Mumbai Memoir – OMG! It looks like London!
Heritage walks are all about admiring the architecture, statues, visiting institutions and getting a feel of the bygone era. One enjoys visualizing about the past and ‘how it could have been then’, as one observes the details of the heritage site. Last week I visited the Ballard Estate which is situated in South Mumbai. As I entered the precinct, the ambiance around startled me. Having visited London in 2012, I could sense enormous similarities between the look of Ballard Estate and few of London’s streets known for their business activities! My eyes confused my mind of being in London, but my skin (feeling the heat of 34 degree centigrade) gave me a reality check about being in Mumbai!
Ballard Estate is named after the first chairman of Bombay Port Trust, Colonel John. Alex Ballard. The Bombay Port was primarily developed to boost the maritime trade of the British East India Company which controlled its activities since 1668. In 1873 the British Crown ordered the establishment of an autonomous Port Trust, which still functions as Mumbai Port Trust. The Bombay Port Trust reclaimed 22 acres of land in this area between 1914 and 1918. A Scottish architect, George Wittet, was commissioned to design the buildings at the estate which would match European style facades in the first ever business district of Bombay, that was envisioned by Ballard. Besides the Ballard Estate, George Wittet is highly acknowledged for his neo-Edwardian architectural work in Mumbai. The Gateway of India, Prince of Wales museum, Bombay House (global headquarters of Tata Group of Companies), and Institute of Science are few of Wittet’s creations which South Mumbai proudly showcases. The uniformity, the domes, the statues and the solid stone structures of buildings at Ballard Estate gives a ‘London-like’ feel as one strolls around.
The south-east end of the estate touches the Arabian Sea thus it was natural for many shipping companies to flourish around Ballard Pier. An Indian Parsi named Sir Lovji N. Wadia secured contracts with the British East India Company to build ships and docks in Bombay. Most of the ships built by the Wadias were either included in the British Royal Navy or bought by commercial maritime traders. It is believed that the national anthem of the United States of America, ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, was written by Francis Scot Key, aboard the British ship HMS Minden, which too was built by the Wadias in 1810! It was a small world even in those days!
I was thrilled to know that during the colonial rule, a Port Trust Railway service too existed ! The cargo train which plied between Ballard Estate and Wadala, transported cotton, grains, oil, minerals, china clay etc. The Frontier Mail too chugged on the same tracks that would take passengers from the port all the way to Peshawar in Pakistan!
British business establishments like Messrs. Mackinnon Mackenzie and Company, British India Steam Navigation Company, Lloyd Triestino Company, Burmah-Shell Oil and Distribution Company and numerous shipping, banking and insurance companies, were the first to set their offices at the Ballard Estate. Over the passage of time, the estate gained tremendous prestige and commercial status as the corporate sector of Bombay gradually took roots here. Nariman Point & Fort areas of Mumbai are later developments that are currently acknowledged for giving Mumbai its identity of being the financial capital of India. Today various international business institutions have established their prime offices at the Ballard Estate. Business centres of Reliance Group, Voltas, State Bank of India, Larsen & Toubro etc are seen around as one drives through the estate.
As I reached the War Memorial roundabout, I realized that Ballard Estate has more character to it than just being associated with trade and commerce. During the First World War the Indian employees of the Bombay Port Trust served shoulder to shoulder along with the British to supply military provisions, hospital services and supervised the operation of 1,870,000 troops that embarked and disembarked at the docks!
In the last lap of my heritage walk, I visited Britania and Company Restaurant to grab a bite. It is a popular food joint that dishes out Parsi and Iranian food. Established in 1923, the 92 year old owner, Mr. Boman Kohinoor, still actively attends the local and international guests, who visit the restaurant to relish the Chicken & Mutton Berry Pulao (scented & spicy rice non-vegetarian preparation) that the restaurant is popular for. The recipe of the Pulao is a close guarded secret and is a hybrid of Indo-Iranian cuisine, which the owner’s wife introduced in 1982. The custard pie that I tasted at the restaurant was delicious too. As I relished the sweet dish, I was leisurely browsing through the photographs that I clicked during my heritage walk. It seemed as if every nook and corner of Ballard Estate was blessed by the Roman Goddess Britannia (the female personification of Great Britain)!
I further reflected that presently Mumbai accounts for 25% industrial output, 5% of India’s GDP and also 70% of the capital transactions in Indian economy. It dawned on me that the genesis of such impressive economics started from none other place than Ballard Estate! Undoubtedly the estate just doesn’t look like London, but has also performed like London which eventually has elevated the financial standards of the “city of dreams” – that’s Mumbai!
Photo courtesy: Aditya Chichkar/ Shraddha Sankulkar/Free Internet Source