The Neighbourhood


The Mazagaon Area

Mazagaon was occupied by the Sidi of Janjira, an admiral in the Mughal navy in 1690. It is said that he was driven away a year later by Rustomji Dorabji, who organised the fishermen in Dongri into a fleet. Rustomji was given the title Patel after this feat, and his descendants have remained the only Parsi family of Patels. With the reclamation of Umarkhadi, at the end of the 17th century, Mazagaon became an outlying suburb of Mumbai and a fashionable place of residence. One of the famous houses was the neo-classical Tarala, built by a member of the Wadia family in the late 18th century. Sold to the Jeejeebhoy family about a century later, it became the Sadar Adalat in 1925, when they moved out to Malabar Hill. Later still it was taken over by the army, and then donated to the J. J. Hospital in 1943 after a fire. It was used as a staff hostel for a few years before it was demolished.

Other bungalows and plantations also grew in Mazagaon as the British and the more affluent Indians moved out of the crowded Fort area. When the Esplanade was cleared in Fort, the armoury moved from Bombay Castle to Mazagaon in 1760 and gave its name to Gunpowder Lane. In 1790, the docks at Mazagaon were completed. In 1793, after the construction of the Hornby Vellard, the Bellasis Road was built to join Mazagaon and Malabar Hill.

The next century saw a slow decline in Mazagaon’s fortunes, as the neighbouring Byculla became the fashionable suburb, and people began moving out. The process accelerated after the docks were reclaimed in the last thirty years of the century on the eastern shore of Mazagaon. Mazagaon was left landlocked, and the fumes from the developing mills drove the last affluent residents out of this area.

Among others, Tipu Sultan, the Mysore warrior’s relative Nawab Ayaz Ali, migrated here after the British defeated the ruler in 1799 and was buried here.  Up to the 1960s, Mumbai had a small Chinatown in Mazagaon. After the 1962 Sino-Indian War, most Chinese were viewed as traitors, and left the town. Currently, Mumbai has a small ethnic Chinese population of 400 families. The Chinese temple and cemetery are both located at Mazagaon, on Nawab Tank Road.

Mazagaon is also spelled Mazgaon and Mazagon. The Portuguese spelled it as ‘Mazagao’, the Catholics as ‘Mazgon’ or ‘Maz-a-gon’ and the Marathi-speakers as ‘Mazhgav’. It is one of the seven islands of Mumbai. The word Mazagaon has been derived from the Sanskrit Matsya Gram, meaning fishing village. The original inhabitants were Agari (salt-workers) and Koli (fishermen) tribes. It is one of those places, where various people from various religions, races, communities, have co-existed.

The south side of Mazagaon is known as Wadi Bunder Road, Dongri & Noorbaug, and J.J. Hospital. To the east side is the Darukhana area, which is especially known for its shoreline and industrial estates. On the north side is Reay Road and Ghodapdeo, and to the west side Byculla.

The Byculla Area

The area that is now Byculla was part of the low-lying flats into which the sea poured at high tide through the great breach at Mahalaxmi. With the closing of this breach by Hornby Vellard in 1784 and the construction of the causeway known as the Belasis Road in 1793, this land became available for building. The European enclave in Mazgaon then began to grow westwards into Byculla. A race course was founded and became so popular that the Bombay Turf Club was established in 1800.

During the nineteenth century, Byculla grew into a prosperous and elegant suburb, with grand British and Parsi houses. Sir David Sassoon built a house and a synagogue here. When the Byculla Club opened in 1833 it was the first of Bombay’s residential clubs. In the same year a new church was completed, with neo-classical columns left over from those imported for the town hall. This immediately became the fashionable church for the British, totally eclipsing St. Thomas’ in the fort area.

By 1857, the Byculla railway station was completed, and the first mills were already polluting the clear air of this fashionable district. The Byculla iron works was established in the same year, and limps along even today. Carriage and furniture makers moved into the area, and established themselves near the railway station, where there was already a flourishing fruits and vegetables market.

By 1878 the first races were held at the site of the present race-course in Mahalaxmi. The decline of Byculla had begun by 1878, although chambers at the club were still much sought-after, with its Rs. 350 a month charge, including dinners that featured prawn curry and the Byculla souffle, full of liqueurs. The Turf Club moved out of Byculla in the 1890’s. Then the plague finally drove the British and the richer Parsis to the newly fashionable Malabar hill. The Byculla club doddered along, overtaken in importance by the Yacht Club at Apollo Bunder, founded in 1898. The Byculla Club then turned into a hospital during the First World War, and was eventually sold in the 1920’s. The area where it stood still contains some grand-looking buildings.

Byculla is now a middle class enclave with a predominant Muslim population. The furniture shops attract as much crowd as the Victoria gardens with its zoo, visited every weekend by large numbers of families out on a Sunday picnic. On such days the statue of Edward VIII at the entrance gets the attention, which it must have been used to while it stood in the Fort area and gave its name to Kala Ghoda.