Mumbai's heritage

Print edition : October 10, 2003

Through the Looking Glass: The Grade I Heritage of Mumbai by Abha Narain Lambah; Urban Design Research Institute & Jasubhai Media, Navi Mumbai; pages 147, Rs.750.

The Gateway of India, Mumbai.-

The Heritage Buildings of Bombay: Introduction & Text by Rajan Narayan, Photographs by Sunil Vaidyanathan; English Edition Publishers, Mumbai; pages 200, Rs.1,950.

Glimpses of India: A Grand Photographic History of the Land of Antiquity, the Vast Empire of the East by J.H. Furneaux; English Edition Publishers, Mumbai; pages 508, Rs.3,000.

THE Mumbai of today possesses a rich heritage that Bombay of old bequeathed to it. After years of neglect, a remarkable effort was mounted in the city by some of its heritage conscious citizens to protect that heritage. Some impressive works were published; most notably Sharda Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra's Bombay: The Cities Within. A good few joined hands and formed citizens' groups, concerned with heritage conservation and ever alert to voice their protest whenever the heritage came under attack.

Abha Narain Lambah belongs to this dedicated band. She is professionally a conservation architect and is trained in heritage restoration. She has worked on a number of conservation projects, won a fellowship abroad and has been commissioned by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority's Heritage Conservation Society to frame conservation guidelines for its projects on Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road (formerly Hornby Road) and the precincts of Kotachiwadi and Mahalaxmi. The number of citizens groups, of whose governing council she is a member, testify to her commitment.

The Grade I buildings of the city represent a priceless heritage, symbolic of Bombay's architectural aspirations. Of Mumbai's aspirations and achievements, the less said the better. Witness, the new University campus buildings at Kalina. The volume covers public buildings, religious and railway structures, urban artefacts, fountains, statues and memorials, forts, naval structures and port installations and the Oval Maidan among others.

The Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay, the first of their kind in India, came into force in 1995. Five hundred and seventy-four structures and 14 precinct works were named for their historic, archaeological or urban qualities. The author has selected 48 among them, and provided good photographs of each, a brief introduction, the serial number, location, the date of construction and so on. The work concludes with a chapter on "The Unsung Heritage: Structures Worthy of Grade I Listing" with illustrations and an informative text. One hopes her plea will be heard.

ON a related theme, Rajan Narayan and Sunil Vaidyanathan's book has colour photographs of facets of Bombay's heritage - symbols of the Raj, merchant princes of Bombay and their architectural achievements, the City's cultural evolution, the confluence of the faiths that enrich it and precincts "where time is frozen" - ending with a just recognition of the growing heritage consciousness in Mumbai. Good chronology caps this labour of love by a young photographer and a journalist who loves the Bombay where he worked for a decade and a half.

Glimpses of India is a good reprint of a memento of the British Raj, published in 1896. It was edited by J.H. Furneaux, sub-editor of The Times of India, and aims to provide a history of India through 500 "Camera-views of her cities, temples, Towers... Palaces... and the various Types of her People". There is "also a supplementary Photographic Views of Burmah, Ceylon, Cashmere and Aden" (which was then administered by the Government of Bombay). The historical text is written by a corps of diligent writers. Some of the best-known firms of photographers contributed to the volume. Among them were the famous "Messrs. Lala Deen Dayal & Sons, Secunderabad".

Appended to the Preface was a very brief letter dated Bombay, January 23, 1896: "Dear Sir, The Glimpses of India is certainly a work of very high merit. It is worthy of its great subject - one could not well pay it a higher compliment than that. I have not seen before such satisfying illustrations of the noble and beautiful architecture of India. Truly Yours." It is sufficient praise for this excellent reprint that the writer of this letter would have approved of it. He signed as "Mark Twain (S.G. Clemens)".

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