Ever had one of those days when you feel you’re the luckiest devil walking on the planet? I did a couple of weeks ago spending a day in the old Bombay, the Colaba and the surrounding area of modern-day Mumbai. The city that changed its name from Bombay a decade or so back. Only if you ask the locals, they’ll tell you no one except the politicians call it by any other name than Bombay.
I got a personal tour through the old Fort or Colaba historic area of Bombay in the company of a local history buff, lucky me! Of all the magnificent Gothic and Neo-Gothic buildings I saw, the one that not only kept me in rapture by its sheer size but also left me breathless with its beauty is the masterpiece of Bombay: the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Perhaps better known in the architectural circles as the old Victoria Terminus (VT)- Bombay’s famous fin de siecle 19th century railway station like none other built anywhere in the world.
Christopher London, the author of a lovely pocket-book Bombay Gothic, is your best bet to read a full and fascinating account of the Victorian architecture brought to Bombay in the late 1870’s. Frederick William Stevens, who designed the VT in collaboration with many other fine contemporary minds, certainly left his permanent signature piece in this world-class city. In fact, because of the Victorian building boom which started back in the 1880’s, Bombay has since become the city known for its many architectural treasures, including Art Deco. That’s a topic for another blog.
Initially, the VT was only used by long-haul trains traveling to India’s subcontinent. Today the CST services 2.5 million daily commuters in a massive city, most of whose residents cannot afford to live anywhere near the centre. The electric trains have now replaced the old steam locomotive driven coaches that arrived from afar under the massive domed tracks at the terminus. The CST still has railway offices and continues to function as it always has as the railway transport hub of India’s largest metropolis.
With one notable difference. The statue of Queen Victoria has been taken off the front wall below the clock! Perhaps as the final gesture to mark the end to British colonialism. As a visitor, chatting with the security guards up front, I gently inquired if a statue of a famous Indian – Mahatma Gandhi perhaps- was considered as a successor? It was just as well these men didn’t get my drift…Gandhi would simply not fit the old VT even under an Indian name CST. Or, maybe the security guards only understood Hindi!
- CST Clock Tower