Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Obsessed with Bom Bahia?

“The trouble with poetry is that it doesn’t call a spade a spade. Anthropomorphic language tends to confuse every issue. For instance, if you call a piece of real estate motherland or fatherland, you’re bound to confound the confusion by believing yourself in the role of her/his gallant son/daughter and transferring a host of human attributes and emotions to her/him.” http://digbig.com/5bamsx. This applies to a city, as well. No matter what anyone says, in the final analysis, it is no more than a swath of real estate. Like the city named Mumbai, the erstwhile Bombay, believed by some to be the Anglicization of the Portuguese name ‘Bom Bahia’ (= good bay or good harbour), when it changed hands from Portugal to Great Britain as a part of Catharine de Braganza’s trousseau when she married Charles II in 1662. The Portuguese first visited the good bay in 1509 and grabbed it from Bahadur Shah of Gujrat in 1530. Citing documents dated from 1525, a leading Portuguese etymological authority, José Pedro Machado, traced the origin of the name to the Marathi term ‘Mumba Devi’, the city deity. From it came the name Mombaim later modified to Bombaim and probably further to Bom Bahia, he argued. Be that as it may, when the British got their hands on Bombay, it was an archipelago of seven islands: Colaba. Little Colaba, Bombay, Mazgaon, Parel, Worli and Mahim from South to North. After Shivaji’s plunder of Surat in 1664, the East India Company shifted its operation to Bombay in 1668 paying an annual lease rent of £10 sterling to the Royal Family – an arrangement confirmed by William III in 1669. A securely fortified area for the British officials’ work and living spaces – known as ‘Fort’ even today – was built on the largest island, Bombay, with only three gates (Apollo Gate to the South, Bazaar Gate to the North and Church Gate to the West) as the sole access to it. Within the Fort, there were offices, shops, commercial establishments, warehouses and churches. The locals, among them quite a few Pathare Prabhu Sokajis http://digbig.com/5bamtc, used to enter the Fort in the morning and quit it in the evening using the North or the West Gates. A step in 1860 to consolidate the seven islands was the building of the Colaba Causeway (now Shahid Bhagatsingh Marg) from Sassoon Dock at the South end to Museum at the North. Around 1782, Lord William Hornby, Governor of Bombay, started the Hornby Vellard project as a first step to connect all the islands north of the Bombay island. Ramji Shivaji Parbhu, a Pathare Prabhu contractor, got the contract. The idea behind it was to construct a bund that would prevent sea water from flooding the areas neighbouring the Worli Creek at high tide. According to one legend, during the construction, the sea wall kept collapsing till a Laxmi idol was recovered from the sea and was consecrated in the specially built Mahalaxmi Temple close to Haji Ali. The second stage of the reclamation was to fill in the shallows between the islands of Parel, Worli, Bombay, Mazagaon and Mahim with a bund to stop sea water intruding into the nearby areas. The Governor went ahead with the project in spite of the Company Directors saying No to his proposal and was reportedly sacked for his insubordination.