History in Mumbai

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Map of Mumbai

Map of Mumbai

Mumbai originally consisted of nineteen islands, inhabited by small Koli fishing communities. At different times, various dynasties held this insignificant outlying district; the city of Puri on Elephanta is thought to have been the major settlement in the region, until King Bimba, or Bhima, built the town of Mahim on one island, at the end of the thirteenth century. Hindus controlled the area until it was captured in the fourteenth century by the Muslim Gujarat Sultanate. In 1534, Sultan Bahadur of Ahmedabad ceded the city to the Portuguese, who felt the land to be of little importance, and concentrated development in the areas around Mahim and Bassein. They handed over the largest island to the English in 1661, as part of the dowry when the Portuguese infanta Catherine of Braganza married Charles II; four years later Charles received the remaining islands and the port, and the town took on the anglicized name of Bombay from the Portuguese "Buan Bahia" or Good Bay. This was the first part of India that could properly be termed a colony; elsewhere on the subcontinent the English had merely been granted the right to set up "factories", or trading posts. Because of its natural safe harbour and strategic position for trade, the East India Company, based at Surat, wanted to buy the land; in 1668 a deal was struck, and Charles leased Mumbai to them for a pittance.

The English set about an ambitious programme of fortifying their outpost, living in the area known today as Fort. However, life was not easy. There was a fast turnover of governors, and malaria and cholera culled many of the first settlers. A chaplain of the East India Company, Reverend Ovington, wrote at the end of the seventeenth century: "One of the pleasantest spots in India seemed no more than a parish graveyard, a charnel house… Which common fatality has created a Proverb among the English there, that two monsoons are the age of a man."Gerald Aungier, the fourth governor (1672-77), set out to plan "the city which by God's assistance is intended to be built", and by the start of the eighteenth century the town was the capital of the East India Company. He is credited with encouraging the mix that still contributes to the city's success, welcoming Hindu traders from Gujurat, Goans (escaping Jesuit persecution), Muslim weavers, and most visibly, the business-minded Zoroastrian Parsis.

Much of the British settlement in the old Fort area was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1803, and the European population remained comparatively low well into the 1800s. The arrival of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in the 1850s improved communications, encouraging yet more immigration from elsewhere in India. In 1852 the first of many land-reclamation projects (still ongoing) fused the seven islands; just a year later the rail link between Bombay and the cotton-growing areas of the Deccan plateau opened. This crucial railway, coupled with the cotton crisis in America following the Civil War, gave impetus to the great Bombay cotton boom and established the city as a major industrial and commercial centre. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1859, and the construction of enormous docks, Bombay's access to European markets improved further. Sir Bartle Frere, governor from 1862 to 1867, oversaw the construction of the city's distinctive colonial-Gothic buildings; the most extravagant of all, Victoria Terminus railway station - now officially Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus or CST - is a fitting testimony to this extraordinary age of expansion.

Not all Mumbai's grandest architecture is owed to the Raj - wealthy Jains and Parsis have also left their mark throughout the downtown area. As the most prosperous city in the nation, Bombay was at the forefront of the Independence struggle; Mahatma Gandhi used a house here, now a museum, to co-ordinate the struggle through three decades. Fittingly, the first British colony took pleasure in waving the final goodbye to the Raj, when the last contingent of British troops passed through the Gateway of India in February 1948. Since Independence, Mumbai has prospered as India's commercial and cultural capital and this period has seen the population grow tenfold to more than sixteen million.

However, as early as 1982, Mumbai's infrastructure was starting to buckle under the tensions of overpopulation. A bitter and protracted textile strike had impoverished tens of thousands of industrial workers, unemployment and crime were spiralling and the influx of immigrants into the city showed no signs of abating. Among the few beneficiaries of mounting discontent was the extreme right-wing Maharashtran party, the Shiv Sena. Founded in 1966 by Bal "the Saheb" Thackery, a self-confessed admirer of Hitler, the Sena's uncompromising stand on immigration and employment found favour with the disenchanted mass of lower-middle-class, mainly Marathi-speaking Hindus in the poorer suburbs. The party's venom, at first focused on the city's sizeable south Indian community, soon shifted to its fifteen-percent Muslim minority. Communal antagonism flared briefly in 1984, when ninety people died in riots, and again in 1985 when the Shiv Sena routed the Congress party in municipal elections. Between December 1992 and late January 1993, two waves of rioting in Mumbai affected not only the Muslim ghettos and poor industrial suburbs, but, for the first time, much of downtown too. According to (conservative) official statistics, 784 people died, and around 5000 were injured - seventy percent of them Muslim.

Just as Mumbai was regaining its composure, disaster struck again. On March 12, 1993, ten massive bomb blasts ripped through the heart of the city, killing 317 people. No one claimed responsibility, but the involvement of "foreign hands" (ie Pakistan) was suspected. The city recovered from the explosions with astonishing speed, with hoardings erected beside the motorways ("Bombay Bounces Back!", "It's My Bombay", "Bombay, I Love You") attempting to restore the pride and ebullience with which India's most confident city had formerly gone about its business.

With the government all set to grant the City-State with oodles of money for infrastructure development Mumbai is changing fast. Parallel to the Mobile and Broadband revolution, in the pipeline are the Upgradation of Road and Rail Network, Sea Link and the Underground Metro Rail. All this with the intention of catering to the needs of the megapolis, and imparting a world-class stature to the city. There is still more to come in Phases like the metro Railway which has already started Phase I construction will surely ease a lot of traffic situation in Mumbai.

July 07, 2005 change by giorgio

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