Ode to a lively city
Gayatri Rajwade

Ten Heritage Walks of Mumbai
by Fiona Fernandez. Rupa & Co.
Pages 187. Rs 395.

This one breaks certain myths which bustling Mumbai frequently suffers from. Often charged with being far too ‘modern’ in comparison with the rest of the country, Fiona Fernandez’s Mumbai takes the reader for a persuasive amble through roads forgotten yet fascinating, unveiling a city lively with architectural legacies.

While several books on Mumbai have been published, this one propels you to stand and stare at intriguing nuggets of history that one often misses. Walk along, says the book, in itself an ode to the city Fernandez so dearly loves, and rediscover the journey of Mumbai from a sleepy fishing village to the humming metropolis it is now. Interestingly, Ten Heritage Walks of Mumbai is also a discovery in town planning. It tells the story of a city that grew methodically, and with a sense of pride, especially when the British brought with them their finesse for fine structures.

The walks that the author draws up, takes the reader through jostling crowds, dusty streets, procession of cars and absorbing trivia to sudden hidden treasures, sometimes in a leafy avenue and sometimes right in the middle of a traffic jam.

The book starts with hunting for treasures in the Fort Precinct with the Central Dome of the General Post Office which is credited with establishing the Indo-Saracenic style as the official style in British India. Its dome, interestingly, resembling that of the Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur.

Just down the road is the stately Asiatic Society located in the Town Hall and founded in 1804 and where the author found her inspiration, rummaging through the history of Mumbai and gathering material for a quiz on the city which eventually turned into this.

Soak in the magnificence of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, "regarded as the second most photographed building in Asia in the 19th century, after the Taj Mahal," writes the author. Walk through the athletes, joggers and football and cricket teams at Oval Maidan, "part of a sprawling open space called the Esplanade," where the High Court, university buildings and the Old Secretariat have been acclaimed as the finest Victorian ensemble of the world and where the British too played their cricket to the amusement of the locals or meander through the Moorish-styled Prince of Wales Museum, the artsy Kala Ghoda, the flurry of Crawford market, the sparkle of the Queen’s Necklace, through South and Central Mumbai. However there is one exception(al) walk, through the by-lanes of Bandra chosen for the quaintness of the 15th-century Portuguese that still radiates from here.

Adding to the value of the book are photographs making readers aware of remarkable details, little bits of information on where they can have bhelpuri just the way it tasted decades ago, listen to the jukebox of yore surrounded by Mario Miranda’s caricatures or where to duck into for Irani food or even authentic Parsi fare.

Written in an easy reading style, the descriptions may seem cliched, the phrases oft-used, but that does not take away from the value-additions the book makes. For a slice of Mumbai, off-the-cuff, pick up this book and take a wander.