As I walk down the road past the maidans, at Flora Fountain Dadabhai Naoroji, book held open in his hand, asks me in Parsi Gujarati, “Are you going to Kala Ghoda? That’s where I used to teach.” And he points to Elphinstone College.
The college has been restored well, I inform Mumbai’s preeminent professor of mathematics and natural philosophy who returned from England after becoming the first Indian British Member of Parliament in 1892.
Why did he return?
“Because I was needed here — we had lots of work to do,” Dadabhai says.
Dadabhai Naoroji became president of the Indian National Congress in 1896, and lived to the ripe old age of 92.
“Despite being married at the age of eleven,” he laughs.
Still walking, it starts to rain; there’s been no let-up in the monsoon this year. So I run up the Town Hall steps.
Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy
Portly Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy is sitting in the lobby of the eponymous hospital he built, to which Grant Medical College is attached.
Candles burn and floral offerings have been scattered around his larger-than-life statue by grateful and poor patients in whose service Sir Jamsetjee lived.
Adjusting the folds of his long gown, Sir J. J. does not recognize Dr. Viegas or me from my days as a medical student here, or the photograph I stood for, around these very folds, on the day we graduated.
We introduce ourselves.
Turns out Sir J.J. grew up as an orphan with nothing.
“But I was young and adventurous,” he chuckles. “Bombay offered untold hope. It was just beginning to become a city in the early 1800s. In China, trading in opium and cotton, I made an immense fortune but this city gave me the opportunity to give back.”
Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy founded a staggering 126 charities which include Mumbai hospitals, schools and an art college that’s still thriving today.
I ask him if, like Bahram in Amitav Ghosh’s new novel “River of Smoke”, he misses eating “samsa” in Xinjiang or was he quite happy to come home to wife Avabai’s dhansak?
“Avabai prayed at Mount Mary Church and all those embroidered silk shoes I brought back from China were getting dirty crossing the breach from Mahim to Bandra. You have to thank Avabai for having the Mahim causeway built.”
The road leading to Mahim causeway is still named after Avabai, even as our new Bandra Worli Sealink is named after a politician (Rajiv Gandhi) with no city connections
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