The industrial revolution began in the late 18th century, but many of its practical benefits were available much later.
History & Culture
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
DEVICES THAT MADE OUR LIFE EASY
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
DUETS WITH THE SWAR SAMRAT
On this day, 75 years ago, the mellifluous nasal baritone voice of Kundan Lal Saigal fell silent. However, thanks to modern technology, with about 200 recordings and 36 films, his mesmerising voice has been immortalised to the delight and pleasure of later generations.
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
1970s - THE DOORDARSHAN DECADE
Television came to Bombay on Gandhi Jayanti, 2nd October 1972. Inder Kumar Gujaral, who was then the I&B minister and later went on to become Prime Minister, made the inaugural speech launching a service that would connect, educate and entertain millions across our city and state. But in reality, it did much more than that. In today's lingo, TV became a disruptive medium. Because, though it was telecast only for a few hours every day, Bombayites began to adjust their daily routine according to the timings of their favourite shows which were produced by a division of Prasar Bharati known as Doordarshan.
The day's telecast would begin on weekdays at 6.00 pm with a signal bar chart followed by the Doordarshan logo that would come on to the screen with its signature tune playing in the background. The telecast was in Black and White.
The launch of Doordarshan spawned a new industry - the manufacture of Black & White TV sets, cables and aerials. The TVs were housed in a rectangular wooden box standing on four legs with folding or sliding doors protecting the screen, the speakers and the control panel. And though most televisions had a knob to switch channels, the irony was there was only one channel available. As the viewership increased, advertisements for TV brands such as Standard, Televista, Telerad, Weston, JK Tv, Dynora, Crown and the government-owned ECTv became increasingly visible in the print media. But to own a TV set, one needed a licence that had to be renewed annually at the local post office. And, inspectors were doing the rounds to ensure that you did! The TV sets were connected by a flat co-axial cable to the aerials mounted on a pole on the roof or terrace. And every time there was image distortion on the screen, one had to go up and readjust the aerial whilst someone else had to co-ordinate from below, often leaning dangerously out of the window. It was a chore that we now remember as fond memories but was quite annoying then. Another option was the indoor V-shaped antenna which was usually placed on the TV cabinet.
Despite all the shortcomings in the early days, TV became a popular source of entertainment. The telecast was a mix of educational, social and entertaining programs and there was something for everyone in the family. For children, there was Magic Lamp in English, Kilbil in Marathi, Santakukdi in Gujarati and Khel Khilone anchored by Manju Singh in Hindi. The children enjoyed the quiz, arts & crafts, puppetry and of course the stories narrated on these shows. Besides these, there were the English serials - Fireball XL5, Invisible Man, Man in a Suitcase, Count of Monte Cristo, Sir Francis Drake, Here's Lucy, Charlie Chaplin, Nicholas Nickleby, Father Dear Father and the universally popular German games show, Tele-Match. Ventriloquist and puppeteer Ramdas Padhye added to the merriment with his 'friend-in-arms' Ardhavatrao in Meri Bhi Suno.
Cartoons such as Flintstones and those by the Films Division were also fun to watch. Stop Pull Chain, Skin in the Bin, Tree of Unity, etc., were produced by Films Division to spread a social message in a fun way. Though the quality of animation was below par as compared to Walt Disney cartoons, they did make their point.
Chaya Geet, a medley of Hindi movie songs was telecast on Thursdays whilst the effervescent Tabassum conversed with Hindi film personalities in Phool Khile Hai Gulshan Gulshan on Fridays. Both these programs were aired at 9.10 pm. Saturday evenings were reserved for regional movies and plays, usually in Marathi and occasionally in other languages such as Gujarati and Sindhi. However, the most awaited program of the week was the Hindi movie on Sunday evening. Before the advent of the VCR, this was the only way one could watch a movie outside a of theater. Such was the popularity of these programs that those who did not own a TV set would visit a neighbour, friend or relative to watch their favourite show. It was common to see many people huddled in the drawing-rooms of those fortunate to own TV set, especially on a Sunday evening to watch the Hindi movie.
Before we had the very popular Hum Log in the 80s, we had Chimanrao, a Marathi serial staring Dileep Prabhavalkar and Bal Karve. It was written by humourist Chintanman Joshi and it regaled audiences across language barriers. It continues to be popular even today and is widely watched on Youtube. Sunday mornings had us laugh at the witty conversation between Babban Prabhu and Yakub Sayeed in Haas Parihas. Another popular Marathi program was Gajra that was telecast weekly. It was produced by Vinayak Chaskar and presented humourous skits and light-hearted interviews. The Diwali episode of Gajra was always a special treat. Sundar Maaze Ghar hosted by Suhasini Mulgaonkar was a 'Ladies Special' offering home improvement tips whilst in Pratibha Aani Pratima personalities from the field of Arts, Literature & Culture were interviewed giving an insight into their contribution to society.
Besides entertainment, Doordarshan also had social responsibilities to fulfil. And two shows that did just that were Amchi Maati Amchi Maansa and Kamgar Vishwa. The first gave valuable farming-related inputs to farmers and the other took up labour-related issues. Many may not be aware that Doordarshan also launched Education Tv or E-Tv, a program aimed at students studying in Municipal and Government schools. It was telecast in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays. This project was a joint venture between ISRO & NASA and was known as Satelite Instructional Television Experiment or SITE. But probably the most remembered program must surely be "Aapan Yaannaa Pahilat Kaa?"! It showed pictures of missing people whilst describing their physical details and last seen location. It often made viewers wonder if they had recently seen 'that' face somewhere.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
This is where it all began.
On 16 February 1665 in a room in Manor House, now known as Bombay Castle, the seven islands that we today know as the Island City of Mumbai were officially handed over by the Portuguese to the representatives of the English crown. And with this dawned a new era of development, growth and prosperity of Bombay.
The first Englishman in charge of Bombay was Humphrey Cooke, thus making him the first Governor of Bombay during the short-lived rule of the English Crown. Cooke left office in November 1666 and subsequently, following friction between the King's agents and the Portuguese over port dues, King Charles II handed over these islands by a royal charter dated 27 March 1668 to the East India Company for an annual rent of £10 in gold and a personal loan of £50,000 at 6% interest per annum.
This paved the way for the President of the Council of Surat factory, Sir George Oxenden to become Governor of Bombay. Sadly, Sir George did not live long and passed away in Surat in 1669. However, for Bombay, this sad turn of events was a blessing in disguise. Oxenden's successor, Gerald Aungier was a man of vision. It was he who laid the basis for the commercial, administrative and social expansion of this city. And the subsequent developments that led to this change took place in the area we know as Fort, Bombay 400001.
If trade and commerce were to grow, money would be required, and with that in mind Aungier set up one of the oldest surviving mints in India to mint Rupees, Pies and Bajruks in 1672. It exists today as the India Government Mint and is located behind the present RBI tower.
To ensure law and order a Court House and prison were set up in 1676 at the junction of Gunbow and Bora Bazaar Streets. Later, the court moved to the Admiralty building in Apollo Street before moving to its present location overlooking the Oval. Earlier in 1672, Portuguese laws that were in force on these islands were abrogated and replaced with the English system of justice.
Even the health of the denizens was not overlooked. A small hospital was built in 1677 at the site where St. George Hospital stands today. But most importantly, and unlike the Portuguese, Aungier assured immigrants the freedom of worship thus encouraging people of all faiths, especially from the trading communities, to settle in Bombay.
Gerald Aungier's good work was followed up by Charles Boone who became governor in 1715. The fort walls which lent the area its name "Fort" came up during his tenure, thus securing the city from military attack. Also, during his tenure, St. Thomas' Cathedral was opened for worship on Christmas day 1718. Earlier prayers were held in a room in Bombay Castle, the then residence of the Governor. Besides being a place for prayers, the church was also "point zero" from where all distances in Bombay were marked.
As maritime trade now shifted from Surat to Bombay, the dockyard was extended. Parsi shipbuilder Lavji Nussarwanji Wadia was invited from Surat to build new vessels for the EIC. This dry dock was beyond where the Lion Gate stands today and the tradition of shipbuilding still continues at the Mazgaon Docks.
With the town within the fort walls making rapid progress, important civic measures were taken. A town scavenger was appointed in 1759 to oversee the sanitation. Markets were built; a native market near Bazaar Gate and a market for Europeans at Medows Street / Nagindas Master Road. A police force known as the Bhandari Militia was set up and magistrates of Police were appointed to enforce law and order. Lt. James Todd was appointed the first Lieutenant of Police on 17th February 1779 by Governor William Hornby making Mumbai Police one of the oldest police forces in the country. The Police Office was situated in Fort with the court of the senior magistrate of Police located in Forbes Street, now known as V B Gandhi Marg.
In 1770, a group of theatre aficionados came together to propose the establishment of an amateur theatre and by 1775 were able to raise a public subscription for the same. The government too supported the idea with a grant of land on the Bombay Green. Thus, a Play House known as the Bombay Theatre came up in Fort and was one of the earliest English theatres in India. Sadly, the theatre fell out of favour with the public as well as the government, and was closed and later demolished in the 1840s. Today, the Nanji Building housing the Bank of Baroda stands in its place.
Adjacent to the Play House was the Fire Station, a forerunner to our city's Fire Brigade. It began as a horse-drawn service and played its part in the Great Fire that engulfed the town in 1803.
In 1811 the idea of having a Town Hall was first mooted. Its purpose was to offer the residents a platform to discuss, debate and speak on local and regional issues, matters of education, literature and art, and those relating to the governance and betterment of the city. The construction of the town hall began in 1821 and was completed in 1833. Nowadays, the Town Hall is better known for its occupants, namely the Asiatic Society & Library and the Stamp Office. Besides, its grand steps that lead to the main hall are quite popular for photoshoots and as a landmark meeting place.
The Play House, Fire Station and Town Hall were all located at the periphery of an open ground known as the Bombay Green. This circular piece of real estate served as a venue for military bands and parades, a meeting place for the general public, a market for traders to transact business, open storage for commodities, and also a place of rest and recreation for the people at large. Later, when the Fort walls were demolished in the 1860s during the governorship of Sir Henry Bartle Frere, a circular garden surrounded by neo-classical buildings came up here. This garden was named Elphinstone Circle in honour of Governor Lord Elphinstone and post-independence renamed as Horniman Circle after Benjamin Guy Horniman. Horniman was a British editor of The Bombay Chronicle, a newspaper that supported India's struggle for independence. This paper was published from a red brick building, which still stands at the western edge of the circle and is home to the country's oldest surviving newspaper, Mumbai Samachar which started as weekly way back in 1822.
Outside the Elphinstone Circle, under a banyan tree, a few brokers began speculating in cotton futures and shares of textile mills that had come up in Bombay since 1854. Later, they organised themselves as the Bombay Native Share and Stock Brokers Association which in 1875 went on to become Asia's first stock exchange, now known as the Bombay Stock Exchange or BSE.
With the area acquiring a commercial overtone, financial institutions set up their office here. The Bank of Bombay, which upon its merger with the Bank of Madras and the Bank of Bengal became the Imperial Bank and subsequently the State Bank of India, set up its head office across from the Elphinstone Circle on Apollo Street. Later, as other Banks followed suit, the lane behind Apollo Street was named Bank Street.
After the fort walls were demolished, new areas outside the fort opened for development. The Bombay University, Bombay High Court and the city's first, and one of the country's earliest luxury hotels, the Watsons Hotel came up on the Esplanade that overlooked these walls.
With these signal developments and the establishment of veritable institutions in this area Bombay raced ahead of Calcutta, then the capital of British India, to emerge as the Urbs Prima in Indis, meaning the First City of India.
No wonder, the Fort precinct occupies the foremost spot in Mumbai's postal code index as 400001 and is designated as A Ward by the BMC.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
The Lost Service Providers of Bombay
The way we live and work undergoes significant change over time. Occupations that once flourished are now mostly forgotten as they do not contribute to the livelihood of most people anymore. Here are 4 such trades that once employed many in Bombay but are no longer relevant today.
All those who have visited the General Post Office before the proliferation of mobile phones would have noticed men perched on a stool on a pavement nearby, with some postal stationery, a pen, bottle of glue, stapler and seals. These men helped connect millions of migrants with their families back home through India’s vast postal network. Even locals unable to pen letters themselves used the services of these Professional Letter Writers. For a small fee, these writers would write letters in Hindi, Urdu, English and other native languages informing family, relatives and friends of happy occasions, sad news, promotions, ill health, money matters or on any issue their customers wanted to pour their heart out. In the absence of telephones in most parts of rural India, letters were the only means of communication for many poor people. The writers also doubled up as letter readers since an incoming letter had to be read should the receiver not be able to do so. And often, a reply to be given. Besides writing letters, they also helped customers send money orders, telegrams and invest in postal savings. Truly, they were the only link between many a lonely migrant and his family back home.
A visit to the kitchen today would reveal that steel and aluminium have replaced copper and brass vessels. Whilst elders waxed about the health benefits of cooking and having meals in copper and brass vessels, these vessels required regular maintenance. Once every few months, they had to be given a coating of tin to prevent the oxidization which occurred due to moisture. Besides, brass and copper also react to souring agents in the food. This is where the Kalaiwala or the Kalaigar came in. A travelling service provider, often accompanied by an assistant, he would move in different parts of the city advertising his services with a loud, elongated shout, Kalaaai. The process of tinning required a strip of tin, caustic soda and aluminium chloride. The vessel was first cleaned with caustic soda and water, then heated on coals fired up with air pumped from bellows. Once the vessel was hot aluminium chloride powder was sprinkled on the inside of the vessel and polished with a strip of tin using cotton cloth. The tin would melt leaving behind a fine film that would shine like silver. And the vessel was good to use for a few more months.
Today, when we want to spice up our food all we have to do is to open a packet of ground, powdered spices. But, not so a few decades ago when whole spices were purchased, dried and then ground at home, either by a member of the family or by professional spice grinders, usually women who would move from house to house with a wooden mortar and pestle. They would operate in groups of 2 or 3 and would pound the spice all at the same time but in turn. And the pounding sound would have a rhythmic beat to it. The whole spices would first be piled into the high walled mortar and then each lady would pound it with a long wooden pestle alternately until the spice was finely ground. This work was not only tiring but also detrimental to health. The ladies would cover their faces to avoid breathing in the finely powdered, but often pungent, spices. Whilst this service may still be available in rural areas, these ladies known as Masala Pisnewali Bais are no longer to be seen in Mumbai. Easy availability of a variety of powdered spices, both plain as well as blended, means that we do not need to stock up on whole spices and then grind them. And for those who want to do so, the electric mixer-grinder is always on hand.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Bhoole Bisre Geetkar
As I listened to Bhoole Bisre Geet, a music program on Vividh Bharti featuring popular songs of yesteryears, I reminisced about those lyricists who wrote such meaningful and captivating songs for Hindi cinema. The names that immediately came to mind were Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi, Rajendra Kishan, Hasrat Jaipuri, Kaifi Azmi and Kavi Pradeep. However, besides these songsmiths, there were other brilliant lyricists who, like some of the songs they wrote, are forgotten today. As I look back, here are a few Geetkars whose compositions we still hum but cannot easily recall their names.
Who can forget those evergreen numbers from Kashmir Ki Kali? Songs like “Diwana Hua Badal”, “Taarif Karun Kya Uski” have gone down as unforgettable melodies which were penned by Shamsul Huda, better known as S. H. Bihari. A resident of Madhupur in Jarkhand (earlier Bihar), Bihari was an Urdu poet and lyricist who wrote many memorable romantic songs for Hindi movies often pairing with noted music director O P Nayyar, better known for his rhythmic tunes. He began his lyrical journey in Hindi cinema with the 1954 movie Shart in which he gave the hit song "Na Yeh Chand Hoga, Na Taare Rahenge". Later for the 1962 box office hit Ek Musafir Ek Hasina he penned "Bahut Shukriya Badi Meherbani" which remains popular even today. But his crowning glory was the 1964 Shammi Kapoor - Sharmila Tagore super hit Kashmir Ki Kali in which he gave us some of the most seductively alluring romantic songs picturised in Hindi cinema. Later, for three movies released in 1966, Sawan Ki Ghata, Mohabbat Zindagi Hai and Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, he penned enduring lyrics like "Zulfon ko Hataa le Chehare Se", "Zara Haule Haule Chalo More Sajna" and "Yehi Woh Jagah Hai Yehi Woh Fiza Hai". And whilst he went on to write lyrics for songs in Hindi movies for two more decades, some of which we hear even today, he slowly faded from the limelight as other poets like Anand Bakshi and Gulzar took centerstage.
During the 1960s and early 70s, when patriotism was often the theme in Hindi movies, many songs echoed this sentiment through lyrics that roused nationalist fervour. And a lyricist known for his patriotic verse was Prem Dhawan. Dhawan, born in Ambala in 1923, was a multitalented personality. He began his career with the Indian Peoples Theater Association and later learnt music from the maestro Ravi Shankar. Though he got a break in Hindi cinema with the K A Abbas' 1946 release Dharti Ke Laal he came into his own in 1961 with the song "Aye Mere Pyaare Watan", now often heard on Republic and Independence day, which he penned for the film Kabuliwala. Another popular number "Chhodo Kal Ki Baaten, Kal Ki Baat Poorani" from the film Hum Hindustani released in the same year urged the nation to break free from the past and move forward towards a glorious future. But it was his association with actor Manoj "Bharat" Kumar that he made a name for himself. Not only did he write lyrics for Manoj Kumar, but also composed music for his movie Shaheed which has the iconic song "Mera Rang de Basanti Chola" penned by him. Apart from being a lyricist and composer, Dhawan acted in two movies; Lajawab in 1950 and Goonj Oothi Shehnai released in 1959. The year 1970 was a big year for Dhawan what with the release of Purab Paschim, Mera Naam Joker and the Punjabi film Nanak Dhukhiya Sub Sansar which won him the National Film Award for Best Lyrics. And though he continued to write lyrics and compose music for Hindi and Punjabi movies in the 70s and 80s, his peak as a lyricist and composer was well past him.
Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo, the foot-tapping flirty number picturized on Helen and sung by Geeta Dutt in the film Howrah Bridge was written by Qamar Jalalabadi. Qamar, whose real name was Om Prakash Bhandari, was born in 1917 in Jalalabad, a village in Amritsar district. He began writing poetry from the tender age of seven. A wandering poet Amar Chand Amar acknowledging his craft gave him the pen name Qamar, meaning moon. As was the trend with poets in those days Qamar suffixed the name of his village to his pen name. Realising that the film industry offered an opportunity to poets like him he came to Bombay in the 1940s where he penned lyrics for the next 40 years. Some of his early memorable songs include "Sunti Nahi Duniya Kabhi Fariyaad Kissi Ki", "Dil Kis Liye Rota Hai...Pyar Ki Duniya Me Aisa Hi Hota Hai" and "Ek Dilke Tukde Hazaar Huye, Koyi Yahan Gira Koyi Wahan Gira". But it wasn’t that his repertoire included only sad songs. He showed his versatility with the romantic "Dil Le Gaya Koi Dil Le Gaya" sung by Suraiya and Shamshad Begum for the film Sanam, or the boisterous "Khush Hai Zamana Aaj Pehli Tarikh Hai" which was sung by Kishore Kumar in his inimitable style for Pehli Tarikh. Radio Ceylon popularised it by playing the song at the beginning of every month for many years! But the turning point in his career came in 1958 with Howrah Bridge. Besides "Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo", the seductive "Aaiye Meherbaan, Baithiye Janejaan" sung by Asha Bhosale became an instant hit. His other evergreen songs that are played even now are "Ek Pardesi Mera Dil Le Gaya" from Phagun, "Mein to Ek Khwab Hoon" from Himalay Ki God Mein, "Deewane Se Yeh Mat Poocho" from Upkar and the chart-buster "Dum Dum Diga Diga Mausam Bheega Bheega" from Chalia.
Like these three Geetkars, there were many others who wrote endearing lyrics for film songs in all genres, whose words we still remember but sadly cannot recall their creator.
DEVICES THAT MADE OUR LIFE EASY
The 20th century saw a paradigm shift in the way we live and work. The ease with which we do most things today is a far cry from the struggl...
The way we live and work undergoes significant change over time. Occupations that once flourished are now mostly forgotten as they do not co...
Television came to Bombay on Gandhi Jayanti, 2nd October 1972. Inder Kumar Gujaral, who was then the I&B minister and later went on to b...
On this day, 75 years ago, the mellifluous nasal baritone voice of Kundan Lal Saigal fell silent. However, thanks to modern technology, with...