If you walked around Grant Road with an unbound script in the 1800s, chances are you’d receive a grant from some benefactor funding the glitzy clutch of theatres and cinema halls along the way. Is that why this neighborhood is called Grant Road?
“No.” Luckily, we’re with Simin Patel, city expert (she has an Oxford University PhD in the history of Mumbai) and author of a book on Irani cafes. For every story we make up, she has a fact that’s far more interesting, forcing us to look back and below the grit and grime of Mumbai as we know it today, beginning with Grant Road.
“Did you know that the opening of Bombay Theatre at Grant Road on February 10, 1846, marked the beginning of this neighbourhood’s tryst with art and culture? Or how about this: it was not uncommon for members of the audience to throw sugarcane on the stage if they were displeased with the performances.” Sweeter than a Twitter troll, that’s for sure.
Now that Simin has returned from the UK, she’s turning her Bombaywalla.org blog into a legit company with partner and graphic designer Sitanshu Shukla, and part of the business provides a stage debut for her alter ego, Ms Bombaywalla “tour operator”.
“I’m going to lead thematic city walks, but unlike others that concentrate on streets, mine will engage with different structures, allowing you access to buildings you haven’t entered before, while also immersing you in the history of the neighbourhood,” says Simin, who urges us to end any South Bombay visit with chai and cheese omlette bun at Café de la Paix at Girgaum Road
It was not uncommon for members of the audience to throw sugarcane on the stage if they were displeased with the performances.” Sweeter than a Twitter troll, that’s for sure.
The first walk begins with the building that’s lately been hogging all the attention – The Royal Opera House – with a two-part stroll. The first takes place in 1846 Grant Road and ends in 1910, tracing the beginning of theatre and Hindustani classical music in the neighbourhood. Part deux begins in 1911 when the Royal Opera House opened for business, ushering in a new era of film. “When the Royal Opera House was unwrapped in 1911, it was Kinemacolor pictures, rather than opera or theatre. During my research I found that early literature published by the institution describes it as a 'Home of Celebrities', indicating how starry culture was already in vogue by 1916!” says Simin.
The Oval Office
Among the other walks planned by Miss Bombaywalla is a cricket one led by Dr. Prashant Kidambi, Associate Professor in Colonial Urban History at the University of Leicester. “The tour will trace the origins of Indian cricket through the various cricket clubs that were set up in Bombay in the 19th century.”
Eventually, Simin hopes to extend Bombaywalla into a digital archive of Mumbai memorabilia where historians can access old film posters, thoughtfully saved movie stubs, vintage books, theatre pamphlets and more.
Think of it as a giant cardboard box of nostalgia that you painfully preserved, but might soon have to return to an ex. Luckily, Simin’s fun facts are for keeps, so set a first date with Miss Bombaywalla this Saturday and we promise it will be solid.
Getting there: Miss Bombaywalla tours begin on November 4, and then every weekend in November. To book and for other details, visit their Facebook page here.
Photo Source: Bombaywalla.org
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