Mumbai Lens: The war memorial at Ballard Estate

♦ This blog post was featured in the “Around the Blog” section of the DNA newspaper published on January 14, 2013 (pg.6) 

At a road junction in the busy Ballard Estate area of Mumbai, and near two landmarks of the area — Cafe Britannia and Old Customs House — stands a memorial.

World War I Memorial at Ballard Estate, Mumbai

World War I Memorial at Ballard Estate, Mumbai

This memorial commemorates the employees of the Bombay Port Trust (now Mumbai Port Trust) who fell during World War I (1914-1918) and also Port Trust’s contribution to the war effort. A brass plaque on the memorial reads:

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Being a “Banu” in Bombay

Here’s introducing the Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things”, which will have contributions by those sharing my interests, and writing about issues that I am passionate about. These guest posts will not necessarily be by fellow bloggers; they could be by anyone who has interesting experiences to share.

The first guest post on here is by Ashabanu, who writes about the prejudice and bias she has faced because of her name. Prejudice and bias in the supposedly liberal city of Bombay (or Mumbai, if you please).

“B…a…n…u”. This is the second part of my name, Ashabanu.

I never thought that part of my name will seek so much of attention in the city of Bombay (or Mumbai if you please), when I stepped into the city about 8 years back. This name of mine has never intrigued anyone in the small town I hail from, near Chennai, or in any of the places I have worked or studied in Tamil Nadu. However, it has puzzled almost everyone in Bombay. From the day I landed in Bombay, I have had to keep explaining the “Banu” part to people.

On my very first day at work in Bombay, a colleague asked me, “Oh…You are the Banu? Sorry I did not realise that, as we were expecting someone with a burkha.

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Papakudi Meena

It was a little over noon when the train from Madras pulled into Dadar station in Bombay. It had been a long journey for the weary and grimy travellers, who disembarked with a sense of relief. Some were being received by family and friends, while many more were just making their way out of the station on their own.

Ram looked fearfully out of the train window. This was his first time in Bombay and he had never seen so many people or heard so many languages spoken at one time. He had also never smelt anything like this before—the smell of so many people, sweat, the salty air and his own fear of the unknown. His first instinct was to take the next train back to Madras and then another to his native village in southern Tamil Nadu. That’s when he thought of his family back home and the reason he had come to Bombay—to make a living like countless others before him, and countless others after him.

He took a deep breath, gathered his belongings and resolve, said a prayer to his favourite god Shiva and stepped off the train. He now had to make his way to his cousin Meena’s house in Matunga; Meena’s husband, Raman had promised to help him find a job. But first he needed to get to Meena’s house, which he had been told was not too far from Dadar station.

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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.

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A sepia-toned history of my family

Sometime back, I came across a fantastic blog titled The Indian Memory Project and instantly fell in love with the blog’s aim—to “trace the history of India, its people, professions, development, traditions, cultures, settlements and cities through pictures found in personal family albums and archives”. So, recently, when I came across some old family photographs, I thought, why not create my own family’s memory project and share them with you on this blog. So read on…

But first a little geographical background of my family to set the context—we are originally from Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. My father’s side of the family is from Tharuvai, and my mother’s side of the family is from Narasinganallur—both villages in Tirunelveli district.

This family memory project begins with the story of my great-grandfather (my father’s paternal grandfather), T. Ganapati Sastri (1860–1926), a renowned Sanskrit scholar. Ganapati Sastri had very humble beginnings in Tharuvai—a place he left for Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) in his 16th year for economic reasons.

Trivandrum, c. 1915: My great-grandfather, Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. T. Ganapati Sastri

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Bandra Fort: An unexpected mid-week treat

Last Thursday, I had a mid-week holiday and that upset me very much. I am probably in a minority when I say that I hate mid-week holidays, but give me a long weekend, and I’m probably the happiest person on earth. But I digress from the theme of my blog post…

Shalini, a ‘teenagehood’ friend, had been saying for a long time that work and home routines were turning us into crabby old women, and something had to be done. So this mid-week holiday presented us with the perfect opportunity to do that ‘something’.

The outcome—a visit to the Bandra Fort.

The Bandra Fort or, to use its more impressive sounding official name, the Castella de Aguada was built by the Portuguese in 1640. It later passed on to the British, who lost it to the Marathas in 1739, and gained it back from them in 1761. You can read more about the Bandra Fort’s history here.

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