Sunday, March 21, 2021

The two Gateways of Bombay

Almost all Mumbaikars must have at some point of time visited the Gateway of India at Colaba. But very few know that there is another Gateway of India in Mumbai, at Gamdevi to be precise, a miniature version of the original, but built by the same man who constructed the one at Apollo Bunder.

Yeshwantrao Harishchandra Desai worked as an Engineer in the Public Works Department of Bombay. Born in 1876 to a family of Architects and Engineers, he did his schooling at Wilson High School before joining his uncle as an unpaid assistant. Young Yeshwantrao showed his mettle when he was sent on a survey of a plot by his uncle, himself an honorary Assistant Engineer in the PWD. His work impressed an English officer who offered him a permanent job in the PWD at a handsome salary of Rs.10/- pm. But Yeshwantrao was not one to rest on his laurels. He decided to study further and applied for the Elementary Architecture Exam from the Sir J J School of Arts and later obtained the A.I.M.E. degree.

Yeshwantrao was fortunate to be at a very opportune time in the history of Bombay. Great buildings were coming up around the turn of the 19th century. And, many of these bear the mark of this outstanding civil engineer. The grand dome of the GPO building, a difficult piece of construction, is credited to him. The other monumental structure built during early 20th century, the Prince Wales Museum, also bears the stamp of his skill and competence.

With these accomplishments behind him it was only natural that when the King George V arrived in India in 1911 for the Delhi Durbar, the construction of the monument to be built to commemorate his landing at Apollo Bunder would be given to this talented engineer.

The architect of Gateway of India was a man of equally outstanding abilities, George Wittet who has also designed the Prince of Wales Museum. Construction of the Gateway began in 1913 and it took 11 years to build this beautiful triumphal arch.

The miniature Gateway of India which Yeshwantrao built at his residence was built with the same Malad Basalt stone which is used at Apollo Bunder. It was built when the construction of the Gateway of India began and it is said that this miniature model was perhaps used by him as a reference model.

Besides these two important landmarks of Bombay, he is also credited for building the Institute of Science and Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall.

For these achievements, he received high praise not only from his employers and architects but also from the government who conferred upon him the title Rao Sahib.

It can be truly said that for the magnificent designs of architects like F. W. Stevens and George Wittet to come alive, outstanding civil engineers like Yeshwantrao Harishchandra Desai were required.

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