major landmarks. The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the
visit of king George V and Queen Mary for the Darbar at Delhi in 1911.
docks at Bombay are a monument of the industry, enterprise and integrity
of the Wadia family which moved in from Surat at the instigation of the
British. In 1870 the Bombay Port Trust was formed. In 1872, Jamshedji
Wadia, a master ship-builder constructed the "Cornwalis", a
frigate of 50 guns, for the East India Company, a success which led to
several orders from the British Navy. In all the Wadias, between 1735-1863
built 170 war vessels for the Company, 34 man-of-war for the British Navy,
87 merchant vessels for private firms, and three vessels for the Queen of
Muscat at Bombay docks.
Princess Dock was built in the year 1885 and the Victoria Dock and the
Mereweather Dry Docks in 1891. Alexandra Dock was completed in 1914. The
closing years of the 19th Century were tragic for Bombay as the bubonic
plague caused great destruction of human life once more. One significant
result of the plague was the creation of the City Improvement Trust which
in later years encouraged the development of the suburbs for residential
purposes to remove the congestion in the city.
Bombay's superintendent of police in 1885, Charles Forjett was a favourite
of the Indian people. Many wept openly when he returned to England. He
sacked British constables who unduly harassed the locals and cracked down
on the Parsi mafia which was involved in the liquor business in the
Falkland Road area, which included the famous "Play House" which
the locals corrupted to "pillhouse". The "Pillhouse"
area would acquire notoriety in later years as the infamous
"cages" area housing Bombay's infamous red-light district.
Sandhurst governed Bombay between 1895 and 1900 and it was during his
tenure that the Act was passed which constituted the City Improvement
Trust which, among other things, built the Sandhurst Road in 1910 and
handed it over to the municipality. The Sandhurst Road railway station
(upper level) was built in 1921.
result of a mysterious fire which started in one of its holds, on a very
hot summer's day on Friday April 14, 1944, the ship "Fort Stikine"
(7420 tons) blew up in the Bombay docks. At the time the ship was about to
unload a lethal combination of cargo of dried fish and cotton bales
(loaded from Karachi), timber, gun powder, ammunition, and gold bars from
London (the latter to stabilize the Indian Rupee, which was sagging due to
the Second World War and fear of invasion from Japan). The gold bullion
was valued at approx. two million Pounds Sterling at that time. Nobody is
certain as to how the fire started but the two explosions which followed
were so loud that windows rattled and/or shattered as far away as Dadar, a
distance of 8 miles. The destruction in the docks and surrounding area was
immense and several hundred dock workers were killed instantly. A majority
of brave men of the Bombay Fire Brigade, who answered the call to duty
immediately after the first blast, lost their lives in the second
explosion (a monument has been erected in the docks in their honour). The
population of the city was panic stricken as rumours spread rapidly that
the explosions signaled the commencement of hostilities by the Japanese on
the same style as the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour in the Hawaiian
islands in December 1941. The Japanese were in fact nowhere near Bombay
since they were engaged in fighting a losing battle with the British army
in Burma at that time. Nevertheless, the Bombay Central (BB&CI) and
Victoria Terminus (GIP) stations were packed to capacity with terrorized
people fleeing the city in whichever train they could board for their
villages with all belongings they could carry. At the time of the
explosion, one of the gold bars crashed through the roof of the third
floor apartment of a Parsi named D.C. Motivala more than a mile from the
docks. He promptly returned the gold bar to the authorities. Almost all of
the other gold bars were subsequently recovered from different parts of
the city; the last ones to be found were hauled up from the bottom of the
sea in the docks. However, during normal dredging operations carried out
periodically to maintain the depth of the docking bays one or two gold
bars were found intact sporadically as late as the 1970s and returned to
the British government. The government took full responsibility for the
disaster and monetary compensation was paid to citizens who made a claim
for loss or damage to property.
Port Trust Railway from Ballard Pier to Wadala was opened in 1915. Along
this railway were built grain and fuel oil depots. The kerosene oil
installations were developed at Sewri and for petrol at Wadala. In the
same year the first overhead transmission lines of the Tata Power Company
were erected, and in 1927 the first electric locomotives manufactured by
Metropolitan Vickers of England were put into service for passenger trains
up to Poona and Igatpuri on the GIP railway and later electric multiple
unit (EMUs) commuter trains ran up to Virar on the BB&CI railway and
up to Karjat and Kasara of the GIP railway. During the Second World War
these EMUs were joined together to form long trains which carried troops
and small arms and ammunition to and from Bombay to the hinterland.
Fort (downtown) area in Bombay derives its name from the fact that the
area fell within the former walled city, of which only a small fragment
survives as part of the eastern boundary wall of the St. George's
Hospital. In 1813 there were 10,801 persons living in the fort, 5,464, or
nearly 50%, of them Parsis. With the growth of the city more people came
from the Fort to such suburbs as Byculla, Parel, Malabar Hill, and
Mazagaon. European sports clubs for cricket and other games came in to
existence early in the 19th Century. The Bombay Gymkhana was formed in
1875 exclusively for Europeans. Other communities followed this example,
and various Parsi, Muslim, and Hindu gymkhanas were started nearby with
fierce sports competitions among them being organized on a communal basis.
This was opposed by several secular minded persons, such as the late A.F.S.
Talyarkhan, and sports teams based on community, especially cricket teams,
came to an end gradually after independence from British rule in 1947.
historic session of the All India Congress Committee began on the 7th of
August 1942. Its venue was the Gowalia Tank Maidan, where the congress was
born in 1885. It was at this session that the "Quit India" call
was given by Mahatma Gandhi and other Indian National Congress leaders.
The Indian leaders were arrested by the British soon afterwards but the
momentum of the Quit India movement could not be stopped and led to the
final withdrawal of the British on 15 August 1947. The last British troops
on Indian soil left for England through the archway of the Gateway of
India on that day. They bade farewell from where they had entered 282
years before. The people of Bombay, in a gesture of generosity wished them
bon voyage, forgetting the bitter memories of the fight for independence.
Today the maidan from where the call to "Quit India" was given
is called the "August Kranti Maidan".
independence the Congress party led by Jawaharlal Nehru at the Center was
swept to power in most of the Indian States, which were constituted on the
basis of language spoken by the majority of its people. The Bombay State
included the city as its seat of government. In 1960 the state of Bombay
was split into Maharashtra and Gujarat states again on linguistic basis,
the former retaining Bombay city as its capital. The Congress party
continued to administer Maharashtra until 1994 when it was replaced by the
Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition.
the success of the back-bay reclamation scheme in the late 1960s and early
1970s Nariman Point became the hub of the business activity. Several
offices shifted from the Ballard Estate to Nariman Point which ultimately
became one of the most expensive real estate in the world as high demand
pushed prices to astronomical limits. Nariman Point is named after K.F.
Nariman, president of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee and former
mayor of Bombay. Churchgate Street was also renamed as Veer Nariman Road
Stock Exchange at Bombay was established in 1875 as "The Native Share
and Stockbrokers Association" which has evolved over the decades in
to its present status as the premier Stock Exchange in India. It is one of
the oldest in Asia having preceded even the Tokyo Stock Exchange which was
founded in 1878. In the early days the business was conducted under the
shade of a banyan tree in front of the town hall. The tree can still be
seen in the Horniman Circle Park. In 1850 the Companies Act was passed and
that heralded the commencement of the joint stock companies in India. The
American Civil War of 1860 helped Indians to establish brokerage houses in
Bombay. The leading broker at the time, Premchand Roychand, assisted in
framing conventions, ground rules and procedures for trading which are
respected even now. He was the first Indian broker who could speak and
write in fluent English. The exchange was established with 318 members
with a fee of Re. 1/-. This fee has gradually increased over the years and
today it is a over a crore.
January 1899, the Brokers' Hall was inaugurated by James M. MaClean, M.P.
After the First World War the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) was housed in an
old building near the Town Hall. In 1928, the present plot of land was
acquired surrounded by Dalal Street, Bombay Samachar Marg, and Hammam
Street. A building was constructed in 1930 and occupied in December of
1995 the operations and dealings of the BSE were fully computerized and
thus the famous out-cry system of share trading was replaced by screen
based trading as in other modern stock exchanges around the world. Today
Bombay is the financial and business capital of India. The BSE is housed
in the 28-storied Phiroze Jeejeebhoy Towers in the same place where the
old building once stood. Sir Phiroze Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy was the Chairman
of the Exchange from 1966 till his death in 1980. The building has been
named after him since its construction commenced during his Chairmanship
and was completed just as he passed away.
and abridged from several sources by Dr.
Ardeshir B. Damania