Parsi Statues: Cenotaph To History

The route from Churchgate to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is sprinkled with memorials to sentinels of Mumbai history. Only, nobody cares

Sipping my masala chai one morning, I suddenly realized that the Khada Parsi statue, literally the Standing Parsi standing not far from where I live, had a name: Shet Cursetjee Manockjee, whose statue had been erected in his memory in the 1860s.

A newspaper report said a group of Parsis were hoping to have the iconic statue, after a thorough scrub-down and a restoration, to a new location—Parsi Colony, Five Gardens. Wedged at the point where the Byculla flyover splits to go in two directions, the statue was one among several public monuments to historical figures who feature prominently in the city’s history, the report said.

That’s where my dusty journey began, to find the other sentinels of our streets, and to see if they were faring better than my Khada Parsi.

“We tend to hurry up erecting statues in the memory of great personalities but end up demeaning them by our negligence,” says writer and city historian Sharada Dwivedi, also a member of the heritage committee.

Stop One is Churchgate station, doff your cap here to Sir Hormusjee Cowasjee, one of the earliest Parsi traders who emigrated from Surat to Bombay. It’s a sorry sight, the red splotches of paan around the dusty structure.

Not far away is Gopal Krishna Gokhale, surrounded by polythene bags and other waste lying inside the fencing of the statue. Gokhale might be remembered as a senior freedom fighter and a reformist, but clearly, office-goers in Mumbai don’t think his statue holds much relevance.

My third stop is at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where Sir Jamshetjee Jeejeebhoy’s statue stands, scraps of the plaster peeling off now, a rather poor condition for a memorial to a great philanthropist. Sorabjee Shapurjee Bengalee’s statue, once a pure white, is now turning grey.

Around all the statues, which lie sprinkled along the walk from Churchgate to CST, there are hawkers’ stalls and litter.

Conservation architect Pankaj Joshi, who is currently restoring the Khada Parsi statue, says: “The problem here is that people no longer identify with these noble men and thus the plea for restoration of these monuments stands neglected in the municipal corporation. The need of the hour is to bring awareness among common people so that they realise the value of these stone statutes and help with the restoration.”

For a city that’s can’t stop to catch its breath, that might be a rather tall task.

  • Richard Barnes

    Dear Arzan Sam Wadia,
    I was really interested to hear about the statue to Shet Cursetjee Manockjee. It was made by my great great uncle, John Bell 1811-1895. Have you got any pictures? What is happening to the statue now? I feel like walking to see it- (I hate flying) Yours, Richard Barnes