Bombay which is now Mumbai was a set of seven sleepy islands inhabited by fisherfolk (the original Mumbaikers for the information of everyone who wants others to leave…..).
The seven islands were probably known to the Greeks as Heptansia and are –Isle of Bombay, Colaba, Old Woman’s Island, Mahim, Mazgaon, Parel, Worli.
There is fascinating book by Naresh Fernandes called City Adrift which I would highly recommend if you love Bombay/ Mumbai/Bambai.
He says: “This conjoined land was settled by the most diverse collection of people the subcontinent had ever known, who proceeded to create a mishmash culture that perfectly reflected their heterogeneity and verve. When Bombayites pick arguments with, make purchases from or proposition strangers with whom they share no common tongue, they do so in an argot that amalgamates the syntax and vocabulary of half a dozen linguistic traditions. It wraps, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Gujrati and English into the embrace of a dialect Salman Rushdie named Hug-Me.”
This gem of a book also has details about the fact that there were separate cemeteries for Jews and prostitutes. What a city it must have been then!
It also explains why there are seven major churches in the city quite out of proportion to the number of Christians living here. Any guesses? Well it’s because there was one on each island since people could not visit other islands in the 4 months of the monsoon.
For details on the islands read here
The story dates back to 1534 AD, when the Portuguese empire took control of Bombay through the Treaty of Bassein, which was signed between them and Bahadur Shah of the Gujarat sultanate, says the book City of Gold.
Soon, the Portuguese established a trading centre on the island, then called Bom Bahia, meaning ‘the good bay’, which the English later mispronounced to the more familiar Bombay. In October 1626, whispers that Portuguese ships had “got into a hole called Bombay” for repairs brought English raiders to the shores of Bombay where they burnt and looted the trading centre. In 1661, to try and bring peace and reinforce the independence of the two nations, King Charles II of England married Portugal’s Catherine of Braganza, whose family gave a huge dowry to the groom. A part of this gift was the Portuguese territory of Bombay.
So, to my friend who says I manage to bring in patriarchy everywhere, I must say, honestly that’s because it IS simply everywhere!! Mumbai became a British port because of patriarchy…..
Without it we could have been another Goa. Can you imagine how fabulous that would have been? Of course most of us would never have migrated here and the seven islands would be connected by waterways, like the Maldives.
Anyway, eventually the British realize the Bombay was probably the best wedding gift in the history of the Empire. It was a natural port and they built a fortified area (still called Fort although the walls had to be broken down during the plague in order to move out the high volume of dead bodies). Bombay eventually became the 2nd largest British city after London and according to an article written in a London newspaper –it was even more Cosmopolitan, with Afghan traders, Arabs, Africans, etc etc
If the idea of gifting away Bombay as dowry to the British sounds regrettable today, the next appears even more preposterous. King Charles II did not want the trouble of ruling Bombay so he rented it out to the East India Co. for just 10 pounds in gold a year!!
The Portuguese authorities in India, though, refused to deliver the islands of Salsette, Mazagaon, Varli and Parel, which the English claimed as part of the marriage treaty. What the Portuguese clearly did not contend with was British industriousness. Crown-appointed governor Gerald Aungier set about building up the port of Bombay with a new quay, warehouses and a customs house. The East India Company supported and encouraged Aungier to build a new city and even sent him the plan of London as it was to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, author David Abram says.
If Bombay is what it is today, the roots lie in Aungier’s complex building programme, which included causeways to link the many islands. Aungier also built forts and a castle to protect people, a church, a hospital, and a mint where coins were made.
The Anglo Indian and catholic community in Mumbai are also called East Indians although we are on the west coast. Well, that’s cos they are descended/ converted by the East India Compay!
Eventually the islands were connected to each other and eventually to the mainland. Lady Jamshedji Road in Mahim was funded by her since she was praying for a child and wanted to be able to visit Mount Mary Church.
Mumbai is what it has always been. City of gold, city of dreams, more consmopolitan than any other city in India, safe for women to travel and work, no one bats an eyelid at what you wear but many will pitch in to help when you need.
Yes, it has a dark side and if you read Shantaram you will get gooseflesh even while walking down Colaba Causeway. But for most people who stay here it’s a place they always dream of getting away from but the reality is that they never will unless they are forced to!
In tribute to the truly original inhabitants here are some Koli ( fisherfolk) ( and Koli inspired Bollywood) songs for you to enjoy!
This kind of a dance could be performed by a medical student at a college festival only if that student is Madhuri Dixit and the college is not a real one of course, but here it is to start off the playlist.