Monday, June 16, 2014


On father's day, what better way to remember my father's father than to think about the stories we shared. My grand father loved to dwell on old stories. To reiterate them and link them to various people, times, government, politics, culture and my thirst for old stories would excite him to tell more. 

Heres one such story which went untold. I unfolded this one, and it was almost like chatting with him on way back from churchgate in the second class compartment of the Mumbai Local train, while he would carefully hold on to the yellow champa he had picked up on the way to station for his wife (my grandmother).

Some stories you narrated. Some times reveal on their own. You were with us then, you shall be with us now. In stories and memories, as future unfolds.

In the heart of south mumbai, is the Flora Fountain or the church gate or most recently called as the Hutatma chowk.

When I was a little girl, I used to accompany my father to his office in the summer vacations and in the afternoon heat, he would send me along with one of his office assistants to the nearby parks, avenues and monuments to cool off !

As a child, I was always awed by the whiteness, the calmness of the statue inspite of the hustling traffic around and the coolness of the fountain in Indian summers. I would always go back to my grand father and ask him about the history of these statues which looked indian and yet foreign , and why was there a fountain in middle of so much traffic ! All I had gathered then was that there used to be a church gate in its place a few years ago. It sounded so weird to me then that I dare dwell more, and yet so intriguing that the quest for its history always remained in my heart.

Thanks to the 'Tangible Things course in History' by Harvard edx, I pulled up my socks to do some internet research on the monument, and building up a chronology of its dates, the various fabrics of power, culture, history and politics beneath it and the minute observations I had missed which took me to even researching on the sculptor, its donors and the funding committee.

1686 TO 1743 - The Mumbai Fort was built by the British East India Company. It had three gates. The Apollo gate, The Church Gate and The Bazaar gate. (Church gate named after the St. Thomas cathedral which still stands there)

1771 - 1784 - A small road called the Hornby Road, named after the then Governor of Bombay was constructed. 

1820 - Eastern India - the Agri-Horticultural Society of India was founded by William Carey in Calcutta. In effect being the agro ministry untill 1900s. They established beautiful gardens, they documented the flora of the country, published journals, and held competitions and shows. 

1830 - Anything Calcutta did, Mumbai had to do better :) The Agri-Horticulture Society of Western India was founded. Among the wealthy notables in the AHSWI were ace businessman Jagannath Shankar Seth, David Sassoon (the Jewish merchant-prince) and Jamsetjee Jeejibhoy (1st Baronet).It was David Sassoon who donated his land in Byculla to create the loveliest garden Mumbai had ever seen - the Victoria Gardens. 

1860 - Old Mumbai Fort was demolished in 1860 as part of the then Governor, Sir Bartle Frère’s efforts to improve civic sanitation and the urban space requirements of the growing city. 

1864 - With the Victoria gardens flourishing , exotic flowers, and plants was becoming very fashionable in Mumbai. The idea of celebrating Goddess Flora was perhaps just a sign of the times. The Flora (roman godess of flowers) was constructed in 1864. The money for Flora Fountain came from a Parsi gentleman: Mr Cursetjee Furdomjee Parekh. He was a partner at Jamsetjee Jeejibhoy's firm, owned many ships, and like many merchant-princes of the time, made a significant fortune in trade with China and Europe. The sculptor was James Forsyth, who had earlier worked on a beautiful Flora Fountain in Witley Court, Worcestershire, England (that original fountain was damaged and is now being restored). 

1864 - Consequent to the demolitions of Fort in 1860, the Hornby road was widened into a broad avenue and on its western side commercial plots were developed to build new commercial buildings in Neo Classical and Gothic Revival designs. Hence, when the Flora Fountain was built, it was installed at the exact location where once stood the Church gate, instead of its original location at Victoria Gardens. 

1869 - Statue unveiled. The Fountain was originally to be named after Sir Bartle Frere, the Governor of Bombay, whose progressive policy had resulted in many great Public Buildings in Bombay However the name was changed before the fountain was unvieled as Flora Fountain
It was constructed by Esplanade Fee Fund Committee, out of a donation of Rs. 20,000 by Cursetjee Fardoonjee Parekh

1864 - 1960 - From the time the Flora Fountain was built in 1864 and until 1960, the chowk (square) where five streets meet (hence, also known as the Picadilly Circus of Mumbai) and the fountain stands now, was named as the Flora Fountain area

1960 - PRESENT - to commemorate the martyrdom of the brave people who laid their lives in the turbulent birth of Maharashtra State at the square, it was christened as Hutatma Chowk with an impressive stone statue bearing a pair of torch holding patriots. The Flora Fountain, surrounded by the British Victorian era heritage buildings, is very much part of the chowk and has been declared a heritage structure and it continues to charm visitors with its beauty and with its spray of water.

On close look at some of the detail photographs available on Internet (since I would be crazy to stand in middle of traffic gaping at the statues in person !) It was observed that the statues almost look indian rather than roman or british ! Check the picture below. 

The anklets on her feet are interesting, she looks almost Indian, doesn't she? Is that a sheaf of wheat at her feet? I tried to look it up, but couldn't find more information about the design of the female figures. If anyone understands this more, pl throw some light. Also, see the head scarf. The way it is wrapped is more Indian than the way a loosely covered head would be of british or roman sculptures of that era.

It may also be interesting to note that James Forsyth, the sculptor, had lost his only daughter the same year as this sculpture was completed. Now, is it me, or is it a true observation that none of the figures on the fountain are smiling. See the image below. 

I would want to rename this fountain as the "Misplaced calmness in disguise" Infact, in a lot of ways, it is similar to the John Harvard's statue of three lies ! John Harvard's statue - 1, is not harvard himself. 2, dates wrongly. 3, he was not the founder ! Similarly, the flora fountain sculpted in middle of deep personal grief, from the money donated by the wealthy members of Agri-horticultural society, meant for a botanical park, and to be used as a fountain to enhance the coolness of the garden, stands in middle of a bustling CBD, not even holding its identity as a central square, instead being part of a martyr's square (hutatma chowk). History, Politics, culture and power has builded and rebuilded itself in layers to bring together a story for the Flora Fountain.

A Poem in Gujarati by Niranjan Narhari Bhagat which is translated in English in the book “Modern Gujarati Poetry : A Selection” by Gujarat Sahitya Academy

A Glass and concrete jungle; 
In its midst always Quiet, comely, 
With hope filled face, she stands 
A dream of spring in her matchless eyes, 
holding in both hands stone flowers. 
About her, in all corners, 
Iron butterflies fly round and round 
And lifeless insects play

Now, when I think about how I would look up to this fountain, I can imagine the little girl building a million questions in her head to be asked to her grandfather.

Thanking the Harvard edx's 'Tangible things course in history' for getting me to digging up on this monument.

Happy Father's day Dada !


  1. It makes for a fascinating read on Flora fountain...I too remember my childhood times with my father when he was working in one of the stone building's near Fountain as it popularly known at times...I was in awe of it. Good post Dhwani!!! Looking forward to reading more on Mumbai's architectural history :-) -Bijal

  2. Nice post Dhwani, especially bringing sweet memories of ur grandpa. When I always wondered around there as a kid, it was more of a street shopping and dreams of working big companies having offices there. Now I see this spot in a different light. You bet, I will play a close look now to those non-smiling faces when I am around there.