Sunday, April 25, 2021

Bombay's Traffic Circles

When driving in the city was a breeze, and parking easily available due to fewer vehicles, roundabouts or traffic circles were built to smoothly guide the traffic arriving from different roads onto the junctions. Besides, they were a quiet oasis of green in the centre of noisy traffic. Some circles also had a fountain adding to their charm. Here are some of these traffic circles which most of us Mumbaikars must have passed by at some point in time.
Jacob Circle, situated near Mahalaxmi Station, is commonly known as Saat Rasta as one can access seven different roads from here. It got its name from Sir George Le Grand Jacob, a military General and a scholar who is credited to have transcribed the Ashokan rock inscription in Girnar, Gujarat. There was a fountain in the circle, at present not visible, which was donated by Sir George's adopted daughter. On this circle, we now have a small garden known as the Sant Gadge Maharaj Udyan.
Wellington Circle opposite Regal cinema at the northern end of Colaba was named after the iconic Wellington Memorial Fountain which stands within this traffic island. The fountain was built in the 1860s to honour the memory, and to commemorate the military achievements of the Duke of Wellington. The fountain marks the site where the Duke camped in a tent during his two visits to Bombay in 1801 and 1804. To the east of Wellington Circle stands the Gateway of India, whilst to its north is the Prince of Wales Museum. All those who have shopped at Colaba Causeway must have surely been past this one.

Flora Fountain was once a circular traffic roundabout in Fort with an exquisitely sculpted fountain at its centre. Mumbai's most visible icon is named after the Roman Goddess of flowers whose statue stands atop the fountain. The fountain designed by Richard Norman Shaw was constructed in 1864 from funds donated by Cursetjee Fardoonjee Parekh. It stands at the junction of Veer Nariman Road (formerly Churchgate Street), M. G. Road (Esplanade) and D. N. Road (Hornby Rd). Grand Victorian structures such as the Bombay High Court, The Central Telegraph Office and the Oriental Building envelop this iconic fountain.


Horniman Circle lies a few hundred meters to the east of Flora Fountain on what was earlier known as the Bombay Green. Before independence, it was known as Elphinstone Circle after Governor Lord Elphinstone. The circle enclosed a garden (and still does) with an ornamental fountain and a bandstand which made it quite popular with the Parsi community. The Asiatic Society and the Reserve Bank of India lie across the road from here. Between Flora Fountain and Horniman Circle stands Bombay's oldest Anglican church, St. Thomas Cathedral.
CP Tank or Cowasjee Patel Tank Circle stands in the Bhuleshwar area at the junction of V. P. Road, Khadilkar Road and C. P. Tank Road. Earlier, a water tank that supplied drinking water to the Girgaum area existed here. Hence the name. The tank was built by Cowasji Rustamjee Patel in 1775-6 making it the oldest tank constructed in Bombay. Once, the city had many water tanks which were a source of water for its residents before piped water was made available.
Haji Ali Circle used to be a large traffic circle with a beautifully designed garden in it. The circle was replaced by a multi-signal junction as traffic increased in the late 1980s. It was located at the meeting point of five roads with heavy traffic: Lala Lajpatrai Marg (Hornby Vellard) from the north, Warden Road from the southwest, Pedder Road from the south, Tardeo Road from the east, and Dr E Moses Rd from the northeast. The Haji Ali Dargah, a mosque and dargah of Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari is located on an islet west of this circle.

Khodadad Circle in Dadar East was earlier known as Dadar TT as trams coming from South Bombay terminated here. It is named after Khodadad Irani whose sons were developers in this area. Tilak Road and Babasaheb Ambedkar Road meet at Khodadad Circle, over which now stands the Jagannath Sunkersheth Flyover. Agarwal Classes, a much sought after coaching class in the 1970s, 80s and 90s was located just off this circle.
King's Circle, named after British monarch King George V, stands at the junction of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Road (formerly Vincent Road) and Bhandarkar Road. Situated around the circle are the many popular South Indian Udupi Restaurants: Cafe Mysore, Cafe Madras and Anand Bhuvan. In 1962 the circle was renamed B N Maheshwari Udyan and true to its name there is a well laid out garden here.
Turner Road Circle. A roundabout at the junction of Turner Road, SV Road and Linking road was known as Turner Road Circle. On one side of this circle was the Esso (now HP) Petrol Pump, and on the other was Coin Tea and the Tata Blocks. This circular patch of green was removed in the late 1960s or early 70s.

As Mumbai's population and the number of vehicles increased some of these circles had to make way for a modern system of traffic management and sadly we lost some of our city's landmarks.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Bombay's First Mass Vaccination Drive

Today, just as thousands of Mumbaikars are queueing up everyday to get vaccinated for the Novel Corona Virus, a similar situation arose a century and a quarter ago when the city was in the midst of the bubonic plague epidemic.

Like the Corona Virus 2019 or Covid 19, the bubonic plague also is thought to have originated in China where it spread in the mainland before reaching the Chinese port cities in about 1894. From there it eventually reached India via the ships trading between the two countries and was first detected in Bombay in 1896.

Dr. Acacio Gabriel Viegas, a Goan born medical practitioner having his clinic in Mandvi (the area east of Mohammad Ali Road) was the first doctor to have identified the infection as bubonic plague. As the disease spread rapidly taking a heavy toll on lives it was designated as an epidemic. In fear, many fled the city just as we saw an exodus of people from Mumbai in the summer of 2020. Trade and commerce in the city were affected then as they did last year. The textile industry which depended on manpower was grounded. There was fear all around.

Dr. Viegas who had correctly identified this disease quickly swung into action. He launched a campaign to clean up the slums and chawls and to rid the affected areas of rats. It helped that besides being a medical practitioner, Dr. Viegas was also a Municipal Councilor. Besides these initiatives, he also continued to tend to patients at great personal risk.

Meanwhile, the government sought to reconfirm Dr. Viegas' diagnoses with other experts and once it was established that it was indeed the bubonic plague, it lost no time in inviting the Ukrainian bacteriologist Dr. Waldemar Haffkine, then stationed in Calcutta, to Bombay. Dr. Haffkine who had earlier formulated a vaccine for Cholera was asked to develop one for the plague. He got to work in a makeshift laboratory set up in the corridors of the Grant Medical College. His approach to finding a solution to conquer the infection was through preventive inoculation. He studied the infected rats and extracted the bacteria which was then allowed to grow before being weakened by heating. This weakened bacteria would then be inoculated in an uninfected human which in turn would produce antibodies in the body needed to fight the bacteria.

Finally, when the vaccine was ready Dr. Haffkine tried it first on himself. However, not all were convinced and there was another hurdle to overcome before mass vaccinations could begin. Many people were not convinced of its efficacy, some due to religious superstitions, and thus finding volunteers for clinical trials proved difficult. So, prison inmates were roped in and after trials on them and some volunteers, the vaccine was ready for use on the general public.

Here again, the good Dr. Viegas played a pivotal role by vaccinating about 18000 people himself. By 1902/3 about half a million people were vaccinated which is a considerable number given the demographics and the reach of the day. Sadly, despite the efforts of the government and individuals alike, about 50000 people died in Bombay alone. Many more, especially amongst the working class, fled the city thus severely crippling the economic activity. The scene then held a mirror to what we have experienced in the past year.

For the government of the day, the priority was not only to find a cure but also to contain the spread of the plague. And measures quite similar to the ones we are experiencing now were enforced by the authorities. Pilgrimage to Mecca was prohibited and so was emigration from India, railway bookings stood cancelled, religious gatherings were banned and a strict check was kept on essential commodities to prevent hoarding. Further, to check the spread orders were issued to separate the infected from the healthy. And those who were in close contact with the patients were quarantined.


However, all this did not go as smoothly as envisaged. Overzealous British officers and soldiers often behaved rudely and forcefully with the general public as well as with patients. To compound this, arrangements at the hospitals and quarantine camps were found to be substandard. The government's heavy-handed approach caused much public discontent which took a turn for the worst when in Poona the Chapekar brothers shot dead that city's Plague Commissioner, Walter Charles Rand accusing him of inconsiderate and highhanded behaviour.

The bubonic plague finally petered out by 1905 but not before taking a heavy toll on the city and its inhabitants. However, this black swan event made the authorities sit up and take notice of the pathetic living conditions in many poorer areas of the city. Consequently, the Bombay City Improvement Trust was created to upgrade the sanitary and living conditions in Bombay.

Gratefully, the heroes of the day were not forgotten. Dr. Viegas went on to become the President of the Bombay Municipal Corporation in 1906. After he died in 1933, a statue honouring him was built which still stands opposite Metro Cinema at Dhobi Talao, and a street in Chira Bazaar is named after him. As for Dr. Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine, the country's first biomedical research institute is named after him. The British Government whilst recognising his efforts awarded him the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1897. The Indian Government too honoured him with a postal stamp in 1964.



Satyen was a conscientious employee and had spent close to a quarter century in a private bank. A devoted family man, he found solace in his...