Sunday, 27 February 2011

Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

The Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is one of the best known heritage buildings in Mumbai. It is a world heritage site classified and recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Today, it is almost a cinematic cliche to represent Mumbai by using an image of Mumbai CST. It currently serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways.

If city historians are to be believed, the site at which the station stands today is associated with the very origin of Mumbai as a city. The city of Mumbai originally derives its name from the Goddess Mumbadevi or Maha Amba. The earliest temple dedicated to Goddess Mumbadevi is believed to have stood at the very place where the station now stands. It was demolished by the Persian invader Mubarak Shah and was reconstructed in 1317. It was again demolished by the Portuguese in 1760. To save the temple from further destruction, it was shifted to its present location in Kalbadevi.

The Victoria Terminus derives its name from Queen Victoria because the station was formally inaugurated in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The name of the station was changed to its present name in honour of the Maratha prince Chhatrapati Shivaji in 1996. Its abbreviations CST and VT are still popularly used by commuters and locals. It is the busiest station in India presently catering to a large number of commuters and as well as a terminal for long distance trains terminating in Mumbai. 

The Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with themes deriving inspiration from Indian traditional architecture. It is designed by the famous British architect Fredrick William Stevens and the free Gothic feeling is remarkable for the excellence of the carvings with which it is covered. The work on the station began in May 1878 and was completed exactly ten years later in May 1888. The offices housed in CST alone cost Rs. 16,35, 562 and the station cost Rs. 10,40,248 excluding the railway tracks. The original plan for the Victoria Terminus was intended to accommodate just the offices and the main station. Since 1887, additional buildings at adjoining sites have also had to be erected. One of the buildings "Annexe" opposite the main line station was used as a hospital during the World War-I. It now houses the headquarters of the Central Railway. 

The new mainline station which caters to long distance mail and express trains was built with very simple decoration at a cost of Rs. 10 lakh which took nearly two-and-a-half years to complete. The additions were so designed as to harmonize with the architectural magnificence of the building constructed in 1887 and to create a composite budget. The architect of the new building was Percy Wilson, an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

As the then General Manager D.S. Burns quoted: "He (Percy) has designed a building which is pleasing and satisfying in its appearance, meets fully the modern requirements of a mainline station and which, while in style entirely different from the famous old Victoria Terminus building, yet in no way clashes with it." The Victoria Terminus has been consistently described in literature as the jewel of Mumbai in different contexts. As The Wonder Book of the Railways notes: "In India, some of the stations are almost like palaces, notably those of the East Indian Railway at Howrah in Calcutta and the Victoria Terminus of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway." Jan Morris in his travelogue "The Spectacle of Empire" wrote: "... And the imperial railways were most of all in India. The grandest of the Indian Railway stations, Victoria Terminus in Bombay, was thought to be by connoisseurs to be the grandest station anywhere."

The British writer Gillian Tindall in her book "The City of Gold: A Biography of Bombay" eloquently described VT as: "First came the venetian secretariat, then the Gothic university library and the French university hall, between the great clock tower--the white pinnacled law courts follow, then the post and telegraph offices in miscellaneous Gothic. But the jewel of Bombay is the Victoria station." 

The man driving a rattling taxi or the harried commuter probably has never wavered in his appreciation of these massive and iconic buildings in Bombay which are admired as if they were ancient Mughal palaces. Perhaps, to the man on the street, they are!  

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Roman Drama

Compared to chaos of Mumbai's suburbs, Navi Mumbai's neatly divided into nodes and sectors. But these too need some getting used to, as was evident in this case. At Belapur CBD, a middle-aged man in distress was recently seen asking every other passerby for directions to an address in "Sector 2" to deliver a fairly large parcel.

Apparently, he had spent a better part of the morning literally going around in circles in the sector. Finally, he approached an autorickshaw driver for help. After looking at the address, the driver immediately said that he must have confused "11" as in the Sector 11 for the Roman numeral II.

Such confusion is routine in Navi Mumbai, shrugged the seasoned driver. The man hopped on to the auto and in a few minutes, the parcel was delivered to the right address.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Paid News and Journalism

Rajdeep Sardesai
Editor-in-chief, CNN-IBN

We live in the age of institutionalized corruption. From politicians to judges, from senior bureaucrats to policemen, from corporate tycoons to petty officials, everyone it seems has a price. As journalists, our profession demands that we enquire, interrogate and expose corruption. So, when an A. Raja resigns we rejoice that the resignation came about due to media pressure. When an infotech czar is punished we're hopeful of improved standards of governance. But what happens when the camera turns inwards, when news itself has a price tag attached to it?

A corrupt politician can be jailed, so can a business leader. A former chief minister can resign, a bureaucrat can be tried under the prevention of corruption act. But what happens to the editor and the correspondent who brazenly endorses cash for news? The recent controversy about "paid news" since the Niira Radia tapes became public that is undermining the very foundation of journalism strikes at the heart of a concept that we swear by: the principal of accountability. What moral right do we have in demanding action against the other pillars of our democracy when we wink a the gathering storm in our own profession?

Journalists as a tribe tend to be cynical and self-righteous in equal measure. The cynicism leads us to believe that the glass is always half empty. Our self-righteous streak drives us into spasms of rage when we are accused of lowering ethical standards. The "paid news" crisis calls for neither an overdose of cynicism nor another bout of self-righteousness. What is required at the moment is a robust pragmatism that accepts the problem confronting the profession of journalism, but also sees it as an opportunity to restore falling credibility.

The first step is to understand what "paid news" is. Some recent articles have tended to confuse legitimate "advertorials" with the unethical "sale" of news. The key lies in setting disclosure norms. If a politician or a corporate house wishes to "purchase" editorial space or airtime, they can do so, but only if they adhere to rules of disclosure. It is when the political or commercial brand is plugged in a non-transparent manner, when an advertisement masquerades as news with no distinction being clearly made in form or content to the reader or viewer, that the sanctity of news is violated.

Secondly, we need to realize that "paid news" is not some overnight phenomenon that began with election "packages". Film and sports journalism, for example, has been forced to blur the lines with public relations for some time now. Corporate India has also been a step ahead of political India: "private treaties" by which a newspaper enters into agreements with business groups to ensure favourable coverage in return for an equity stake in the company has been in existence for several years now. A political candidate who pays for favourable media coverage is not guaranteed victory, a corporate house through a "private treaty" is almost guaranteed lasting immunity against journalistic "objectivity".

Thirdly, we must recognize as to why there is a growing temptation to opt for "paid news" by all entities involved. In the case of elections, it is no secret that the Election Commission's attempt to control excessive expenditure by clamping down on rallies and publicity material has only led to political funding going "underground": like liquor, paid news is part of this "parallel" election machinery. With many regional politicians controlling cable networks and newspapers, the local media in particular is easily compromised.

Moreover, the nature of the news "business" has fundamentally altered in recent years. The news space in television and to an extent in print too, is increasingly cluttered and the financial pressures have only heightened in a competitive market. While the advertising pie has grown, it is an offset by the growing expenditure. Newspaper cover prices or channel distribution revenues are still well below accepted standards. In this difficult external environment, "paid news" has almost become a survival option for some, especially in regional markets. In the process, the "Chinese wall" that existed between a journalist and an advertiser, between news and marketing has almost evaporated.

And yet, to blame the sharp-suited sales and marketing teams for "legitimising" paid news would be to shirk our responsibility as journalists. The imprint of a newspaper carries the byline of an editor, not the proprietor or the marketing guru. It is the editor who is legally responsible for what is carried in a newspaper or telecast on a channel. A sales and marketing professional is to paid to enhance revenues. An editorial professional is paid to improve the quality of content. A journalist is meant to add editorial value to the content, not peddle it to the highest bidder. Critical to this value addition are the notions of integrity and credibility, neither of which can be measured through hard cash. Unfortunately, with the declining role of the editor as the watchdog of news and the emergence of fly by night owners, a vacuum has been created that has led to a near-total breakdown of rules and standards.

If editors have been accomplices in the debasement of news, they must now take the lead role in restoring its sanctity. If every editor in this country agreed to follow a strict code of conduct in dealing with "paid news", if there was an insistence on disclosure norms, there is everybody that the cancer can be checked. Most right thinking news organizations will realize that "paid news" will eventually erode their brand and it is for editors to put sufficient moral pressure through every available media forum to shame and isolate those who refuse to fall in line.It maybe a slow process, but one whose success is critical to the future of the profession.

P.S.: At a recent editors' guild annual meeting, one venerable editor from old school of journalism was asked what he would do if he was forced to carry "paid news", "Pack my bags and do something else!" was the blunt reply.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Power Play

The intensity of the debate about the forthcoming cricket World Cup that kicks off from today reminds the coffee houses within the community of a simple truth: as far as the wider public is concerned, a World Cup determines the world champion. Never mind that 50 over cricket is not the highest form of the game. Never mind that one day cricket is notoriously fickle--though it has seemed quite predictable in the last few World Cups.

Such niceties are lost on the crowd as it sits agog in the stadium or as it huddles around a TV set in remote villages. Indeed, they are lost on the players. To win a World Cup is the ultimate dream for all countries participating. For a while, winning a World Cup overwhelms the problems of daily life. Of course, they cannot cure them. Sports need champions and emphasizing on world champions. As much can be told from the response of the athletes upon winning gold medals. It is quite something to be the best in the world in any capacity. Sports offer that promise. In most of walks of life, these things are a matter of opinion.

In sports, it is often a proven fact. The craving for sports for champions stem from that opportunity. Of course, it serves several purposes, gives the young a chance to prove their courage without unduly harming their rivals, spouses a little time away from their beloveds and allows the age-old to debate about strength and speed and skill to be settled in the ring or on the field. Alas, the settlement is only temporarily for the terrible truth is that sporting success is fleeting. As every gunslinger knows, there is always another person emerging who thinks he is a fraction faster. Sooner or later, he is right.

World Championships provide testing grounds where players, teams and nations can prove their nerve and ability. The pomp and ceremony of the opening and closing help to set the tournament apart from its peers, tells all and sundry that the time has come for those seeking glory and convinced of their capacity to stand up for themselves. As the fallen angel called out in Paradise Lost: "Speak now or forever hold your peace". World championships serve another purpose. They provide an arena in which truly great cricketers can assert themselves. In that regard, it's easier in cricket with its man-against-man aspect. It is a raw game with a civilized surface, an individual game in the guise of a team activity.

Clive Lloyd's innings in 1975 set the pattern. Even now, the lithe ferocity of his stroke play lingers in the mind. Sir Viv Richards came next, with his awesome and controlled attack in 1979. Richards used to walk on the balconies in the early rounds, urging his comrades to take him to Lord's. He was aghast when Somerset dismissed Nottinghamshire for a paltry score in a domestic final in 1983. How was he going to score a hundred? Only great players can think along those lines and those heading for a fall. Although his intervention was brief, Kapil Dev's stunning catch to remove Richards in the 1983 final was another instance of a great player seizing the moment. Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Aravinda de Silva, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist are few examples who have imposed themselves in finals.

Now comes the 2011 edition in India, anything can happen in lesser events. As a rule, though, World Cups and Olympics for that matter, produce the right winners and inspire the best players. The early rounds might not tell us much but the semi-finals and final will tell us all we need to know. That is the harsh reality. It is the moment of truth.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Rajabai Tower

The Rajabai Tower is a majestic clock tower ornamented with oriental figures. It is located in the precincts of the Mumbai University campus, right next to the Bombay High Court in South Mumbai. It is modelled on the lines of London's famous clock tower the Big Ben.

The Rajabai Clock Tower was designed by the English architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. Since it is elevated to the height of 85 metres (280 feet), the construction for the tower began in 1869 and was completed nearly nine years later in 1878. During its time, the Rajabai Tower was the tallest structure of Mumbai. The total cost of construction was borne by a Bombay based stockbroker Premchand Royachand, a successful stock broker who also founded the Bombay Stock Exchange. The construction cost then was Rs. 200,000, a princely sum in those days. The clock tower owes its name to Rajabai, the blind mother of Premchand Royachand who was also a staunch follower of Jainism and it is believed that she was supposed to consume her dinner before twilight. Thanks to the bell of this tower, she did not require anyone's help in knowing the time and consumed her dinner before evening, on the word of her religion. During the British Raj, it played tunes of "Rule Britannia", "God Save the King", "Home! Sweet Home!" and "A Handel Symphony", amongst the sixteen tunes that changed four times a day. However, the glockenspiel repertoire currently plays only "Big Ben", after every fifteen minutes. 

The Rajabai Tower presents a wonderful fusion of Venetian and Gothic styles of architecture. The tower is constructed out of the locally available buff coloured Kurla stone. The tower has a spiral staircase, which is sadly now closed to the visitors due to past instances of suicides and the stories of doomed lovers. The Rajabai Tower houses the library of the Mumbai University, which has some brilliant stained glass windows in the continent of Asia. It was recently treated by the British conservationists who reinstated the grandeur in these exquisite windows. 

Summing up, the Rajabai Tower is a spectacular structure which stands testimony to the transformation of Mumbai as a city and the growth of the Mumbai University from a tiny classroom to a full-fledged campus. It is worth visiting on a Sunday afternoon when you are most likely to find local boys playing cricket in the maidan opposite the iconic tower.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Movie Review: Dhobi Ghat

Dhobi Ghat literally means an open air laundromat. The washers or dhobis generally work in the open and wash the clothes from Mumbai's hotels and hospitals. It is located to Mahalaxmi station near the Saat Rasta roundabout. There are rows of open air concrete washing stands, each fitted with a flogging stone. It is currently the world's largest outdoor laundry.

The film Dhobi Ghat has an acquired taste which means you'll simply enjoy the film or it will be downright boring. Filmmaker Kiran Rao's deeply personal Dhobi Ghat has an atmospheric feel to it. By naming it "Mumbai Diaries", one can make out that the film has been primarily made for a film festival audience.

The film, as such, does not have a story--except four random lives which connect in Mumbai. An investment banker-cum-photographer Shai (Monica Dogra), the dhobi Zohaib/Munna (Prateik Babbar), the reclusive artist Arun (Aamir Khan) and homemaker Yasmin Noor (Kriti Malhotra). There are fleeting moments of happiness, pain and the eventual realization that the journey never ends. The struggle to survive and to connect is eternal. These people intersect in different spaces across the city--art galleries, bustling Mohammed Ali Road markets, sea-facing bungalows in Worli, the sunset at Chowpatty and Marine Drive, the narrow gullies in slums, the dhobi ghats and under construction high-rise apartments.

The fifth character in the film is Mumbai, a city bursting at its seams with migrants who remain anonymous, alienated, brutally indifferent and harshly helpful. Kiran Rao and her cinematographer Tushar Kanti Ray brilliantly create the scenes across Mumbai. There are few places in the film which overpower the presence of actors like Prateik Babbar and Monica Dogra at Mohammed Ali Road at the iftaar party during Ramzan.

The music by Oscar winning music composer Gustavo Santaolalla, though largely instrumental, playing mostly as background music is underutilized though it blends well with the placid pace of the movie. The film could do with some editing at a few places nevertheless that shouldn't rob the movie of its artistic merit. The costumes are realistic and the sets are well chosen.

At a running time of 95 minutes, filmmaker Kiran Rao shows us a different side of Mumbai which has rarely been seen in the movies despite most of us living in the city. The film is more like a video diary since it films rat killers, the gentle rumbling of commuter trains, the unrelenting Mumbai rains, the crowded markets, the disappearing Irani cafes, the city during Ganesh Chaturthi visarjan.

It wouldn't be wrong to say that Mumbai finally gets a film that actually represents its true hues and tints. Though it follows the pace of an atmospheric portrait, part video diary and Mumbai is the centre of the film's attention. It is probably the only city in the world where so many classes so closely amalgamate into a common river of sorrows, beauty or hope.

Summing it up, the film is worth watching once despite having a bunch of relatively unknown faces.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Gateway of India

The leading English newspaper Hindustan Times had recently come out with a campaign called "No TV Day" where the intention was to ditch the television and explore the city. I have always lent my support towards the campaigns the newspaper does primarily because they concern the larger interest of the general public. As always, the No TV Day was a rewarding experience. It made me feel like a tourist in a city where I lived for the past 18 years.

The Gateway of India is one of Mumbai's most famous monument and is often the starting point for most tourists who visit the city. The Gateway of India is important as it serves as a transit point for a cruise around the Bombay Harbour in luxury boats. Opposite the Gateway of India stands the Royal Taj Mahal Hotel and the Taj Towers, which serves as an example to the resilient spirit of Mumbai after the tragic 26/11 attacks. There is also a statue of the Maratha prince Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in front of the Gateway of India.

The Gateway of India was built as a triumphal arch to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in December 1911. The Gateway of India is intricately carved with four turrets and latticework carved into the yellow basalt stone. The foundation stone for the Gateway of India was laid on March 31, 1911 by the then Governor of Bombay Sir George Sydenham Clarke and the final design submitted by the Scottish architect George Wittet was sanctioned in August 1914. Between 1915 and 1919, work proceeded on the reclamation at Apollo Pier for the land on which the Gateway and the new sea wall would be built. The foundations were completed in 1920. The construction was finally completed in 1924 and the Gateway of India was inaugurated on December 4 1924 by the Viceroy, Earl of Reading.

The Gateway of India is built from yellow Kharodi basalt and reinforced concrete. The stone was locally obtained and the perforated screens were brought in from Gwalior. The design together is a combination of both the Hindu and Muslim architectural styles. The arch is in the typical Muslim style while the decorations placed outside are in the Hindu style. The central dome is about 48 feet in diameter and 83 feet above ground at its highest point. The whole harbour front was realigned in order to come in line with a planned esplanade which would sweep down to the centre of the town. The cost of the construction was Rs. 21 lakhs, which was borne mainly by the Government of India. However, due to the lack of funds, the approach road was never built and the Gateway of India now stands at an angle to the road leading up to it. 

The colonial rule ended in 1947 and the colonial symbol also became a sort of epitaph while the last of the British troops to leave India, the First Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, passed through the Gateway in a ceremony on 28 February, 1948.