Category Archives: essays

100 Years of Topiwala National Medical College & BYL Nair Hospital

This essay on the city’s first Indian-run medical college and public hospital was published in the centenary souvenir of B.Y.L. Nair Hospital and Topiwala National Medical College in 2022.

Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu visit the National Medical College with Dr D.D. Sathaye after Gandhi’s release from jail for Non-Cooperation in 1924


The National Medical College (NMC) was opened on 4 September 1921 in response to the call by Mahatma Gandhi to establish new “national” educational institutions during the Non-Cooperation Movement, begun in 1920. Its first students came from those who boycotted Grant Medical College (GMC) and other state-run institutions, protesting the unequal opportunities to learn and practice medicine in colonial India.

Dr Dinkar Dhonddev Sathaye, founder and first Superintendent of the National Medical College, 1921-24

The NMC became the second major medical college in the Bombay Presidency, the colonial province which covered most of western India. Its pioneering founders and faculty sought to “bring medical education within the reach of poor but deserving students” by “imparting sound training to Indian youth of moderate means and of cultivating among them a spirit of research and of service for suffering humanity”.

The college was a novel experiment which few expected would succeed – including Mahatma Gandhi. Supported entirely by public donations and student fees, it was taught by the city’s medical professionals on an entirely honorary basis in its initial stages.

NMC was founded by Dr Dinkar Dhondhdev Sathaye, an ophthalmic surgeon and nationalist who had been Secretary of the the Indian Home Rule League and the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee (BPCC) during World War I.

With a 136 students enrolled in its first year – of whom less than ten were female – the college was started in a large bungalow located behind Rani Baug at 2nd Victoria Cross Lane in Byculla, with classrooms, laboratories, dissection rooms, an Ayurvedic manufacturing unit.

Fees were Rs 60 per term. Evening lectures on medicine by well-known practitioners were held to packed audiences of medical students from across the city, including those from nearby GMC. A large residential hostel was built with accommodation for 150 students, from which the college earned rent.

Fund-raisers and charity performances were held in which thousands of rupees in donations were received, scholarships and prizes awarded to students, and prominent visitors were hosted. Grants and loans were received from the BPCC and its Tilak Swaraj Fund.

Modelled on courses in London and Edinburgh where Dr Sathaye had studied, the college initially offered a five-year general medical course, a four-year dental course, and a three-year BSc course. Faculty was almost entirely comprised of Indian surgeons and physicians who had graduated from British universities.

Students were required to study Hindi and either German or French (to facilitate study abroad). Ayurveda and Yunani were taught in parallel to Allopathy, and Indian medicines were made at the college and distributed in local dispensaries.

Cadavers for dissection and demonstration were provided by the Bombay City Police. Classes on botany were conducted by the college’s first Principal, Dr A.P. Kothare, in the Botanical Gardens of Rani Baug. NMC soon began offering postgraduate courses in applied chemistry, anatomy, bacteriology, and pathology.

NMC received generous donations of equipment and books from city practitioners, including the entire laboratory and library of renowned chemist and pharmacist T.K. Gajjar.

Free medical relief for the urban poor and clinical instruction to the students of the college was provided at the People’s Free Hospital in Agripada, the Aimai Merwanji Chamarbagwala Free Ophthalmic Hospital (Parel Eye Hospital) – earlier founded by Dr Sathaye – municipal clinics and maternity homes, and a general outpatient dispensary at the college in Byculla.

After his release from jail for Non-Cooperation in 1924, Gandhi visited the NMC with Sarojini Naidu. He apologised to Dr Sathaye for doubting whether the college would be ever become a success. But the nascent college remained in need of its own affiliated hospital for clinical training of its growing body of students, whose numbers doubled every term.


Dr Anandrao Nair (1861-1934), businessman, physician and philanthropist who supported the college and endowed the hospital in the name of his late mother, Bai Yamunabai Lakshman Nair

The Bai Yamunabai Lakshman (BYL) Nair Charitable Hospital was endowed as a teaching hospital for the college by Dr Anandrao L. Nair (1861 – 1934), physician and businessman, who announced the gift in the memory of his late mother at a benefit performance by the Maharashtra Natak Mandali at the college in Byculla on 1 April 1923. The month before, Nair had dedicated the BYL Nair Dental Hospital where the course in dental surgery would open.

Dr Nair was proprietor of the city’s largest medical instrument and pharmaceutical manufacturers, N. Powell’s & Co. From a humble soldier’s family in South India, he studied and practised medicine in Mumbai. A few years into his practice, Nair started a retail chemists shop with an English partner in 1886.

N. Powell’s & Co. manufactured medicines, surgical tools, orthopaedic appliances, aseptic hospital furniture, artificial limbs and other medical items, and were the Bombay agents for British and American suppliers. Their designs won awards in European and Indian medical exhibitions, and it diversified into chemical manufacturing, testing and research.

Letterhead of N. Powell & Co. in 1930, showing its office and showroom near Opera House and factory next to Bombay Central, the site of today’s Nair Charitable Hospital & National Medical College

The firm’s reputation helped it grow into the leading supplier to military and civilian authorities in India. During and after the first World War, when over a million Indian soldiers returned from Europe and the Middle East via the port of Bombay – bringing with them the global influenza pandemic – Powell’s were contractors for the British War Office.

The company equipped the largest war and field hospitals and troop ships docked in the city, and Dr Nair often treat wounded soldiers free of charge at its lab and showroom at Lamington Road.

Dr Nair devoted his postwar business fortune entirely to charities that still bear his mother’s name, most notably the hospital. He provided the land and funds to build the new charitable hospital and medical college next to a plot he had just sold to the railways for the construction of Bombay Central Station.

Nair endowed the new institution to “give free medical aid to poor suffering people of this locality irrespective Colour, Caste and Creed where such aid is badly needed”. The institution sought to further Gautama Buddha’s three principles of tolerance, non-violence, and universal love. A devout Buddhist, Dr Nair had started the Bombay Buddha Society years before in 1920.

The new buildings of the BYL Nair Charitable General Hospital were opened to the public on 7 May 1925. The fifty-bed hospital was managed by NMC professors and staff, with Dr RH Bhadkamkar as its first Chief Medical Officer. The hospital was built and equipped by Dr Nair’s firm N. Powell’s, with indigenously made instruments and equipment, and donations by the Bombay Red Cross Society, Johnson & Johnson’s and other firms and well-wishers.

Dr Anandrao L. Nair (back row, third from left) on a visit to Johnson & Johnson’s Laboratory in New Jersey, U.S.A. with his wife (front row, center) from Red Cross Notes (Series VIII, No.1, 1919)

Even as the hospital was nearing completion, splits in the college leadership had begun to emerge over the issue of professional licensing of its graduates. In its first three years NMC had affiliated to the the Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth in Pune for granting a basic diploma, but with no license to practice. As a condition of recognition by the College of Physicians and Surgeons for the licentiate degree (L.C.P.S.), the British Surgeon General of Bombay insisted the college drop the Ayurveda and Yunani subjects in the original curriculum.

Dr Sathaye and others opposed the licentiate, which they regarded as an inferior degree. They did not wish to give up teaching indigenous systems alongside modern Western medicine, part of the college’s founding mission. Dr Sathaye resigned in protest. College co-founder and physiology professor Dr R.H. Bhadkamkar took over as college superintendent. He and Dr Kothare had to pacify unhappy students and assure them the licentiate was a step towards the more desirable M.C.P.S. and M.B.B.S. degrees.

Faced with no opportunity for its students to work as registered practitioners, and disqualification of the college under recent colonial laws against fake degrees and doctors, the College Council applied for recognition. This was granted by Government in January 1925, for a modified four-year course leading to the L.C.P.S. degree. With the new hospital for opening several months later, the NMC and BYL Nair Hospital were now on a firm institutional foundation.


On Budha Jayanti, 6 May 1926, foundations were laid for a large new building for the National Medical College in the compound of BYL Nair Hospital, which was opened by the Governor of Bombay on 28 November 1927. Six years since its foundation in Byculla, over two hundred students were enrolled, and many of its graduates had entered practice and service.

In addition to the main hospital, the college also operated a maternity home in municipal chawls at Mahalaxmi. and an Ayurvedic dispensary in the textile mill districts in Parel. In 1933 the BYL Nair Dental College was started from the Dental Hospital which had housed the dental surgery course since 1923.

In 1931, Dr Nair inaugurated Mumbai’s first Buddhist temple and monastery, called “Anand Vihara”, in the hospital and college compound. Run by the Bombay Buddha Society which he had started in 1920, it held weekly lectures and prayers, published a periodical called Buddha Prabha and new translations of Buddhist texts in Indian languages. The resting-house and public shrine was open to visiting monks and pilgrims who came from across Asia, Europe and America.

After Dr Nair’s death in 1934, his business and charities were run by his brother-in-law, radiologist and physiotherapist Dr M. Venkatrao, who was elected chairman of the college in 1927 and stepped into Dr Nair’s role as its chief benefactor and manager in the following years.

The number of hospital beds was increased to 75 in 1934, and new nurses’ and staff quarters built. During World War II, more beds and staff were added, even as the cost and demand for medical care increased manifold.

By the end of World War II in 1945, the college and hospital approached a financial crisis as its expenses had tripled. In its first 25 years, from its inception during Non-Cooperation in 1921 to 1946, the college and hospital was entirely supported by donations and fees, without any government grants.

In the year before Independence, 1946, the college embarked on a major expansion and fund-raising drive, to eliminate its debts and qualify for introducing a full-fledged M.B.B.S. degree course. Dr M.D. Gilder, who had lectured at the NMC in its first years in Byculla, was by this time the Education Minister to the Bombay State Government, and pledged further state support.

Dr M. Venkatrao, chairman of the college council for over two decades

The Silver Jubilee Expansion Committee in 1946 was chaired by professor of anatomy and surgery Dr S. Patrao, who had supported the college from its earliest days and ran the Byculla Nursing Home opposite the hospital-college in Bombay Central. Dr Patrao had taken over from Dr Venkatrao and under whose leadership over fifteen lakhs were raised to upgrade facilities.

The faculty and students organised a city-wide fund-raising campaign through public exhibitions, performances and parades for the Silver Jubilee. Dr Nair’s family donated the former N. Powell’s & Co. factory at Bombay Central, which was remodelled into an annexe to the first hospital, with new operation theatres, wards and staff quarters. The hospital grew to 300 beds, and the college’s laboratories and equipment were upgraded to M.B.B.S. standards.

Dr S. Patrao, who led the expansion in 1946-48 to qualify for M.B.B.S. recognition

Also in 1946, local merchant and manufacturer Seth Motiram K. Desai “Topiwala” donated five lakhs the college, which in 1948 was officially renamed Topiwala National Medical College (TNMC) after himself and his late father Raobahadur Anant Shivaji Desai (who became known in the city as “Topiwala” for his skilled craft of making hats and turbans).

By Independence, the college and hospital were taken over by the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) by agreement with the trustees and management. The TNMC became one of the public hospitals and medical colleges in the city, with a full-fledged MBBS degree recognised by Bombay University.

Honouring the legacy of its pioneering founders, in 1948, the erstwhile Lamington Road – which runs north from the old N. Powell’s showroom and office near Opera House to the campus at Bombay Central – was renamed by the BMC for Drs Nair and Bhadkamkar, and the old Benham Hall Lane in Girgaon renamed for Dr D.D. Sathaye.

Motiram K. Desai Topiwala, businessman and philanthropist, after whom the college was officially renamed in 1948

A decade later, the college and hospital acquired additional land north of the original campus, and in 1968 the college and hospital were completely demolished and rebuilt as the modern multi-storeyed structures known today as the TNMC and BYL Nair Hospital.

Leprosy and Renewable Energy in British India

This is an expanded version of my lead feature published in Sunday Mid-Day on 2 December 2018 as “The Lights Go Off in Matunga” (PDF). Thanks to Dr Shubhada Pandya and Dr Pratibha Kathe of the Acworth Municipal Leprosy Hospital and Museum.

A pioneering innovation in the quest for renewable energy will soon lose a landmark first made in Mumbai. The site of one of the world’s first succesful bio-gas plants – built in 1901 by British civil engineer Charles Carkeet James (1863-1942) – will be cleared in coming weeks for a new medical students’ hostel to be developed at the historic Acworth Municipal Hospital for Leprosy in Matunga.

Charles Carkeet James, M. Inst. C.E. (1863-1942), sanitary and water engineer to the Bombay Municipal Corporation, author of “Oriental Drainage” (1902) and “Drainage Problems of the East” (1906) (Photo circa 1902 from

C.C. James was a sanitary and drainage expert from Cornwall, England fascinated by problems of waste disposal in tropical conditions, where organic matter decomposed rapidly. His techniques for extracting combustible gas from sewage using air-less or “anaeorobic” composting are used in cities across the world today.

After coming to Bombay to design the Tansa Dam Water Works to increase piped water supply to the Island City in 1889, James was deputed by the new Municipal Commissioner Harry Arbuthnot Acworth (1849-1933) to work on the drainage of what was then known as the “Homeless Leper Asylum”. Established in 1890 in response to public panic of contagion from destitute lepers begging in the streets of Bombay, seven wards for 300 inmates were built on the site of an old rifle range in Matunga, through a campaign for public subscriptions led by industrialist Sir Dinshaw Petit.

Situated on a sloping ridge near the villages of Gowari, Khara and Wadala, and with no existing drainage network, the colony’s sludge soon overflowed the sinks and cess-pits James first built on the ridge. Already fearful of the lepers in their midst, the villagers threatened to file suit against the Commissioner for pollution in 1893.

Plan of the Acworth Leprosy Hospital in 1901, showing pipe lines (in red) from patients’ wards draining to the sewage farm (in green) started in 1895 by C.C. James (Courtesy of Sri Prakash Jekate, Municipal Secretary, Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation)

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Inside Indu Mills: A Textile Museum for Mumbai

This is an expanded version of my lead feature published in Sunday Mid-Day on 9 September 2018, Back from the Dust: India United Mills 2-3 to Reconnect with Mumbai City. You can download the shorter original cover story as a PDF here.

Over the past 20 years, as most of Mumbai’s 60 cotton textile mills have closed or redeveloped, a vast heritage that was always invisible to the public has almost entirely disappeared from the city. Hidden from view behind massive compound walls — until the coming of flyovers and high-rises in the 2000s — the mills of mid-town Mumbai were some of the first factories of the global Industrial Revolution, when Bombay was known as the “Manchester of the East”.

While most of these enormous compounds have since gentrified into the offices, malls, banks and towers of a new global economy, a handful of Mumbai’s most historic mills remain managed by the Centre-owned National Textile Corporation (NTC). The erstwhile India United Mills nos.2-3 in Kalachowky — one of NTC’s fifteen shuttered mills given to the Municipal Corporation — are now being planned as the city’s newest and largest museum.

Devoted to the history of textiles and industry in Mumbai, Maharashtra and India, the restored mill compound is due to open in phases beginning in 2019, 150 years after it first opened as a textile mill in 1869. The new Mumbai Textile Museum will give most citizens of Mumbai their first view past the gates of one of the city’s earliest cotton mills — and into the rich industrial heritage earlier only visible to the workers, staff and owners who built India’s first modern industry.

India United Mills no.2-3 (Alexandra & E.D. Sassoon Mills), Kalachowky, Byculla East, 2017
Weaving Shed, India United Mills no.2-3, January 2018
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Constructing Trump Tower Mumbai

This is a revised version of an essay first published as “When Donald Trump Came to Mumbai in the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW), Vol.51, Issue No. 23, 4 June 2016. You can download the PDF of the original article here. This was first presented as a paper at the workshop “Constructing Asia: Materiality, Capital and Labour in the Making of an Urbanising Landscape” at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 12–13 May 2016.

Trump in India

In an interview to Forbes India Magazine in September 2014, Donald Trump made a characteristically outrageous statement. “Your real estate is unbelievably cheap… Mumbai is a great city and yet it is not priced like other comparable cities. It is priced lower than cities that are less important. That gives investors a tremendous amount of growth potential” (Srivastava 2014). While not as controversial as his more recent slurs in his campaign for the U.S. presidency, Trump’s hyperbole nonetheless was big news in India, where Mumbai’s housing market is by far the most expensive in the country.

Since the liberalisation of the Indian national economy in the 1990s, Mumbai (then Bombay) had routinely made headlines for its pricy real estate, which is more often compared to more prosperous global cities like London or New York than to its peers in India such as Delhi, Chennai or Bangalore.

Trump’s value proposition perhaps made some sense from his perspective as a foreign investor, going by prevailing market exchange rates between the U.S. Dollar and Indian Rupee (around USD $1 = Rs 60-62). By most measures, the price of real estate in Manhattan in the same period was anywhere between $1,250-1,500 per square foot, whereas in prime areas in Mumbai in 2014 around Rs 40,000-50,000, or USD $650-$800.

This direct measure of course takes no account of the almost incommensurable differences in infrastructure and other aspects of both cities, or relative urban income levels and purchasing power parity (PPP) per unit of currency between the U.S. and India. In these terms, one business journalist estimated that the actual rate per square foot rate in Mumbai would be more in the range of USD $1,800-2,500 after adjusting for PPP – thus making Mumbai almost 50% more expensive for its average citizen than New York (Kaul 2014).

But beyond the calculations of economists and business journalists, Trump’s statement about how India’s most expensive city was “unbelievably cheap” begged a wider question about the political economy of urban real estate, indeed the very reason for his very first business visit to India in late 2014. What comprises the value of urban real estate?

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The Round Temple of Sandhurst Road

This is a longer version of an article first published on the holiday of Mahashivratri in Mumbai as “Squaring the Circle”, Mumbai Mirror, Sunday Read, 22 February 2015.

“I need not dilate on the urgent necessity in the interest of our work of removing temples, where necessary, otherwise than by force. In laying out schemes I exclude every religious edifice that I can. But in the case of Hindoo temples it is not possible to exclude all, for they are sprinkled over the City like pepper out of a castor. And if our schemes are not to suffer, we must treat each case liberally”.

Proceedings of the Trustees for the Improvement of the City of Bombay, Special Meeting, 15 January 1907, T.R. 11

On the festival of Maha Shivratri, devotees annually offer prayers in Mumbai’s oldest temple dedicated to Shiva, the Nageshwar Mandir at Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (SVP) Marg. Popularly known as the “Gol Deval”, few who circle around its swayambhu (self-manifested) ling are aware of how this “Round Temple” came to be in the middle of a busy main road.

Known before 1955 as Sandhurst Road, this arterial avenue was named after the Governor who tackled the outbreak of bubonic plague in western India in 1896. Lord Sandhurst created the Bombay Improvement Trust (BIT) in 1898 to immunise the city in the wake of the epidemic, arming it with draconian powers of acquisition, demolition and redevelopment, to unclog the city’s arteries and increase its circulation by redeveloping its slums, swamps and streets.

Sandhurst Road was an early showcase scheme of the BIT, spanning the breadth of the island from the eastern docks to the western seaboard. For the poor worst hit by the plague it was a way in – for fresh air and natural light in their crowded lanes and cramped chawls. For upwardly-mobile merchants it was a way out – quickening the commute between inner-city shops and godowns and upmarket Gamdevi, Cumballa and Malabar Hills.

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Do Buildings Have Agency?

Published in shorter form as “Do Buildings Have Agency?” in Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai), Vol XLVI No.30, 23 July 2011

Neera Adarkar, ed., The Chawls of Mumbai: Galleries of Life (Gurgaon: imprintOne, 2011)

Can built forms have their own subjectivity? Architects, geographers and urban planners would surely answer this question in the affirmative. By contrast, most historians and social scientists have long viewed all non-human artefacts as “socially constructed”, and the structure and agency of the physical environment has remained weakly conceptualised, even in urban studies.

Given the number of published works on the deindustrialisation of Mumbai and the decline of its textile industry – including an award-winning oral history of mill workersi co-authored by the editor of this new anthology on chawls – it is significant that the most ubiquitous form of working-class housing in the Mumbai had not yet been studied in any depth until nowii. Galleries of Life is a salutary exploration of the history, architecture, culture and politics of chawls which creatively examines the tension between historical nostalgia and contemporary urban change in Mumbai.

Buildings can nurture, constrain, limit and transform those who inhabit or pass through them. Generic typologies mass produced on an industrial scale – apartments, tenements, chawls, skyscrapers and slums – are generative of their peculiar milieus and practices. Like other forms of housing, Mumbai’s iconic chawls are basically physical containers which give shelter and provide shape to social reproduction. But urban housing and the built environment can “act back” on communities and society. Housing as social space can signify a bundle of rights and claims, a locus of legal and property relations, a stage for politics and performance, and a set of resources for survival and mobility.

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A Rule of Property for Bombay

This book review appeared in edited form as “Micro-History of Mumbai” in Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai), Vol XLV No.36, 4 September 2010.

Mariam Dossal, Theatre of Conflict, City of Hope: Mumbai, 1660 to Present Times (New Delhi: Oxford University Press India, 2010).

Historian Mariam Dossal’s new book on Bombay/Mumbai is a major contribution to a flourishing genre of new urban histories in South Asia, and a scholarly cross-over into a large-format, illustrated urban heritage books. This is Dossal’s second major monograph on Bombay, following her Imperial Designs and Indian Realities (1991) on the infrastructure and planning of the colonial city from 1845-1875. Her new book focuses on “the ways in which the politics of land use have impacted on the lives and living conditions of Bombay’s inhabitants” (xxiii) with “contested space as its central concern”.

The book seeks to explain historically how “expensive private property dominates almost every aspect of life” (xix) to the detriment of the environment, health and happiness of Mumbai’s citizens. Dossal’s work breaks new ground in its use of new sources to shine a light on a central thread of colonial and urban history in Bombay.

Land is one of the enduring themes of South Asian agrarian and colonial historiography. But the survey, settlement, and mapping of lands in cities – and the formation of a market for private property in urban land – remains under-investigated by historians. Marxist social history, premised on the opposition of industrial capitalists and wage labourers, relegated landlords and landed property to an ambigious “third space” in the historical geography of urban development.

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The City as Extracurricular Space: Re-Instituting Urban Pedagogy in South Asia

Download “The City as Extracurricular Space: Re-Instituting Urban Pedagogy in South Asia”

Mumbai Metro RegionThis journal article, co-authored with Anirudh Paul and Prasad Shetty, was published in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Routledge/Taylor & Francis, London), Vol.6, No.3, 2005, in a special issue on South Asia edited by Ashish Rajadhyaksha. The original essay originated in a presentations given by myself and Anirudh Paul at the 2004 Annual Conference of the Inter-Asia Cultural Studies Society (IACS) in Bangalore and in the work of the Design Cell of the Kamala Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture (KRVIA) and CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust) in Mumbai from 2000-2004.


This paper addresses the pedagogic and disciplinary challenges posed by the effort to understand urban spatial practices and institutional histories in Bombay/Mumbai, and other postcolonial South Asian cities. Many cities in the region, such as Chandigarh and Dhaka were designed as iconic of the abstract space of the nation-state.

The dominance of the nationalist spatial imagination in the understandings of public space, citizenship, and the metropolitan environment – combined with the functionalist perception of architecture and spatial practice – have resulted in an urban pedagogy that regards the city only as a technological or physical artefact. Architectural education and urban pedagogy is therefore unable to address the diversity of social-spatial formations in the city, and its political regime of predatory development, tactical negotiation, and blurry urbanism. To better understand this new regime, we require a collaborative urbanism that treats the city as an extra-curricular space by which we can reconstruct existing institutional frameworks.

Drawing on the work of CRIT (Collective Research Initiatives Trust), Mumbai, this papers explores the post-industrial landscapes of the Mumbai Mill and Port Lands as a case study in two extracurricular research projects, which grew into urban design and community planning interventions in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, where urban spaces became the arena for re-imagining the relations between knowledge production, institutional boundaries, and civic activism on which nationalism has imposed a long estrangement.

The Hidden History of Hutatma Chowk

Hutatma Chowk Martyrs' Memorial and Flora Fountain
Hutatma Chowk Martyrs’ Memorial and Flora Fountain

Heritage architects have complained for years that the Soviet-style concrete statue next to the Flora Fountain ruins the visual sweep of the Fort’s colonial facades and streetscape. But did you ever wonder what this monument is supposed to commemorate? Fifty years ago this year, the struggle for Samyukta Maharashtra spilled onto the streets of the city formerly known as Bombay.

This socialist realist sculpture was later erected as a martyrs’ memorial to Marathi nationalism — the Hutatma Chowk — marking the 105 people who died in protests against Nehru’s plan to make Bombay into a City State after Independence. Like with the Shivaji statue opposite the Gateway of India, the statue at Hutatma Chowk was intentionally placed to ruin a view of a famous colonial landmark, and reorient the symbolic geography of the city.

The battle for Mumbai heated up when the States Reorganisation Committee report, published in 1955, recommended statehood for Telugus in Andhra Pradesh, in the old princely state of the Nizam of Hyderabad. But the same report proposed the erstwhile Bombay State either be a bi-lingual Marathi-Gujarati unit with Bombay as its capital, or that Bombay be made an Union Territory, separate from the linguistic states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

These proposals stirred a popular outcry against the denial of a Marathi state without Bombay, and a coalition of anti-Congress activists and political parties united in the demand for Mumbai to be the capital of a united Maharashtra — from Socialists, Communists and trade unions to the Marathi press, literati and workers across the city. After popular unrest and street violence, the Centre capitulated, and made Mumbai into the capital of the new state of Maharashtra on 1 May 1960.

It is no coincidence that Maharashtra Diwas is also May Day, the annual holiday when working-class solidarity is celebrated throughout the world. Samyukta Maharashtra was important because the demand for linguistic statehood was in Mumbai combined with a popular movement against rigid class hierarchies in an industrial city dominated by big business interests.

Flora Fountain in the 1950s, from the collection of Francis Pritchett
Flora Fountain in the 1950s, from the collection of Francis Pritchett, Columbia University

In the years before and after Independence, city politics was a conducted in back-room deals between the Congress Party cronies and fat-cat industrialists — the Parsi, Gujarati and Marwari sheths and sahebs of the popular imagination. It was this corrupt party machinery, identified with S.K. Patil and the party bosses, that was targeted by the Samyukta Maharashtra movement as unrepresentative, and not in keeping with the new order of things in independent India, where common people should participate in governance.

While today we identify the official changing of the name of the city from Bombay to Mumbai with the Shiv Sena in 1995, it was a generation earlier, during Samyuka Maharashtra, that “Mumbai” was first extensively used in the public sphere to signify a city different from “Bombay”. For Acharya Atre, S.A. Dange, and Prabodhakar Thackeray (father of Balasaheb) — the leaders of Samyukta Maharashtra — Mumbai was to be a working-class city with better employment opportunities and social justice for all — not just a city that spoke Marathi, favoured sons of the soil, and suspected outsiders of stealing their jobs.

Class justice was as important as linguistic unity in the socialist vision of the Samyukta Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena was founded in 1966, more than ten years after the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, when the city’s economy stagnated and shrunk, and popular dissatisfaction with the hopes of statehood led to the emergence of more parochial forms of linguistic politics.

Mills as Public Spaces: Mumbai’s Industrial Heritage

This essay on  industrial heritage conservation was written when the first public interest litigation challenging the sale of mill lands in Central Mumbai was in the Bombay High Court in 2005, and published in Art India Magazine, ‘Heritage Issues’, Vol. X, Issue 2 (Mumbai), April 2005.

In Mumbai, public awareness of urban arts and heritage has experienced a significant revival in the past ten years in the same historical moment when manufacturing industries have closed and factories emptied throughout Greater Mumbai. Heritage discourse and conservation practice have only implicitly acknowledged this economic context. Since the Bombay Textile Strike of 1982-3, entire working-class communities across the city have been retrenched and dispersed in the Mill and Dock Lands of central Mumbai, the chemical and engineering factories and industrial estates in suburban Mumbai, and across the Metropolitan Region.

With job losses going into tens of lakhs, and uncertain growth prospects for Mumbai, several years ago the media and civic elite began speaking of the “death of the city” they once knew, whereas planners and academics eagerly awaited the birth of a new “global city”. However one described this restructuring of the city’s economy, it is clear that manufacturing has declined in value compared to the new service industries, not just in Mumbai but in big cities throughout the world. The post-industrial landscapes of London’s Docklands and New York’s Lower Manhattan are oft-cited symbols of this change monstrous, gleaming high-rise districts dominated by banking, finance, and white-collar services. In today’s urban economy, the making and marketing of immaterial signs has replaced the production of durable goods as the primary circuit of wealth creation.

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