Making statues smile


April 11, 2008

Statues make it to the news in Mumbai mostly when miscreants use them to stoke trouble in the city. At other times, they stand on busy road junctions or watch dusty playgrounds, derelict and often covered in bird guano.

But for a group called the Bombay Parsi Association (BPA), the city’s statues are more than just obscure monuments from the past. Last week, members of the group honoured the statue of Sir Hormusjee Adenwalla, a philanthropist who was a former chairman of the Union Bank of India and also a trustee of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet in the early part of the last century. Early on Friday morning, members of the group gathered near the Bikha Behram well near Churchgate, where the statue is located, and offered garlands and bouquets.

The BPA’s annual calendar features two more such events featuring statues and monuments. The statue of freedom-fighter Dadabhai Naoroji at Flora Fountain is similarly honoured on September 4, his birth anniversary. On the Zoroastrian equivalent of the All Soul’s Day, the war memorial at Khareghat Colony on Hughes Road too is the venue of a small memorial service.

The group’s annual trysts with statues does not end with the three events; they visit other statues in the city too. In 1985, during the centenary of the founding of the Indian National Congress, the group went around garlanding at least two dozen statues of freedom-fighters in the city a day before the anniversary.

In 1997, the 50th anniversary of Independence, committee members of the BPA travelled in a car honouring statues of freedom-fighters, including the one of Vasudev Balwant Phadke at Metro junction.

A few years ago, they meticulously scrubbed clean a statue of business baron and philanthropist Sir Dinshaw Petit at Bhatia Baug near the CST station after they found it uncared for in the middle of a seedy public garden.

The BPA which otherwise does a lot of philanthropic work even has a set of rules that it follows while paying tribute to statues: if it is a commemoration of a birth, they use garlands; for death anniversaries, wreaths are usually placed at statues.

BPA member and chartered accountant Vispi Dastur says that by paying homage at a monument, they are not just honouring the person in whose memory the statue was raised. “We want people to be inspired by the work of these personalities and follow their example,” he explains.

The local ward of the municipal corporation is responsible for the upkeep of statues in their area. Every year, on the birth anniversary of the honoured person, municipal workers give the statue a wash and a fresh garland. But often, groups like BPA have to come to the rescue of monuments that have been targeted by thieves and vandals.

A decade ago, BPA members got donors to clean up the century-old clock tower built in the memory of Bomanjee Wadia, the first sheriff of Mumbai. New railings were put up around the small lawn and a drinking water fountain was installed. The railings have now been stolen and the lawns around the statue serve as a sleeping place for street-dwellers

Marzban Giara who wrote a book Parsi statues eight years ago cataloguing statues of prominent members of the Parsi-Zoroastrian community counted 226 in India, Pakistan and Iran. Nearly half of them are in Mumbai, some in gardens and road junctions and others inside buildings.

“Though they were inaugurated with much fanfare, they are badly maintained,” says Giara who gave the example of the statue of Shet Cursetjee Manockjee at Byculla, popularly called Khada Parsi, that has been vandalised regularly.

“The statues are not being kept clean. For instance, the only time the statue of Nusserwanji Petit at Gowalia Tank maidan gets a wash, is during the rains,” he says.

Original article here.