Mumbai: Art and History, Literature and Mystery

Mumbai Art and History, Literature and Mystery

“ The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of” stated Leonardo Da Vinci. It is true when it comes to a city like Mumbai which is surrounded by both Art and History.

While thousands of people flock to the CST station, pass through Horniman Circle, and walk around Kala Ghoda, there are very few who notice how each place has its own history and is shrouded in mystery. For an average man in Mumbai, Kala Ghoda is just a link between Fort and Colaba. But for an art lover, it is a small precinct with so much of art and history that it is called the ‘Art and Culture District of Bombay’(because the structures are colonial so why not the name?) While a passer-by would just stare at all these structures, an art enthusiast wants to explore each of them- right from the statue of Kala Ghoda (which is not the original one) to the Jehangir Art Gallery which is an ‘Art lover’s Paradise’. The sight of the painters sitting outside the gallery in hope of a better future is also heart-wrenching.

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India’s introduction to luxury hotels- Watson’s Hotel is now in deplorable condition but, it is the only surviving cast-iron building in India. The Army Navy Building which was used as a British army store, now only houses Westside and its kurtas. The David Sassoon Library is not frequented by many people but it is still a favourite spot for Bibliophiles. The Prince of Wales Museum built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture has a massive dome that appeals to both – a passer-by and an art lover. The Elphinstone College-one of the oldest college in the city houses the Maharashtra Archives which is unfortunately not well-maintained. At the end of the lane, is the beautiful structure called the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) which often goes unnoticed.

While the main road has these structures, the quaint lanes of Kala Ghoda have Hidden Treasures. In one of the lanes sit an enchanting synagogue and the Delhi Art Gallery. You walk through these lanes and you chance upon plush restaurants as well as Mughlai outlets and Street food. Along with Art, it is also a Food Lover’s Paradise. The area hosts the annual Kala Ghoda Fest, which is the only time that the area has literally no breathing space, as it connects artists and the common man. But once the fest is over, the area is once again calm and isolated. Many structures over here are a contribution of Parsis and Jewish businessmen without whom the History of Bombay is incomplete.

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For a writer like me, Mumbai is a place where thoughts run wild and turn into words, where VISUAL ART turns into LITERATURE ( just like Van Gogh’s painting ‘The Starry Night’ inspired Anne Sexton to write a poem by the same name). History is known when it is written down that is when facts are well-provided. History is therefore incomplete without Literature and Literature is a form of history. While there might be thousands of books written on Mumbai and its historical facts, there are very few which have a poetic language and a mass connection.

Talk about Literature and you cannot miss the most amazing libraries that the city houses. One such grand library is The Asiatic Society of Mumbai which has an amalgamation of Greek and Roman architecture. The portico and the outer steps are visually appealing to a layman whereas the abundant collection of knowledge inside is appealing to a book lover.  Another spot is the Kitab Khana with a cozy cafe which is a perfect place to read. On one side, the city has these sophisticated libraries and on the other hand, there is an entire stretch of book stalls near Flora Fountain. For a person who loves to read but is tight on budget, this is the best place to visit. Though the stalls are not as huge as the libraries, you may sometimes chance upon those treasures which are not found even in a library.

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Growing up in Mumbai, one thing I have learned is that, no matter how many years you have been staying here, there is still so much more to discover. You might be a fiction lover or a mystery enthusiast, Mumbai caters to the needs of both. There are thousands of conspiracy theories about this archipelago of the Seven Islands- it is believed that it existed during the Ancient period. According to a legend, Ram and Lakshman had visited this place while they were searching for Sita.

When Ram felt thirsty,  he asked Lakshman to fetch water. But the only water available nearby was the salty sea water, so Lakshman shot an arrow (ban) into the ground and a tributary of river Ganga sprang out leading to the formation of  ‘Ban-Ganga. Even though the sea is only 100 metres away from this place, the water in this tank is sweet. As per the historical records, the Banganga tank was constructed in the 12th century as a reservoir of drinking water by Lakshman Prabhu, a minister in the court of the Silhara dynasty of Thane. It is believed that the tank gets water from an underground spring. There is a mystery in the structures and lanes, the mystery behind each smile and each stare. Living in Mumbai is like reading a thriller novel where suspense is slowly revealed and each day has its own twists and turns.

Mumbai is called the ‘City of Dreams’ and while it is busy fulfilling everybody’s dream, the city itself goes unnoticed. The structures are not looked after, the communities that are a part of its history are now marginalized( like the Kolis, Agris, East Indians, and Bene-Israelis), and the beauty of the city is rarely expressed in words. As a Mumbaikar, the things that comfort me in this city are the quiet lanes, the Irani cafes, the colonial structures, and the vast Arabian Sea. It is this blend of Art, History, Literature, and Mystery that forms a city called ‘Mumbai’ which is true ‘Meri Jaan’.

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