Tuesday, May 31, 2022


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 struggle and hard work that went into accomplishing them earlier.

The industrial revolution began in the late 18th century, but many of its practical benefits were available much later.

One of the early time and effort saving devices appeared in 1873. Correspondence, both official and personal, since time immemorial, was handwritten. With the advent of the typewriter, letter writers got replaced by a solid square machine that went clickety-clack and churned out reams of paper in a uniform font. It helped speed up communication and made reading letters and messages easy. It wouldn't be wrong to say that the typewriter performed another cultural transformation; it got women into a place that was strictly the domain of men - the office! Soon stenographers, primarily women, became an integral part of offices. Many went on to become personal secretaries and accountants. Later, with the spread of education, women now hold important positions in management. But it all began with the humble typewriter!


We are all in the midst of a heatwave. And imagine how uncomfortable it would be were it not for the fan? The earliest fans recorded in history were hand-operated. Later, hydraulically operated fans were developed in China during the Han dynasty. The mid-nineteenth century saw the development of steam-driven fans. They worked on the principle of pistons pushing a crankshaft to rotate the blades. These were table models that required inserting a kerosene or oil lamp into its base to generate steam which propelled the pistons. In the 1880s, German-American inventor Philip Diehl attached blades to a sewing machine motor and fixed it to a ceiling. With that began the era of the modern fan. Today we have all kinds of fans: Ceiling, Wall, Table and Pedestal mounted to keep us cool. Further developments in this concept led to the Air Cooler, which blows cool air from moistened pads placed behind a fan. In the last few decades the fan and the air cooler have been replaced by the air conditioner with our homes, offices, transport and public spaces increasingly becoming airconditioned.

Never mind what the quick delivery adverts say these days, we do need the Refrigerator or Fridge. Earlier, ladies at home prepared freshly cooked food before mealtime as one could not store food for long, especially during summer. With the arrival of the Fridge in the early twentieth century, it became possible to keep fruits, vegetables, eggs, butter, and desserts unspoilt for days. Nowadays, cooked meals are stored in the Fridge too, only to be heated in the microwave later. Another essential function the Fridge performs is to make ice. The freezer which makes the ice, also cools our beverages quickly and keeps frozen food good for months. All said and done; no kitchen is complete without a Fridge.

Besides the Fridge, another appliance that is an essential part of the kitchen is the modern kitchen stove. Be it a gas stove or an electric one, every kitchen has it. Before the advent of the modern stove, food was cooked on an earthen stove fuelled by wood or coal. The problems with the earthen stove were that it produced smoke, took time to start, and the cooking process was slow. With the availability of piped gas as early as the 1790s in the UK, initially for lighting and later for cooking and heating, the modern stove made of metal made its entry into the kitchen. The concept of multiple burners came with the new stove, which meant that one could simultaneously cook more than one dish. The flame could be ignited, controlled and put off with a twist of the knob. All this made cooking easy and did not fill the kitchen with health-harming smoke. 

As the world's population increased exponentially in the last 120 years, living and working spaces have gone vertical to accommodate more people in existing areas. Cities and large towns now have multi-storeyed homes, offices, and even factories. This shift from the horizontal to the vertical was made possible by the invention of the Elevator or Lift. Thanks to the Elevator, we now zip up and down multi-storey buildings and move materials with ease. Gone are the days when one had to climb up and down the stairs, even though buildings were usually two or three floors high. This 'exercise' was especially tough for the elderly, sick and disabled. If today we see a change in our city's landscape, it is thanks to the Elevator, introduced by an American, Elisha Otis, in 1853 in New York.

Washing dirty linen and clothes was always a backbreaking chore, what with all the scrubbing and squeezing required to get the dirt off our clothes. Thanks to the washing machine, all we need is to add a measure of detergent, press a few buttons, turn a knob and presto! we have clean clothes within 45 mins to an hour. These machines were invented in the 1850s and were at first manually operated. Later, many inventors improved the technology over the following years, giving us the modern washing machine without which most modern urban homes are incomplete.

But the main driving force for these gadgets and appliances to succeed was the availability of running water, piped or bottled gas and electricity. Without these, none of the modern devices that have become an integral part of our daily lives would have seen the light of day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022


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.

Saigal didn't have any formal training in music from a Pandit or Ustad of a Gharana, though he did spend two years with a Sufi Peer, Salman Yusof. He nurtured his musical skills in the company of wandering minstrels, Sadhus and Sufis, and at Mehfils and Mushairas. It was his love of singing that refined and polished his vocal cords. As the waters of a river flow uncharted through the land enriching its soil, his natural voice, unconstrained by conditioning, flowed through his lips, lending a mystic charm to his songs.
He sang a vast repertoire of songs. Romantic songs such as 'Do Naina Matware Tihare Hum Per Zulum Kare'; songs of love and yearning like 'Tarpat Beete Din Rain Nit Din Birhaa Ko Raat Satave'; Bhajans and Ghazals; sad, melancholy songs such as 'Dukh Ke Din Ab Bitat Nahin' and lullabies, probably the first in Hindi cinema, 'So Jaa Rajkumari, So Jaa'. His mastery over the classical genre was evident in Jhoolana Jhulao Aao Ri. At the same time, he sang children's songs with equal ease, as is apparent in Ek Raje Ka Beta Lekar Udanewala Ghoda, a piece that had lyrics as well as prose. The evergreen 'Ek Bangala Bane Nyara' resonated with the collective emotions of millions desiring a magnificent house. Besides these, there are the classics: Babul Mora Nahiar Chute Jai, Balam Aaye Baso More Mann Mein, Karun Kya Aas Niraas Bhayi, Diya Jalao Jag Mag Jag Mag, Kahe Ko Raad Machaiyi and many more that are regularly played by popular demand on Vividh Bharati and Radio Ceylon, or Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation as it is known now.
Whilst Saigal's solo songs cast a spell on his fans, his duets with singer-actresses of that era were equally popular. He sang some memorable duets with Uma Shashi, Kanan Devi, Khursheed Bano and Suraiya.
Saigal first tasted success with the film Chandidas. The story is about Chandidas, a poet, played by Saigal, who falls in love with Rami, a low caste girl played by Uma Shashi. As Rami sings of building a home on the foundation of love, Chandidas joins in this melodic duet, 'Prem Nagar Mey Banaoongi Ghar Mein'. It was one of Saigal's earliest duets that became a hit. They paired together in many New Theater movies, such as Puran Bhakt, Daku Mansoor and Dharti Mata.
Audio of Prem Nagar Mey Banaoongi Ghar Mein
Their romantic duet in Dharti Mata, 'Main Man Ki Baat Bataaun, Kya Kya Baat Uthat Man More' penned by Pt. Sudarshan and beautifully composed by Panjak Mullick, in which both lovers express their thoughts towards each other became extremely popular.
Audio of Main Man Ki Baat Bataaun
Though, the song that first comes to mind when one refers to Dharti Mata is 'Duniya Rang Rangili Baba, Duniya Rang Rangili' in which Saigal is joined by Uma Shashi and K C Dey (Pankaj Mullick in the record).
Audio of Duniya Rang Rangili Baba
Another well-known actress with whom Saigal successfully paired was Kanan Devi. And their most notable performance was in Phani Majumdar's Street Singer. Whilst Saigal's rendition of Wajid Ali Shah's thumri, 'Babool Mora Naihar Chooto Jaye' made him a singing sensation, his love duet with Kanan Devi 'Sanwariya Prem Ki Bansi Sunai' helped establish Kanan Devi's reputation as a melody queen. Another classic duet with Kanan Devi in Street Singer is 'Rut Hai Suhani, Mast Hawaein, Chaayi Hai Udi Udi Ghatayein'. Credit must also be given to Arzoo Lakhnavi, who penned the lyrics, and Rai Chand Boral for composing music for many of the hummable melodies Saigal sang solo or in a duet in films produced by New Theaters, Calcutta.
Audio of Sanwariya Prem Ki Bansi Sunai
When he came to Bombay in 1942, he signed a contract with Shree Ranjit Movietone, and the first movie made under this banner was Bhakt Surdas. It was in the genre of Saint Films and was a huge success. Its bhajans and devotional songs became an unforgettable part of the Saigal legacy. One such eternal melody is a duet with Rajkumari, who did not act in the film but lent her voice as a playback singer, sung in Raag Bhairavi, 'Sar Pe Kadamb Ki Chhainya Muraliya Baj Re, Mori Laaj Rahi'.
Audio of Sar Pe kadamb Ki Chhainya Muraliya Baj Re
Actress-singer Khursheed Bano, who starred opposite Saigal in Bhakt Surdas, tasted success after a string of forgettable films. Her romantic duet with Saigal "Chandani Raat Aur Taare Khile Ho, Taare Ki Chaiyya Mein Do Dil Mile Ho" is still doing the rounds on Radio and YouTube.
Audio of Chandani Raat Aur Taare Khile Ho
The following year they paired again in the classic, Tansen. It was as if Saigal was born to play the role of the great 16th century Sangeet 'Nav Ratna' of Akbar's court. "More Balpan Ke Saathi Chhaila Bhool Jaiyo Na", a duet with Khursheed, was an instant hit, as was Khursheed's solo 'Ghata Ghanghor Ghor, Mor Machave Shor, More Sajan Aaja'. Saigal's peerless solo rendition of songs such as Diya Jalao Diya Manao, Baag Laga Dun Sajani, Sapt Suran Teen Gram Gaao Sab Guni Jan and Rhum Jhum Rhum Jhum Chaal Tihare made Tansen the second highest-grossing film after Kismet in 1943. This was Khemchand Prakash's first association with Saigal as a music composer, and the often hummed lyrics were written by Pandit Indra. However, D N Madhok is also mentioned as a co-lyricist in the credits.
Video of More Balpan Ke Saathi Chhaila Bhool Jaiyo Na
Towards the end of his career, Saigal did two movies with Suraiya, a leading singing star of the 1940s and early 50s - Tadbeer and Parwana, the latter released after his passing away. A love duet in Tadbeer with Suraiya that became popular was "Rani Khol Apne Dwar, Milne Ka Din Aa Gaya, Aa Gaya, Karle Naino Nain Do Char, Milne Ka Din Aa Gaya, Aa Gaya". In many of his songs, Naino or eyes have been used to express love.
Audio of Rani Khol Apne Dwar, Milne Ka Din Aa Gaya
On 26th December 1946, Saigal, having completed Shahjehan and Parwana despite failing health, boarded the Frontier Mail to visit his hometown Jalandhar. On 18th January 1947, the legend passed away, but his songs continue to remain popular with the connoisseurs of music, young and old.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021


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.

Somewhat similar to Pratibha Ani Pratima was Parikrama, a talk show in Hindi hosted by Kamleshwar. Besides being a show host, Kamleshwar was also an author, screenplay writer and critic. In Parikrama, he interviewed a wide cross-section of people from diverse fields on current topics. Whilst Parikrama was wide in its scope, Aapka Swasthya hosted by Dr. Padam Singhvi focussed on different medical conditions and their treatment. For those interested in being healthy the natural way there was Dhirendra Bhramachari's Yogabhyas in which two of his pupils would demonstrate various yoga poses whilst he would explain their health benefits.

Adi Marzban, a doyen of Bombay Theatre produced the immensely popular Gujarati show Aavo Mari Sathe. Like Gajra in Marathi, it presented Gujarati singers, musicians as well as humourous skits featuring well-known stage artists like Dinyar Contractor, Adi Pocha and Kishore Bhatt, a.k.a Karsankaka. Besides Avo Mari Sathe, Adi Murzban also introduced What's the Good Word, a word-guessing game show with Gautam Vohra as host. It was telecast on Saturdays at 9.10 pm. Later, it was Sabira Merchant who went on to become the popular face of the show for the next two decades.

Some other programs in Gujarati were Parijaat, Mauj Majha, Gher Betha and Yuvadarshan, the last being telecast in Hindi and Marathi as well. For music lovers, there was Sugam Sangeet. Other musical programs were Shabdanche Palikade in Marathi and Sham-e-Gazal in Urdu.

For sports lovers, there was Fredun de Vitre's Sports Roundup and AFS 'Bobby' Talyarkhan's Looking Forward, Looking Back. Talyarkhan used to deliver his bland monologue with a poker face facing a fixed camera. In the absence of live relays of most sports tournaments, both these shows analysed the recent outings of Indian sportsmen. Cricket, however, was an exception. Doordarshan brought home Cricket Test matches by broadcasting them, usually live when they were played in India. The first match telecast was the 1974 series against England, followed by one against the mighty West Indies. Later in July 1976 viewers saw Nadia Comaneci score a perfect 10 in gymnastics at the Summer Olympics in Montreal.

Besides cricketing updates, Doordarshan featured daily 10 minute news in Marathi, Hindi and English. Marathi news or Batmya was telecast at 7.30 pm and was read by Pradeep Bhide or Bhakti Barve, Anant Bhave, Charushila Patwardhan, Smita Talwalkar and later, Smita Patil. Hindi Samachar came in at 9.00 pm and was presented by, amonst others, Sarita Sethi, Kumud Merani and Harish Bhimani. At the close of the day was News in English at 10 pm with Luku Sanyal, Dolly Thakore, Gerson DaCunha, Nirmala Matthan and Pratap Sharma giving the last dispatch before we went to bed. Some of the Marathi newsreaders were also the face of Udyache Karyekram and Saptahiki which gave a preview of what would be telecast the next day and over the coming week. As newsreaders, they became household names although some of them were already in the public eye due to their association with the theatre.

Though it was a monopoly service, Doordarshan did make an effort to feel the viewer's pulse. There were shows in Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati, where viewers' letters were read out and replies given. T P Jain and Sudha Chopra hosted the Hindi version which was titled Aap Ki Rai whilst J B Desai and Jyoti Vyas hosted the Gujarati version, Aapne Sambhodhine.

Advertisements on Doordarshan initially were still images with a voiceover. Ads for Forhan's Toothpaste, Bournvita, Digjam Suitings, Binaca Floride, Mysore Sandal Soap were some of the few that appeared early on. Later, HMT Watches, Complan, Thums Up, Liril film ads started appearing on TV.

With Delhi hosting the Asian Games in November 1982, a decade after Doordarshan Kendra Bombay's inaugural show, colour finally arrived on the small screen. With that, the golden era of black and white television that regaled us with wholesome entertainment came to an end. With the arrival of colour, and later more channels, the viewers could now watch a variety of programs as well as the live telecast of events throughout the day and most importantly, get news that was not government censored.

With inputs from Ms. Nita Parekh, ex-producer Doordarshan Kendra, Mumbai.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Bombay 1

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.

Another significant event associated with Fort was the departure of the first train in India on 16th April 1853 from Bori Bunder, located outside the Bazaar Gate. Later, in 1878 the foundation was laid for the construction of a grand train terminal, Victoria Terminus, now renamed after Chhatrapati Shivaji.

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.

With the arrival of the mobile phone, its easy availability and affordability, almost everyone was soon connected. Thus the need to write letters to connect and communicate became redundant. As a result, the business of professional letter writers suffered. With the telegram and the postal money order discontinued, most of them have moved away from this profession, whilst others continue to eke out a living by stitching and sealing parcels, and writing that odd letter.

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.  

Steel or aluminium vessels on the other hand do not require tinning and are easy to clean. Besides, with people staying in high rises and the lady of the house often out at work, the option of using copper or brass vessels which require regular tinning is not practical anymore.  

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.

Here is one profession that is still around but dying a slow death. The cotton carder or the Pinjari was the most visible of the four. In some places Pinjaris were also referred to as Dhuniyas and Bahnas. And they ensured that one had a good night's sleep on a soft cotton mattress or that we sat in comfort on our chairs and sofas before foam replaced cotton in furnishings. Pinjaris too roamed the towns and cities looking to redo mattresses and pillows, carding cotton by hand with the help of shaped wooden bow-like instrument with a metal wire drawn across diagonally and a mallet. This instrument also served as a calling card to advertise their services. A pull of this wire produced a Twang like sound which would draw the attention of people around. The Pinjari would open up mattresses, quilts and pillows, remove the lumpy cotton within and pass the instrument through it to separate the fibres thereby restoring its fluffiness. Some also upholstered chairs and sofas besides carding cotton. With the arrival of Rubber and PU foam cotton was no longer the preferred choice for beddings and furnishings. Some Pinjaris upgraded themselves to mattress dealers in keeping with the changing times whilst many others realised that their children were reluctant to take up this profession thus leading to its slow oblivion.

However, all is not lost. We have others, like the Bhangarwala / Kabadiwala who helps us rid our homes of  unwanted stuff , the Churiwala who sharpens knives and scissors and the Bhishti who quenches our thirst from the water in his goat skin pouch, still roaming the streets of Mumbai and reminding us of the itinerant service providers of days gone by.

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. 

Qamar Jalalabadi enriched Hindi and Punjabi cinema with nearly 700 songs in 156 films, his last one being the Punjabi film Qahar which was released in 1995.

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.


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...