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An Insider’s Guide to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2019

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AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO THE KALA GHODA ARTS FESTIVAL

WORDS BY BHAVIKA THAKKAR

If the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival were a person, it would turn 20 today. That’s as old as a University student — a person old enough to vote and drive. I say this to drive home the measure of time that has passed, making KGAF India’s oldest festival. From a handful of venues in 1999 to over 30 venues today. From 20 programs in 1999 to over 500 programs across 15 sections in 2019. From an eclectic festival to a festival for the people, by the people, KGAF has come a long way. And in its 20th edition, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Editor’s Note: The festival runs from February 2 to 10, 2019. Kindly check the festival website to confirm event times, which are subject to change.

Literature

KGAF Guide_002

Venue: David Sassoon Library Gardens

The Bombay Plan, Sunday Feb 3, 6:45 pm to 7:55 pm

The Bombay Plan was the name given to a set of proposals made in 1944 by leading industrialists of the time — including Jamshedji Tata, Ghanshyam Birla, and Ardeshir Shroff — that detailed the post-Independence economic development for the country. Lord Meghnad Desai, Sanjaya Baru and R. Gopalakrishnan will speak on this unique plan for development in India.

Gandhi Between the Wars, Tuesday Feb 5, 5:10 pm to 6:10 pm

As KGAF commemorates 20 years, we also pay tribute to the Mahatma on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary, with Srinath Raghavan expounding on the American interest in Gandhi between WWI and WWII.

And Justice for More – Section 377, Saturday Feb 9, 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Justice Chandrachud, known for his momentous and eloquently written judgement on Section 377, discusses the implications of Section 377 and the power of the Indian Constitution in safeguarding society.

Children’s Events

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Venue: CSMVS Lawns

Ooey Gooey by Nutty Scientist, Sunday Feb 10, 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

If your kid is nuts about slime, bring them to this hands-on workshop where they can get down and dirty making slime, conduct fantastic experiments, and maybe even make some toothpaste while they’re at it! If you as a parent are cringing, remember: Daag Achhe Hain.

Know Your Art presents SH Raza, Sunday Feb 10, 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Since you’ve already managed to drag the kids out, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn about one of India’s foremost artists SH Raza, using concepts of math, geometry, shape, and colour to create their own unique masterpiece.

Cinema

KGAF Guide_004

Venue: Various (see below)

Hamid, Saturday 2 Feb, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm, Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS

Catch the public premiere of Hamid, the heart-wrenching story of a Kashmiri boy who tries to call Allah on the number 786 after his mother tells him that his father is now with God. The screening will be followed by an interaction with the cast and crew of the film.

Zoo, Sunday 3 Feb, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm, Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS

Shot entirely on an iPhone 6, Zoo is a dark, edgy film that is a must-watch for every film buff. And if you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you should stick around for director Shlok Sharma’s talk on mobile filmmaking.

Actor in Law, Sunday 3 Feb, 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm, Visitor Centre, CSMVS

Actor in Law, made in Pakistan, is veteran actor Om Puri’s last film before his death. After the screening, his wife, Nandita Puri, will look back on the stalwart’s decades-long career.

Food

burma burma vegetarian restaurant fort

Venue: The food section at KGAF this year has moved from stalls vending food to restaurants dishing out a special KGAF menu. From Woodside Inn to Burma Burma, 31 restaurants will partner with the festival to ensure no one goes hungry!

Irani Chai!, Saturday, Feb 9, 9:30 am onwards

If you want to whet your appetite before you gorge, register for Irani Chai! a culinary walk curated by Roxanne Bamboat that will take you on a deep-dive into the Irani cafés in the area. Want more? The walk will end at Coomaraswamy Hall where you can catch the screening of The Last Irani Chai, a filmy ode to Mumbai’s iconic cafes.

Heritage Walks

Churchgate Guide

KGAF has become a pilgrimage of sorts over the years with people from across the country making their way to its hallowed grounds and taking from this the heritage walks this year will all culminate on the main festival street!

Get your walking shoes and get set to explore Mumbai like never before. From Dockyard Road to Dalal Street and Hutatma Chowk to Oval Maidan, the stories on each corner of this city are waiting to be discovered.

Music

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Venue: Various (see below)

Sounds of Vrindavan, Monday Feb 4, 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm, Cross Maidan

Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia will banish all Monday blues as he performs with the students of his Gurukul.

Apache Indian, Saturday Feb 9, 7:55 pm to 8:35 pm, Asiatic Steps / Shaan, Sunday Feb 10, 8:15 pm to 9:45 pm, Asiatic Steps

If you’re a ’90s kid from India, these two names are sure to evoke nostalgia and memories of the Golden Age of pop in India. We all danced to Love-o-logy and Chok There, and it’s time to dust off your dancing shoes from two decades ago and relive the glory of Indian pop music.

Workshops

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Venue: Various (see below)

One of KGAF’s most underrated but most engaging section, the workshops are always somewhere you should visit to complete your festival pilgrimage.

Monday Feb 4, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm, Somaiya Centre

If you’re stressed and need a breather go learn the original art of t’ai chi.

Wednesday 6 Feb, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, Artists’ Centre

Looking to be the next TEDx speaker? Get some tips from Siji Varghese as he shares insights on how you can be the next one up there.

Thursday Feb 7, 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm, Artists’ Centre

Get a slice of the drone pie as Gaurav Singh teaches you how to make your own drone. Then you can plan how to build your own drone army and take over the world.

Sunday, Feb 10, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, Artists’ Centre

If you’re looking to expand your sensory capabilities, learn to create your own piece of art while being blindfolded and, in the process, how to value the use of all your senses.

Feature photograph courtesy the Kala Ghoda Association

 

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Casing The Scene At The Bombay High Court

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CASING THE SCENE AT THE BOMBAY HIGH COURT

The Bombay High Court is the highest court in the state, hearing criminal and civil appeals as well as civil cases in original jurisdiction. Courtrooms are open to the public; photography and audio recording are prohibited on the premises.

Bombay High Court, Fort, Mumbai 400 032

READ MRIGANK WARRIER’S STORY

When a cop arrests your movement outside the Bombay High Court, you immediately fear that all those years of underage drinking have finally caught up with you. But – libertas! – he isn’t hauling me in to trial, he’s simply detaining me from obstructing the Justices, who zoom in through the Judges’ Entrance in sedan after white sedan. Another cop prowls the lawns behind the railings with a revolver, daring someone to do something stupid. Under the portico, white-liveried, red-turbaned bearers wait as their Lordships emerge from their carriages, hand over their briefcases and proceed to their chambers before court.

I expected a silent temple of justice; I found a buzzing airport. Electronic screens display the names of judges, the courtroom over which they will preside, and the number of the case they are currently hearing. As I wait for the elevator, a jocular senior lawyer chitchats with a former client and loudly mentions the name of a junior who just ‘happens’ to be standing in front of him. The embarrassed junior whirls around and greets him, which he acknowledges with a chuckle, then tells me a story:

“Many years ago, I was running late for my case on the third floor. Only one elevator was working, so I took the stairs. Now, you can see that my weight makes it difficult; I got to the first floor and paused for breath, got to the second floor and was panting. By the time I got to the third floor, all the damn lifts had started working!”

And just like that, I am at ease.

Before I know it, the courtroom is full, and there are people standing and blocking my view of the judge’s clerk listening to last-minute pleas, shaking his head, and rifling through his papers with the smug air of one indispensable to both judge and advocates. Lawyers swathed in black robes and white collars discuss everything but their cases; when a small white cat crawls in, they argue about how to evict the unauthorised feline personnel.

I expected a silent temple of justice; I found a buzzing airport.

On the dot at 11 o’clock, the Judge ascends to his seat from a private entrance. Everyone shoots to their feet, then whispers break out again. The Judge takes no note of this, but never have I seen a man more in control of an entire room.

I will spare you the details of each case, but suffice it to say that the Judge is as compassionate as he is severe, as witty as he is stern. Rarely does he allow anyone to complete an overlong sentence; staring over his glasses, he interrupts by asking an incisive question that cuts to the heart of the matter and terminates a well-rehearsed monologue. When a whiny lawyer pleads with him to accept her petition by repeating ad nauseum that she “went all the way to Nashik to get my client’s signature, My Lord,” he shoots back: “I don’t care if you went to Timbuktu, madam! For the 20th time, no.” When a defendant’s lawyer stares persistently at the Judge while making numerous requests to the plaintiff’s counsel, the Judge interjects: “Don’t look at me, look at him when you appeal to him!”

“I would, Your Honour,” comes the reply, “but I am too frightened of my colleague’s appearance!” Titters everywhere.

A case about an illegally occupied flat is heavily peppered with an acronym I assume is the name of a corporation; 20 minutes pass before I realise “HUF” stands for Hindu Undivided Family. I cannot resist smiling every time the Judge mentions a punctuation mark while dictating a judgement: “The arbitrator was comma to my very great dismay comma an advocate of this court comma against whom…”

Lawyers swathed in black robes and white collars discuss everything but their cases

Victorious lawyers leave the courtroom with barely suppressed grins. The one sitting beside me plays Minesweeper on his phone. Two Marathi-speaking women ask each other, “What the hell is going on?” A bored, somnolent intern sitting with his back to the judge’s dais blears at me with hungover eyes. I’m pleased to observe that the lawyers are uniformly courteous to all the non-lawyers in the room, often giving up their seats to senior citizens.

When the judge channels Hamlet by declaring that, “there is something rotten in the state of our commercial litigation”, I want to break into applause. When he discovers that the opposing parties are actually a father-in-law and son-in-law trying to defraud the court, he asks the latter’s lawyer if his client is present. When the lawyer expresses doubt, the Judge says he’s certain the man is the corridor outside. And he is. I am in awe.

Attending court is not unlike attending a performance of devised theatre. The set is spectacular, the protagonist and antagonist have places on either side of the stage, the storyline is unpredictable, and the dialogue is crisp, overlapping, but clearly enunciated.

But all eyes are on the director, who is sitting at centre-stage. Even the actors don’t how the story will end; only he does. Bound by a canon more hallowed than stagecraft, he masterfully guides each performance to its culmination. And after the last words are uttered, we realise that for some of the audience, the director’s directions are binding on the story of their lives.

 

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Victorian Grandeur Meets Railway Memorabilia At The CST Railway Museum

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VICTORIAN GRANDEUR MEETS RAILWAY MEMORABILIA AT THE CST RAILWAY MUSEUM

Inside the stunning CST building is the Railway Museum, which chronicles the history of the Indian railways. Travel back in time via vintage copies of the Bombay Times, see reproductions of the original design for the building, and explore trains through the miniature models on display. The guided tour runs from Monday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Last tickets are available at 5 p.m. Entry is Rs. 200 per person.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Fort, Mumbai 400 001.

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

The red locomotive is the first thing that catches your eye. The nondescript, partially open gate a few feet ahead of Central Railways courtyard merits no special attention from a city on the move. But despite being slave to its schedules for half of one’s life, a quick peek into the glorious railway edifice can halt you in your tracks.

Just past the red locomotive is where the tour to the CSMT Museum begins. The gallery inside chronicles the history of the Indian railways from the inception of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Company to the first train in 1853 that steamed off from Bori Bunder (CSMT) to Tanneh (Thane) with 400 passengers. Chugging back to the 1900s, the photographs on the walls feature steam engines, electric units, the Punjab Mail to Pakistan, the Calcutta Mail, and the Deccan Queen with its dining car and a “ladies only” coach. There are miniature models for aficionados, not just of the coaches but also of the entire heritage structure.

You can travel back in time via vintage copies of the Bombay Times featuring timetables on the front pages. A first-class ticket to Byculla would cost you a grand sum of six annas; worth it, if you could travel in those coaches, with leather chairs that are straight out of a haughty men’s club, air blue with cigar smoke. You’re introduced to the old-style ticket punching machine and signalling system, which required assistants to punch cards and deliver them to the drivers before the trains could move.

In the glass cabinet are reproductions of Frederick William Stevens’s original design for the building. The Victorian Gothic Revival structure took a decade to construct, and its Italian marble and granite columns, teak wood doors, and grand staircase were recently restored. Its first visitors, when it opened in 1888, would have seen what you see – squinches that carve out an octagon, stained glass, and the magnificent dome. You’ll struggle to capture it all in a single frame, but you’ll keep trying until the guide walks past and you have no option but to play catch up. 

railway museum

On the first floor, the vintage aura dissipates to accommodate the familiar lethargy of government offices. This is, after all, the headquarters of the Central Railways, and the nameplates, whitewashed walls, and sheafs of papers lead you to the Star Chamber and its serpentine queues for tickets. The Italian marble columns are faded here, but the stars on the ceiling still shine bright if you look up from the ATVM machines and ticket booths. It’s a view as beautiful as the one from one of the four porches from where you take in the Capitol, the BMC building, and the eddies of traffic outside.

Behind the walls made of sandstone brought from Porbunder in Gujarat is the peacock arch that is festooned with grotesques. In this version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, rendered in stone, you’ll find rats, alligators, snakes, and eagles. There’s a lion playing catch and an owl peering over the courtyard. Pastoral elements show up as well; roses, grape vines, and flowers drape over the arches. 

railway museum

We walk up to the second floor still trying to capture that incredible dome, but this is a great vantage point to see the Lady of Progress atop the dome outside, a torch in one hand and a wheel in another. There’s also the gryphon to ward off evil. You’ll also find the old statue of Queen Victoria, dethroned after the terminus was renamed in honour of the Maratha ruler Shivaji in 1996. When you walk back down to the courtyard, your back to the selfie taking tourists, you will find the bas-relief portraits of founders, directors and important personnel, among them J. Shankarseth and J. Jejeebhoy.

The entire structure is a confluence of British and Indian aesthetic and symbolism. A tiger (for India) and a lion (for British) stand guard at the gate, and the coat of arms features an elephant along with the British flag. The left facade also bears small portraits representing 16 different Indian communities. The closer you look, the more you’re likely to find, each nook a rabbit hole to new references.

As with the bustle of the terminus, the guided tour of its interiors entails being scuttled around up and down, plied with rushed anecdotes, without much pause for soaking in the atmosphere.

Change tracks, linger on after the tour, and retrace the trail once again to really appreciate what you’ve seen. Then you can walk into the Star Chamber and become part of the unseeing crowd again.

Photographs by Suruchi Maira

 
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Wayword & Wise Is A Readers’ Paradise

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WAYWORD & WISE IS A READERS’ PARADISE

Wayword & Wise is an independent bookstore in Fort that, unlike many other bookstores in the city, is about books and books alone. Authors available here range from the popular (Philip Roth, Ruth Ware) to the niche (Han Kang, Bohumil Hrabal) and everything in between.

Wayword & Wise, Strategic house, 44, Mint Road, Ballard Estate, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 6634 9946

READ MEHER MIRZA’S STORY

I don’t know what I can attribute my voracious appetite for books to. Parents, who read widely and deeply, perhaps. A childhood fettered by constant visits to hospitals, maybe. Complete antipathy to any physical activity (still true). A pantheon of lunchbox friends in school whose relationships with me never quite tightened to closeness. Whichever it was, the corridors of my mind were always constructed from the swashbuckling worlds of my books.

My books. The shared ownership of a copy was not for me; it had to be mine, to have and to hold, to pluck out of my library and peruse whenever the fancy struck. They were solid things, both enclosing and mirroring me, armouring me against shadowed days, their infinite realms lifting me past the tedium of my days. Naturally, half my life unspooled in bookshops; and so, when one by one, Danai, Lotus, Landmark, and then Strand shut down, I felt an icy wipe of fear.

Thankfully, there is now Wayword & Wise set up by bibliophiles Atul Sud (investment banker who runs a food importing business) and Virat Chandok (once the manager of the long-lamented Lotus)—a little cubbyhole, intimate, yielder of a small harvest but a rich one that I spend hours reaping. Chandok and Sud are connoisseurs of stories, of authors both vanished and new, of knowledge they are eager to share. Once I name my favourites, Chandok gently coaxes me to new texts that seem at once familiar and unknown. Not all books are for all eyes, after all.

Unlike its peers, the store does away entirely with the pap and pabulum of bestseller lists, stocking everything from food and travel writing to music, literary theory to poetry, philosophy to graphic novels, science fiction to history, a delightfully offbeat children’s section to a fiction section that unfurls all the way down the room. Even better, it stocks no gewgaws, no toys, and no tchotchkes to lure the dithering customer. Just books, rows upon glorious rows of books.

wayword and wise

Its shelves carry many titles I’d like to pilfer (I cannot possibly afford them all): everything from Bohumil Hrabal’s palavering, fantasist, sorrowful novels to Caridad Svich’s savagely political plays; Alain de Botton’s popular philosophy to Andrés Neuman’s Latin American narratives; David Lebovitz’s warm adventures of baking in France to Lucia Berlin who fashioned her rich life into forensically candid short fiction; Clarice Lispector’s oeuvre to the incisive yet mannered texts by that other underrated genius Barbara Pym. It is as Jorge Carrión writes in his marvellous Bookshops—”Every bookshop is a condensed version of the world”.

Wayword is an exuberant labyrinth of paper and ink in which I happily lose myself, sifting through manuscripts, turning pages, greedily looting the shelves, then going home thick with thought and concepts. But it is never enough. Always, there is something else to be read, and it is usually to be found at Wayword.

Photographs by Suruchi Maira

 

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Your Guide To Buying Comic Books In Mumbai

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YOUR GUIDE TO BUYING COMIC BOOKS IN MUMBAI

WORDS BY MEHER MIRZA

Most people seem to assume that, as a writer with two MAs in English Studies, I ring out my days with the works of Foucault, Genet, Pynchon, and such. For the most part, they would be right. But smuggled into my edifying literary library lies a filthy secret—a slab of beloved comic books, powder-fine from age.

Comics, I suspect, are still seen by people as being not quite the thing, old chap. To these people I say, “Go away”. Go away, and take your barren, strait-laced pleasures with you. There is a time for Jane Eyre and a time for Hawkgirl: comics are far too pleasurable to be sullied by the vapidity of a bunch of sanctimonious puritans. For many of us, Phantom, Mandrake, and Flash Gordon are the plinth on which our library of reading is raised. Which is why, every so often, you may catch me stapled to the comics section in your friendly, neighbourhood bookstore, dribbling over Art Spiegelman, surrounded by shambolic piles of Justice League Dark and Mister Miracle comics—in short, happy. Here is a smattering of stores that I frequent to get my fix of favourites.

Granth

Upstairs at Granth, cocooned from the bedlam of car horns on Juhu Tara Road, is a small sanctuary for superheroes. If you pan its shelves for glimmers of comic gold, you’ll find plenty of Watchmen, the luminous Mandela: The Graphic Novel, a watermelon-hefty Drawn & Quarterly anthology, and Black Hole (Charles Burns’s graphic novel about teen angst generously leavened with horror) together with a hank of DC, Vertigo, Dark Horse, and Marvel collections.

Granth, 30/A, HM House, Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai 400 049. Phone: 022 2660 9327

VL Nayak

What VL Nayak lacks in square footage it makes up for in density of choice. As a child, I teetered and tottered through the tiny shop, pillaging the shelves like a bandit, carting away heaps of MAD magazines, Tinkle, Amar Chitra Katha, and (as a tremendous treat), DC and Marvel singles. It is a river I continue to drink from—it still stacks a whole coterie of pulp writing.

VL Nayak, Plot No. 8126, Surajpati Bhavan, 1st Road, Opp. Rly Station, Khar (w), Mumbai 400 052. Phone: 022 2648 4082

Title Waves

Over at Title Waves in Bandra, you’ll find a sort of Top 20 hits of the comic world; nothing terribly esoteric, no Cable or Birds of Prey, just the usual Marvel and DC titles, Neil Gaiman, Peanuts, and Tintin. Title Waves also ventures into collectables territory, with a small shrine to memorabilia such as t-shirts, figurines, mugs, and other baubles.

Title Waves, St Pauls Media Complex, 24th Road, Off Turner Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 022 2651 0841

Trilogy

Raghuvanshi Mills’ Trilogy store is scalpelled into two sections—the library and the bookstore. The collection at the store reads like a roster of high art comics, all beautifully rendered but haphazardly stacked. What can you buy here? Shigeru Mizuki’s bizarre, protean manga, Showa: A History Of Japan. Joe Sacco’s Journalism, a ferocious comic that scrapes at the wounds of the world’s worst war zones. And among many others, the extraordinary graphic novel based on Martin Luther King’s life, I See the Promised Land, written by Arthur Flowers and illustrated by a Patua scroll artist, Manu Chitrakar.

Trilogy, 1st floor, Building No. 28, Above Mercedes Service Center, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (w), Mumbai 400 013. Phone: 080805 90590

Crossword

Once a fine bookshop chain of some stature, Crossword has now mutated into a sort of portmanteau of DVD toy/book store—a Frankenstore if you will. Still, it does venture briefly into the comic realm; a small collection (mostly DC’s Justice League) reposes on its shelves, an excellent gateway to those who came to the comics via their live-action movie versions.

Crossword Bookstores across the city.

Leaping Windows

It would be folly to leave out Leaping Windows, a space reverential of comics, packed with perfectly organised pages and pages of Neil Gaiman, plenty from the DC and Marvel multiverses, as well as the ubiquitous Tintin, Calvin & Hobbes and Asterix. All this, and a cheery café to boot.

Leaping Windows, 3 Corner View, Dr. Ashok Chopra Marg, Off Yari Road, Andheri (w), Mumbai 400 061. Phone: 097699 98972

*Special mention: Kitab Khana, which has shelves heaving with Amar Chitra Katha, Asterix and Tintin, a collection hidebound by nostalgia.
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Tracing The Legacy of Jagannath Sunkersett

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TRACING THE LEGACY OF JAGANNATH SUNKERSETT

Jagannath Sunkersett was a city father who left his mark – and name – on Bombay through his immense contribution to its arts, culture, and education. Mrigank Warrier goes on a tour of South Bombay, tracing glimpses of the past that live on in the present.

READ MRIGANK WARRIER’S STORY

The evil that men do may live after them, but the good isn’t always interred with their bones. A few good men built this city, and their names survive, appended to their legacies: Elphinstone, Jeejeebhoy, Kennedy, Sassoon…and Sunkersett.

Jagannath Sunkersett (1803-1865) was a city father who wore many hats: businessman, landowner, educationist, reformist, founder of institutions, and benefactor of the poor; a polymath who spoke up for his native brethren to their British masters and did much to improve their lot. From Legislative Councillor to Member of the Committee Appointed for the Administration of the Hill-Station of Matheran, he accepted diverse roles and performed each with singular excellence.

By digging into digitised books and journals from the 19th and 20th centuries – and rambling around Mumbai in the 21st – I have attempted to carve out a pilgrim trail linking some of the many, many sites associated with the perseverance and largesse of Jagannath ‘Nana’ Sunkersett. Walk with me.

British South Bombay

We set off from Elphinstone College, which evolved from the Native School of Bombay – established by the eponymous governor who was favourable towards educating Indians – to the Board of Education to the Elphinstone Institution. Nana was Chairman of the Elphinstone Funds and member of the Board.

Elephinstone Coll

Let us not tarry overlong at Mumbai University, itself a descendant of the Elphinstone Institution, where six Sanskrit scholarships endowed by Nana’s son Vinayakrao Jugonnathjee Sunkersett in his memory in 1866 continue to sponsor students. Let us pay but a moment’s obeisance at the iconic Asiatic Society, which holds within its hallowed halls a statute of Nana, the first Indian member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in London and one of the Bombay Society’s founders. We must not omit to swing by Borabazaar’s Gunbow Street, which derives its name from a corruption of Ganbasett – Nana’s grandfather, who migrated from Murbad to set up a mercantile business within the fort walls.

horniman circle asiatic library

We take a moment’s respite by the western face of much-photographed Victoria Terminus; the sculpted visage at the extreme right of the row of faces is Nana’s. He and Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy formed the Indian Railway Association to lobby the British to bring railways to India; this grew into the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (now the Central Railway), of which Jeejeebhoy and Nana were the only two Indian directors. Its first ticket office was set up at Nana’s premises in Girgaum, and he was on board the first train from Boree Bunder to Tannah on April 16, 1853.

Marine Lines-Girgaum

We now veer west and pad lightly between the two peaceful plots of Bada Kabrastaan. A bust of Nana catches your eye, nestled in a private crematorium named for the man who strove to prevent the Sonapur (Chandanwadi) burning grounds from being shifted elsewhere. One-and-a-half centuries later, the secretary of the Bombay Hindu Burial and Burning Grounds Committee remains a Sunkersett.

Inside the Crematorium

Traipse into a parallel lane, and you will find yourself at SL and SS Girls’ High School. Ages ago, ‘a crop of Indian graduates from Elphinstone College in Fort, under the umbrella of the Students’ Literary and Scientific Society, decided to set up a network of schools for girls. Young and relatively poor, they turned to leading shetias (merchant elites) of Bombay.’ Nana ‘donated a beautiful little cottage in his own compound to be used as a school-house…rent-free’, and against stiff opposition, enrolled girls from his own household in the school.

We come now to Girgaum Road – renamed Jagannath Sunkersett Road – a long chain of wadis from Dhobi Talao to Opera House. A nine-storey apartment building christened Sunkersett Smruti was once the site of the ‘country mansion at Girgaum’ of the ‘rich Hindoo banker’. In a report of a party thrown here to welcome Lord Keane, Commander-in-Chief of the Bombay Army, an 1840 issue of the Asiatic Journal reports that ‘The mansion of Sunkersett is one of the handsomest on the island, and is particularly distinguished for the beauty of its garden…the courteous attentions, hospitality, gentlemanly, and indeed highly polished manners of the host could not fail to impress all his guests with sentiments of esteem and respect.’

Sunketsett Smruti

Behind the bygone mansion is Nana Sunkersett Wadi, now a morose mix of chawls, godowns, and a BEST substation.

Byculla

We take a flying leap to the Victoria and Albert Museum and Victoria Gardens, now known as Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Jijamata Udyan. Nana was President of the Museum Committee, and his portrait hangs on its staircase landing. He was also President of the Agri-Horticultural Society of Western India, which laid down exquisitely landscaped gardens at Mount Estate. Try to picture Nana at its opening, escorting Lady Frere through the arbour.

BDLM_003

As we make our way back west, we pass through Play House, which got its epithet from the Grant Road Theatre, constructed in 1846 on land donated by Nana. With this, the onus of funding entertainment moved from elite patronage to tickets sold to the hoi polloi. In 1853, it hosted its first non-English play, Vishnudas Bhave’s Ramayana, in Marathi. Raja Gopichand and Jalandhar in Hindustani and Parsi theatre’s Rustom Zabooli and Sohrab soon followed. The theatre building itself is long gone, but it cradled the aforementioned vernacular theatre movements – ancestors of the Hindi film industry as we know it today.

Tardeo

Soothe your weary feet with the assurance that your journey is almost at an end. As you descend Frere Bridge, you may ignore Sunkersett Municipal School on your left, now unrecognisable as the brick-red Door Step School. Gaze upwards at the cable-stayed hydra of the aakaashi paadchaari pul (skywalk) that crouches over Nana Chowk, home to a bust of Nana unacknowledged by motorists whizzing past. Turn right and stop for a photo-op at Bhavani Shankar Mandir. Constructed in 1806 by Nana’s father, its low, Konkan-roofed structure silently resists the oppression of the tasteless towers that hem it in. Next door is Sunkersett Mansion, an angular building that replaced another of Nana’s residences. Its grounds included a dharamshala and the Sunkersett Babulsett Charitable Dispensary founded by Nana in his father’s memory.

Bhavani Shankar Mandir 1

When we turn into Jagannath Lane opposite, you will not be surprised by the signboard claiming that East and West Villa – old, squat buildings – are property of the Shankarsett family. Nana is long gone, but his descendants and his gifts to the city live on. As you move to take your train home from Grant Road station by walking through Shankarsheth Lane – better known as Bhaji Gully – you may join millions of others before you who have sent a silent prayer of thanks to Jagannath Sunkersett and thought to themselves: ‘What a man! What a legacy! What a life!’

Photographs by Suruchi Maira

 
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Spoilt For Choice At Poetry By Love And Cheesecake

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SPOILT FOR CHOICE AT POETRY BY LOVE AND CHEESECAKE

Poetry By Love And Cheesecake is a café in Bandra that is kind to the keto (low carb diet), vegan, and gluten-free diets. Of particular note are its desserts, specifically the baked New York cheesecake. Those not dieting needn’t despair – there are plenty of carb-filled and non-vegetarian options as well. Poetry also has outlets at Lower Parel and Fort.

Poetry By Love And Cheesecake. Bandra: Pali Darshan, 33rd Road, Bandra (w), Mumbai 400 050. Phone: 082912 95412. Lower Parel: Kamala Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel (w), Mumbai 400 013. Fort: Machinery House, Ground Floor, Bharucha Marg, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai 400 001. Phone: 022 6237 8411

READ SADIYA UPADE’S STORY

Scrumptious cheesecake, filled with love,

Humble bread left scorned, sulking

Forgive the poor attempt at a poem, but I am still trying to get over a bruschetta without bread! Then again, that’s the beauty of Poetry besides the mellow interiors and framed verses on the walls. With the kitchen serving keto (low carb diet), vegan, and gluten-free meals, the menu needs your attention, or you might just overlook the purple star besides the bruschetta and start penning poetry. You will polish off the plate nevertheless, given the perfectly grilled chicken and fresh tomatoes and sprouts.

Spoilt for choice, you will then move on to the cheesecake, happy to have missed the carbs, leaving room for all the sugar. As you pick from Nutella, salted caramel, Oreo, and tiramisu, to name a few, more trysts will follow. Eventually, you will find your rhyme. The baked New York cheesecake sings for me each time. As does Devil’s Desire, which comes with a layer of caramel, Belgian chocolate, mousse, and hazelnut.

The savoury list here is just as long, with a variety of pastas, salads, and meals cooked around avocado, chia seeds, kale, and cheese. In the mornings, they are also kind to bread. The breakfast spread spans freshly baked focaccia, croissants, multi-grain, along with muffins, herb butter, eggs, and a coffee that can hold its own. Just like Poetry, which can draw in the health-nut and sugar-crazed with equal elan.

Feature photograph copyright skumer – stock.adobe.com

 

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