The lonely drinking water fountain

Once upon a time in Bombay (actually, this was about a 100 years back), there lived a man called Lowji Megji. He was a cotton merchant and ran a very successful business exporting cotton. He lived with his wife, mother, 5 sons, 1 daughter, and 4 servants in a large mansion in Bombay (Note: about a 100 years back, political correctness had not crept in, so I use the words “Bombay” and “servants” in this post).

Lowji Megji loved all his children, but he loved his daughter Kusumbala just a little bit more. Nobody minded this, as everyone who knew Kusumbala also loved her just a little bit more. She was a kind-hearted, happy and cheerful soul, who always spread joy wherever she went. She loved going with her father to his cotton godown and giving drinking water to the workers who loaded and unloaded the cotton bales. The workers too loved her a lot and would wait for her visits to the godown eagerly.

Unfortunately, such visits were rare as Kusumbala was a sickly child and prone to frequent bouts of some illness or the other. In her 13th year, her frail body could not withstand yet another bout of illness and she finally succumbed. The family was disconsolate and Lowji Megji devastated. He lost all interest in his business and if it hadn’t been for his faithful employees, he would have been ruined.

One hot summer’s day, a few months after the death of Kusumbala, Lowji Megji was half-heartedly supervising the unloading of cotton bales at his godown. As he was walking around the godown, he overheard a worker telling another, “If Kusum baby were here today, she would be running around now giving us water.”

At any other time, this remark would further grieved Lowji Megji. But this time, it triggered an idea—why not build a public drinking water fountain in the memory of Kusumbala? It would be a fitting tribute to his beloved daughter. Once this idea crystallised in his mind, Lowji Megji was like a man possessed and within a year the drinking water fountain was built on public land near his godown at Reay Road and inaugurated amidst great fanfare.

It was a much appreciated gesture by all those who used the drinking water fountain every day—the cotton loaders and unloaders, the bullock cart drivers who transported the cotton to the docks for export, visiting traders… For the workers, it was as if Kusumbala herself was there to give them water.

The years passed. Lowji Megji died, his business disintegrated, India gained Independence, and the ownership of the godown changed. Lowji Megji’s cotton godown and other neighbouring sheds were acquired by the Food Corporation of India for their laboratories and offices.

The water fountain did not remain unaffected by these changes. Slowly, it fell into disrepair—first the brass taps were stolen, next the buffalo-headed water spouts were vandalised, and as the water fountain stopped functioning, weeds took over. Soon, the water fountain became a place to discard broken and empty alcohol bottles, used condoms, plastic bags, cigarette and beedi ends, gutkha and supari packets, etc. Nearly a 100 years on, this is the state of Kusumbala’s fountain today.

So where is Kusumbala’s fountain? If you are travelling on the Harbour Line towards Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), look out left after you leave Cotton Green station. As the train comes down the gentle incline from Cotton Green and starts slowing down for the Reay Road station halt, you will see this beautiful structure on the left.

Kusumbala's Water Fountain

I first saw Kusumbala’s fountain in 1993 on my way to CST. The incongruence of its design and appearance in the midst of industrial-looking buildings stuck in my mind, and ever since that day I always looked out for it whenever I travelled to CST. Though I always wondered about the fountain and wanted to see it up close, it took me 18 years to actually alight at Reay Road Station and walk the few minutes to the fountain site.

When I reached Kusumbala’s Fountain last weekend, there was nobody around, except for a dog and a few geckos sunning themselves. Though the plaque commemorating Kusumbala’s fountain gave a clue as to what it was all about, it didn’t shed any information on how the fountain came to be built. It is this lack of any information on who Lowji Megji and Kusumbala were that prompted me to write a fictional background to the fountain in this blog post. I could be completely off the mark, but then again there could be some truth in my fictional account !

Memorial Plaque Text: The Public Gift of Mr. Lowji Megji, J.P. in Loving Memory of his Late Daughter Kusumbala A.D. 1924

Kusumbala's fountain. A Harbour Line local train thunders towards Reay Road station in the background.

As I walked around Kusumbala’s fountain, I couldn’t help feeling how dignified it looked in spite of the neglect and vandalism. Kusumbala’s fountain looks lonely and abandoned. Perhaps that is what captured my attention in the first place and why I felt so drawn towards it. You would too if you visited the fountain. And you will go and pay a visit to Kusumbala’s fountain, won’t you?

Note: All names and dates in the narration here are real, as is Kusumbala’s fountain, but the account that I have written is entirely fictional. If you do come across any information on this fountain, I would be very happy if you could share it with me.

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45 thoughts on “The lonely drinking water fountain

    • Thanks, Merry. I couldn’t think of a better way to write about the fountain, without it sounding very dry and technical. Also the setting just conjured up a background story like the one I have written, and voila my first attempt at fiction happened. Thank you once again.

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  1. In about hundred years of the water fountain’s existence, millions would have passed by without noticing it. I think, you must be the first person to write such beutifully about an abandoned structure. I wonder, how could you find a story, in such unusual things.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Laxman. I was surprised to find no photos or write-ups on the fountain. Which is what prompted me to spin out Kusumbala’s story in the first place!

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  2. Whoa. I was reading this like an interesting piece of history before you gave away this is fictional. Super work. And yes, I will surely go visit the fountain next time I am in Mumbai. :D

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    • Thanks, Deboshree. I enjoyed writing this post too. Sometimes I wonder if this is history was written due to lack of documentation. I’m sure Kusumbala’s fountain will enjoy your visit whenever you can make it.

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    • Welcome to my blog :-). So good to see you here.

      I am a little wary of the term restoration, as it normally means some amount of damage to the original structure. I would be happy if the place would just be cleaned up and kept free of debris.

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  3. Our eyes see what we wish to see,believe me when I say you have a beautiful vision:)Not many would have noticed this dry fountain,even if they did they wouldn’t come up with such wonderful fiction.Even I share a fascination for such places:)Glad I read this:)

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  4. Sudha, the Kusumbala story could very well be true. If that place is cleaned up and someone arranges a heritage walk along the route, a guide could very well be narrating your story!

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    • A heritage walk in this are is actualy a good idea, considering how the area’s, and the city’s history is so inextricably linked with cotton. And the cotton excahnge building is not too far off. Hmmm… you have given me ideas !

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  5. Dear Sudha, I have seen this fountain so many times as I mademy way home from work. And each time I have passed it, I found myself wondering about it. It looked so beautiful and incongruous standing all alone. I really enjoyed the story as it blends with my facination for the place…it even answers a few of my questions. :-)

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  6. Only a sensitive person like you could imagine such an expression of love. Lowji Megji and Kusumbala must be smiling at you from wherever they are right now, Sudha..
    Thank you for a touching story and now i am looking forward to more from your gifted pen. Lovely..

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  7. I have travelled for over two years on this route & have seen it daily wondered at the structure but never thought of such a fascinating way of presentation.
    you brought it back .Your writing is full of imagination.

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  8. I had a lump in my throat by the time I finished it. And I quite agree with The Cool Cat. While you may say that this story is fictional, it may very well be true.

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    • Thank you for stopping by and commenting. And thank you also for such a lovely comment. This post is very close to my heart because I also like to think that Kusumbala’s story is true.

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  9. What a lovely story! even if it is fiction :-) I came here through the link on your latest post, and loved this story. It is sad though that we have such lovely structures, but we don´t appreciate it, unlike most countries of Europe that take pride in maintaining their historic places and buildings. It seems like we rush to erase all elements of the past, but what we build instead lack beauty and interest unlike this fountain.

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    • Thank you Nima. The lonely drinking water fountain is hauntingly beautiful and in the one-and-a-half years since I have written that post, it has fallen into further disrepair. I dread the day it will be demolished for something or the other.

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    • Welcome here, Aditi and thank you for stopping by and commenting. I am very happy that you want to visit the lonely water fountain :-)

      Reay Road Station is on the Harbour Line. You need to take a train from CST (formerly VT) to Reay Road Station and take to foot over bridge to the other side and take the path along the tracks towards Cotton Green Station. It is a 5 minute walk from the Reay Road station platform. Please do not go there in the evenings or after dark as the area is quite deserted.

      Hope this helps.

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    • Thanks Ayesha. I think every city has its secrets and treasures and Mumbai has a good share of it. Even though I have been a resident of this city for nearly 20 years now, it surprises me regularly with the little gems it keeps revealing every now and then. :-)

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  10. Pingback: Street art @ Reay Road | My Favourite Things

  11. A story from a decrepit fountain? Only a Sudha could have done it. I think you should seriously consider starting some kind of set up to explore and map all these interesting landmarks of the city before they disappear. Not just a tour, but a proper chronicle of the landmarks for posterity.

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    • Why not, Zephyr? Everything has a story to say. We only have to be willing to listen to them. Whenever I saw the fountain on my commute, I always felt its loneliness and sadness and neglect. Somehoe that got translated into this story. This post is very dear to me and is one of the few that I wrote from start to finish in one setting.

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  12. Your story isn’t far from the truth. Yes, Lowji Meghji did have 5 children(he was married thrice).
    Kusumbala was his daughter from the second wife. The other four children lived healthily and two of them are still alive. However, back to the point, anyone doubting the authenticity of this story can check the TOI wherein the Pyau was featured recently.

    And for those who doubt the authenticity of my comments, I am Lowji Meghji’s great grandson. :p

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