Mumbai Memoir 104- Mumbai’s Ballard Estate- A vintage feel
Mumbai is called ‘the city of dreams’, because anyone aspiring to dream big is hopeful that the megalopolis will absorb them and offer opportunities to help them grow on their socio-economic standards. When the Portuguese acquired the island of Bombay from the British during the 17th century, it was a laid-back fishing village. After the British East India company started realising the commercial importance of Mumbai its then the city started taking baby steps towards economic development and eventually evolved in a ‘giant’ commercial hub, which is the case today. Here’s a video link that gives a glimpse of the early 20th century Mumbai (then called as Bombay). https://youtu.be/TVttjzkuOMs
Today, Mumbai contributes 25% industrial output, 5% of India’s GDP and also 70% of the capital transactions to Indian economy. Today posh offices and business centres are seen sprawling all over Mumbai. BKC (Bandra-Kurla-Complex), developed in the 1990s and Nariman Point developed in 1970s, are the most obvious commercial hubs, where Mumbai’s financial heartbeats are heard, but very few Mumbai’kars know that Ballard Pier area is where the genesis of Mumbai’s economic development happened.
Ballard Estate, located in South Mumbai, 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!
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 & BKC 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. As one drives through the estate, business centres of Reliance Group, Voltas, State Bank of India, Larsen & Toubro etc are seen around. The vintage feel of the estate serves as a paradox for the modern state of the art interiors of the offices that stand proudly in Mumbai’s first ever commercial precincts called Ballard Estate.
Shraddha. C. Sankulkar & Free Internet Sources