It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

The Dickensian alleys of Sonapur village in Dhobi Talao come alive most interestingly around Christmas. In Wellington Terrace, on the street saluting physician-mayor Simon Fernandes, residents miss their neighbours who moved north to Orlem and Borivli. Such Catholic colonies were once populated enough to have people sleep on corridor landings. Till the 1970s the wadi hosted festive dances on a wooden floor. Our Lady of Dolours Church here was a cemetery, then a chapel before attaining church status. At Kaizer Building facing it, parishioners C D’Souza’s confectionery introduced sweets like bibinca, bolinhas, dodol,…Read more
The Yogi and the Musician

The Yogi and the Musician

We all live surrounded by history. The street I am on, once housed the Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute, honouring the jurist-philanthropist who has the road named after him too. Nestled in the Art Deco-designed Desai family bungalow called Hasman, at 89 Warden Road, in the 1950s the institute brilliantly represented classicism and modernism of the Indian arts in the widest sense. On featuring it as the city’s mid-20th century crucible of culture and forerunner to the NCPA, I received this interesting photograph from my friend Soonoo Taraporewala. It shows the violinist Yehudi Menuhin…Read more
Indian women on Venus

Indian women on Venus

Do you know, three Indian women are on Venus? Well, their names grace a trio of craters on the solar system’s hottest planet. All identified craters here bear names of women who have made outstanding contributions to their respective fields. From Left to Right - Anandibai Joshi, Pandita Ramabai Medhavi and Dr Jerusha Jhirad Listed among nomenclature approved only by the International Astronomical Union are our country’s three remarkable achievers. The Joshee, Medhavi and Jhirad craters honour Anandibai Joshi (this official nomenclature spells her last name with a double “ee”), Pandita Ramabai Medhavi and Jerusha Jhirad. Anandibai…Read more
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