September Surprise

September Surprise

A still from Jawani Ki Hawa (1935). Source: Wikimedia Commons In today’s absurd “cancel culture” age of agitation against works of art, it’s worth considering how the first film produced by the legendary Bombay Talkies studio got mired in controversy in September 1935. Intended as a romantic thriller, Jawani ki Hawa fanned hot debate unrelated to the otherwise suggestive title. Franz Osten’s entertainer, with music scored by Saraswati Devi (Khurshid Minocherhomji from a conservative Zoroastrian family), also cast her sister Chandraprabha (Manek) as the second lead with Devika Rani. Set designer Karl von…Read more
Remembering Kamlabai Nimbkar

Remembering Kamlabai Nimbkar

Kamlabai Nimbkar, nee Elizabeth Lundy, pioneer of occupational therapy in India, with her husband Vishnu To think that an American Quaker woman crossed continents and started the first facility for occupational therapy in India – though some even say Asia. This happened at Parel’s KEM Hospital in 1950. Kamla Nimbkar was born Elizabeth Lundy, the daughter of a Quaker businessman. She studied at the Philadelphia School of Occupational Therapy and married Vishnu Nimbkar. They met in 1920s New York, when he was one of the earliest US-trained Indian engineers. Converting to Hinduism, she…Read more
Stag story

Stag story

When you next click open this ubiquitous monsoon accessory, think of its pioneers. What history lies behind the household name of Stag Umbrellas? British records note an absence of rain umbrellas in India 150 years ago. Ceremonial chhatris shaded royals and warriors, while ordinary people used palm leaf protection. Till waterproofing chemicals, nylon and polyester were discovered, silk layered with wax fended off falling drops. Enter Ebrahim Currim of Kutch. Importing the first umbrella in 1860, he began locally manufacturing affordable, durable versions for the aam aadmi’s use. “He christened the brand Stag…Read more
Rioting for puppy love

Rioting for puppy love

Urban legends scattered throughout the needle-narrow alleys of Bhuleshwar tell tales of hidden gems. The city’s sole sun temple, a pair of cool cannons embedded vertical in the ground for horse reins once tethered to them and, nearby, the old Cotton Exchange frieze depicting an event chain from the fibre bolls-and-bales stage to the final cloth packed for London... Photo: Bharat GothoskarInset: Sketch of Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, 1857 Here, too, stands the Panjrapole. Bombay’s largest animal shelter was funded by two soft-hearted sethias, Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Amichand Shah, following what were possibly British India’s…Read more
It’s a Date!

It’s a Date!

Last week, on May 20th, I wished a friend, sharing how her birth date held great childhood appeal for me. The film My Fair Lady’s release left my brother and me lisping its every epic lyric. Listening non-stop to Lerner and Loewe’s music boom, “Next week on the 20th of May, I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day”, we ensured the parents pronounced this Movie Day, to watch a film together each year. “May 20 is also Balzac’s birthday,” said my friend, a French teacher after all. It’s fun creating personally meaningful dates. Besides ticking…Read more
First epidemic hero

First epidemic hero

Statue of Dr Acacio Vegas outside Framjee Cawasjee Institute at Dhobi Talao.  Breathing relief between virus waves, we should honour the Goan physician who discovered the bubonic plague that ravaged Bombay for two decades from its outbreak in 1896. Not only did Dr Acacio Viegas identify the first plague victim – Lukmibai at his Mandvi clinic – but he also inoculated 18,000 residents cramped in narrow, sewer-infested lanes. They came for treatment afflicted by fever and lymph node swelling from bacterium spread by rats carrying infected fleas. Researching the disease’s quick and deadly…Read more
A scientist’s word

A scientist’s word

Homi Jehangir Bhabha, 1960.  Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons The recent popularity of the serial Rocket Boys reminds us of a promise scrupulously kept. In a talk she delivered some years ago, oral historian Dr Indira Chowdhury, who is also the co-author of the biography, Masterful Spirit: Homi J Bhabha, along with Ananya Dasgupta, described the interesting genesis of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Everyone knows the present location of TIFR. Its birthplace was Kenilworth, the Peddar Road home in Bombay of Bhabha’s aunt, his mother’s sister Cooverbai Panday. Announcing the plan during a lecture on cosmic…Read more
Wooing, old Bombay-style

Wooing, old Bombay-style

Romantic hotspot Bombelli’s at Breach Candy, with its van in the foreground. Picture Courtesy: Anita Bombelli In the month of Valentine’s Day, here’s a throwback to how the mid-20th century city romanced. Wooing and wedding changed after Bombay’s inaugural swing show on September 15, 1948. The highlight was Frank Fernand’s original piece, Prabhat, inspired by an audience with Gandhiji. Pacing musicians for genres classic to cabaret, Mickey Correa became the first Indian to form an independent orchestra, roping in Chic Chocolate, George Pacheco, Johnny Baptist, Eddie Tavares and Leslie Weeks. The young in…Read more
The other Gandhis

The other Gandhis

Kalbadevi’s Princess Street is renamed after Shamaldas Gandhi (inset), free India’s astute statesman. Courtesy/Midday Infomedia   The Mahatma’s upcoming death anniversary is time to remember two less well-known Gandhis who have left their public stamp on Bombay. Rowed with 19th-century buildings, Princess Street in Kalbadevi is officially sign-boarded Shamaldas Gandhi Marg. The son of Anandlal Amritlal and grandnephew of Mohandas Karamchand, Shamaldas Gandhi (1913-1998) supported the freedom struggle rather uniquely. When the princely states decided between accession to India or Pakistan, the Nawab of Junagadh chose Pakistan. The majority opposed his stance. Shamaldas…Read more